Editorial: Just 3 voter fraud cases closed? It's time to end Paxton's wasteful crusade. – Houston Chronicle

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton waves after speaking during the Conservative Political Action Conference CPAC held at the Hilton Anatole on July 11, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. CPAC began in 1974, and is a conference that brings together and hosts conservative organizations, activists, and world leaders in discussing current events and future political agendas. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images) (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?
The date was June 9, 1954. The speaker was Joseph Welch, special counsel for the U.S. Army, responding to scurrilous remarks U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy had made during hearings the Wisconsin Republican had called to ferret out alleged communists in the military. Asked politely, almost plaintively, Welch’s incendiary question deflected the course of American political history. It exposed McCarthy for what he was — a bullying, bloviating demagogue — and marked the beginning of the end of his cruel and reckless political career.
Nearly three-quarters of a century later, Texans could ask the same question of our attorney general, although the asking would be purely rhetorical. We have known the answer for years, even as Ken Paxton’s perfidy has perverted state government and injured his fellow Texans.
Decency, sir?
Paxton has been under indictment for alleged felony securities fraud from the day he took office in 2015. Presumably, such a burden would be a distraction from his official duties.
Paxton is the man abandoned by seven top staff members, who accused him of taking bribes. The FBI reportedly has him under investigation for allegations of misconduct, including misuse of office. Presumably, that would be a distraction as well.
A shameless toady of former President Donald Trump, Paxton has done everything within his power to further the Big Lie about the 2020 election. That includes filing an absurd lawsuit last December urging the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate election results in four key states, a ruling that would have kept Trump in office. Keep in mind that Paxton was acting in his role as our attorney general, even as he served as co-chair of Lawyers for Trump, a coalition of Republican attorneys created to bring legal challenges to aid the campaign.
Paxton’s most recent abuses of power are in character (a word not often associated with the man). His election integrity unit the past year spent more than 20,000 hours and $2.2 million of our money looking for election fraud. Echoing Trump, Paxton insists that it’s rampant, in Texas and elsewhere.
As the Chronicle reported last week, the unit closed just three cases this year, down from 17 last year, and opened seven new ones. Paxton’s office discovered no evidence of voter fraud in 2020, beyond isolated and picayune incidents affecting a handful of votes. With more than 11 million Texans casting ballots, such paltry numbers would be hard-pressed to swing an election for a local Elks Lodge president, much less a president of the United States.
You caught that recent press conference, right? The one Paxton called to reassure his fellow Texans that the 2020 elections were clean as a whistle, that Texans didn’t cheat, that Joe Biden was duly elected president?
You didn’t, of course, because the AG didn’t call such a press conference. Running for a third term, he doesn’t want his Trump-addled base to know that he knows that voter fraud is surpassingly rare.
An observation about our own Inspector Clouseau’s voter-fraud crusade bears repeating. “He’s finding very little of it despite spending a lot of money and using a lot of resources looking for it,” Richard L. Hasen, an elections law expert at the University of California at Irvine, told the Chronicle. “The reason is not that such fraud is too hard to find. Those that commit voter fraud tend not to be brain surgeons. The reason he’s not finding a lot of it is because voter fraud is rare.”
Paxton’s crusade wasted time and money. A related endeavor hurt a conscientious public servant. Earlier this year, Paxton’s office sought to indict Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir, for 35 years an honest and capable elected official. Her crime? She had unlawfully obstructed a poll watcher, a Class A misdemeanor that could have sent her to jail for a year and/or resulted in a $40,000 fine. Paxton trotted up the road apiece from Austin, hoping a conservative-leaning Williamson County grand jury would hand down an indictment.
Fortunately, his hand-picked venue returned a “no-bill” in April, apparently recognizing that the Paxton charge was petty and trumped-up (pun intended). DeBeauvoir didn’t learn the grand jury had declined to charge her until July. Although she won’t be going to jail, the attorney general’s vendetta cost her $75,000 at the time.
“There was nothing I could do to defend myself except to go hire — me, personally — go hire private attorneys. That was $75,000 to me,” DeBeauvoir told columnist Bridget Grumet of the Austin American-Statesman.
In August, Travis County commissioners voted to reimburse their county clerk, but DeBeauvoir didn’t know that would happen during the course of her Paxton-inspired ordeal. Had the case gone to trial, she told Grumet, she would have faced legal fees in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Of course, part of the AG’s purpose in doing that was to intimidate me and financially bankrupt me,” DeBeauvoir added. “It was a deliberate thing.”
Decency, sir? Have you no sense of decency?
DeBeauvoir, 68, has announced she’ll be retiring at the end of January, although she told Grumet her Paxton ordeal wasn’t the reason she was leaving. “I don’t want my counterparts in other counties to think this was successful,” she said.
With the approach of the 2022 primaries, Texas voters are left with a question for themselves: How much indecency can they, should they, tolerate in the office of attorney general?
In the Republican primary, Paxton has two capable and worthy challengers, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and current Land Commissioner George P. Bush. (U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert also is running.) The Democrats are fielding five candidates; the best known is former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworski.
We have choices, in other words. There’s no reason in the world to re-elect a man who, at long last, leaves no doubt about decency, or, more precisely, the lack thereof.
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The Editorial Board is made up of opinion journalists with wide-ranging expertise whose consensus opinions and endorsements represent the voice of the institution – defined as the board members, their editor and the publisher. The board is separate from the newsroom and other sections of the paper.
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