Challengers make their case to replace Paxton at Thursday's debate


By Bethany Blankley

Three Republicans running to unseat incumbent Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton argue they're the better candidate to replace him.

Congressman Louie Gohmert, Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush, and former Texas Supreme Court Judge Eva Guzman are participating in a live debate at 6 p.m. Thursday.

Spectrum cable channels are broadcasting the debate, which will also be live-streamed on The Dallas Morning News and Texas Tribune websites. 

Paxton isn't attending, and his campaign hasn't responded to requests for comment. 

His challengers argue that his ongoing legal problems are jeopardizing the integrity of the office. Because he won't resign, they say he needs to be replaced.

Paxton, who's been indicted for securities fraud, and is under investigation by the FBI, denies the charges. 

Congressman Louie Gohmert, a conservative member of Texas' congressional delegation, voted twice for Paxton but is now running to unseat him. 

He said Paxton being "under indictment for securities fraud and facing a federal investigation for bribery and corruption," ultimately forced him to give up running for reelection for his safe congressional seat and run for AG instead. 

Gohmert said he'd had concerns about the integrity of the office for some time, especially after Paxton in 2020 fired multiple aides after they accused him of accepting a bribe. Four fired employees sued. 

Gohmert said that he'd spoken with some of the whistleblowers.

"They are known as people of integrity who were intelligent, and that's why they were hired," he said. For them to make those kinds of allegations, that's an eye-opener."

When they went to the FBI, they "knew when they signed the letter that Paxton was on national TV shows, that he was on the radio, that he would come after them and accuse them of being the bad guys," Gohmert said. "But they were such people of integrity they still had to stand up for what was right.

"The Department of Justice has become so partisan that they had to have been thrilled to have gotten a case referred to them by seven Republicans who were conservative people of integrity," he added. "These guys had nowhere else to go. He was the top law enforcement officer in Texas so where do you go? You have to go to the feds, and unfortunately, they are very partisan."

As a former prosecutor, district judge and Chief Justice of the 12th Court of Appeals, Gohmert says he's running "to save Texas and restore honesty and integrity to the office of Attorney General."

At a recent campaign event, GLO Commissioner George P. Bush said Paxton's legal troubles have also affected his job performance. 

"While he's out on criminal bond, the FBI is investigating a separate group of charges ranging from bribery, to corruption to abuse of office. Enough is enough. Whether you're innocent or guilty, this cloud of the suspicion is affecting job performance. We lost the Obamacare case. We lost the Facebook antitrust case, and of course voter fraud, which grassroots conservatives tell me is the number one issue in the state of Texas, and yet he lost the last remaining original jurisdictional authority for the state in whose office is tasked with taking on voter fraud in Texas."

Eva Guzman, who stepped down as a Texas Supreme Court judge to run for AG, argues, "Texas Republicans demand better than a nominee with Ken Paxton's legal problems." 

In a column published by the Houston-based "the LINK letter" sent to registered voters, she writes, "While Ken Paxton is busy defending his own personal legal issues … I'll get the job done without being distracted by indictments, affairs, and scandals—or plotting my family's next political race."

In her campaign ads she says she strongly wants "to end the corruption and mismanagement of politicians" and "fight for what is right to restore integrity and leadership to the AG's office."

When Paxton's polling went from 58 points in 2014 to 50 points in 2018 and is now below 50 percent, and with a likely "indictment coming out after the primaries, I didn't see any way that he could win the general election," Gohmert said. "When you already have the four largest counties controlled by Democratic District Attorneys who don't want to prosecute Democratic Party crimes then you have got to have a Republican attorney general that can make sure the law is enforced."

If Paxton were to win the primary and then be indicted for additional alleged crimes, another candidate can't replace him, Gohmert points out. Citing Texas election code, he explains the only way a candidate can be replaced after the primary is if they've been diagnosed with a terminal condition or appointed to another position. According to state law, Paxton can withdraw his name up to 74 days before the general election and no Republican candidate would be on the ballot. 

Texans would only have a Democratic candidate to choose from in November.

The Republican primary election is March 1. Early voting ends Friday. A runoff election is expected.

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