One central tenet of any representative democracy involves holding elected officials accountable — and not just through elections every so many years but through the rule of law that ensures no public official is above laws others must obey. Yet more and more we see elected officials claiming they are indeed above our laws. Latest example: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton who last week through the state solicitor general argued before an appeals court that he’s exempt from our state’s whistleblower act because he’s not a public employee.
This claim should raise eyebrows, questions and stink. One inquiry from the peanut gallery: Why on earth then are we Texans paying Paxton an annual salary of $153,750? He’s sure listed as a public employee in the state retirement system.
Paxton, 58, one of Texas’ most ethically compromised public servants even before election to statewide office in 2014 (and over more qualified Republicans), even now remains under indictment for securities fraud involving circumstances he’s acknowledged. More recently he has been accused by eight of his own senior aides of abuse of office, bribery, tampering with government records and obstruction of justice on behalf of a deep-pocketed political donor. In short, the very worst in corruption is alleged in our state’s top law enforcement agency.
Arguing against former Paxton aides who filed a whistleblower suit to recover their jobs and lost wages in the abuse-of-office furor, Solicitor General Judd Stone told an incredulous panel of Texas 3rd Court of Appeals justices that all elected officials are exempt from the whistleblower law and that the case against Paxton should be dismissed. Yet in researching the law, we found a statement from the Office of the Texas Attorney General (complete with official seal) not only championing the law but stressing that it “protects public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority. An employer may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who makes a report under the Act.”
Thus another question arises: Was Paxton not the employer of these senior aides who called foul on him?
Pathetically, some local Republicans would have party faithful divert their gaze from Paxton’s ethical transgressions and support without question a third term for the attorney general. They practically suggest he’s a favorite son of McLennan County, owing to two degrees from Baylor University (which ought to call in the parchments). But the stink is out about Paxton, even among Texas Republicans. Among his primary election opponents in spring 2022: former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush.
Judging from the astonishment of 3rd Court of Appeals justices, the idea the state’s whistleblower act doesn’t apply to elected officials is an invention of desperation. Yet one worries if this suit reaches the strongly partisan, all-Republican Texas Supreme Court. It will face doing what many of us as voters have not — putting aside partisan interests in favor of state law, justice and integrity.