Ken Paxton

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Ken Paxton
Ken Paxton.jpg
51st Attorney General of Texas
Assumed office
January 5, 2015
Governor Rick Perry
Greg Abbott
Preceded by Greg Abbott
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 8th district
In office
January 2013 – January 4, 2015
Preceded by Florence Shapiro
Succeeded by Van Taylor
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 70th district
In office
January 2003 – January 2013
Preceded by David Counts
Succeeded by Scott Sanford
Personal details
Born Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr.
(1962-12-23) December 23, 1962 (age 54)
Minot, North Dakota, U.S.
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Angela Paxton
Education Baylor University (BA, MBA)
University of Virginia (JD)

Warren Kenneth "Ken" Paxton Jr.[1] (born December 23, 1962), is an American lawyer and politician who has served since January 2015 as the Attorney General of Texas. Paxton won election to the state's top law enforcement job in November 2014 as a champion of the Tea Party movement and conservative principles.[2]

For two years beginning in January 2013, Paxton was a Republican member of the Texas Senate representing District 8, which includes the central-western portion of Collin County north of Dallas and parts of surrounding cities such as Allen, Frisco, and McKinney. From 2003 to 2013, Paxton represented District 70 in the Texas House of Representatives.

In his capacity as state attorney general, Paxton has sued the federal government regarding immigration executive orders, Department of Labor rulings, and environmental regulations. He has taken legal action against state and local entities regarding First Amendment and Second Amendment rights and property taxes.

In July 2015, following a complaint by investors Joel Hochberg and Byron Cook, a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives, Paxton was indicted by a Texas grand jury on felony charges of securities fraud and failing to register properly with the Texas state securities board.[3] In April 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a civil enforcement action against Paxton regarding the same matter. The SEC case was dismissed by federal judge Amos L. Mazzant III in March 2017.[4] Paxton appealed all charges against him, calling them politically motivated.[5][6] His trial is scheduled to begin on May 1, 2017.

Background[edit]

Paxton was born with complications from his mother's pregnancy in Minot, North Dakota. The placenta rushed ahead of him to the birth canal, and his mother had to wait more than an hour for a surgeon to deliver him. The senior Paxton was in the United States Air Force, and the couple and their three children lived in a trailer, often without air conditioning, parked outside air bases or on the beach wherever the father was stationed. At various times, they lived in Florida, New York, North Carolina, California, and Oklahoma. As a youth, he wanted to play football, but his father would not let him play for fear of injury. A lifelong football fan, Paxton carried a jersey autographed by Bill Bates, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys. Bates was not the most talented player but was known for his perseverance. Bates later was named Paxton's campaign treasurer.[7]

At the age of twelve, Paxton nearly lost an eye in a game of hide-and-seek; a misdiagnosis led to long-term problems with his vision. As a result, his good eye is green; his damaged one, brown and droopy. He was again seriously injured while he was a student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. An elbow to his face in a game of basketball shattered the bones around his already damaged right eye.[7] At Baylor, he majored in psychology and was a member of the Baylor University Chamber of Commerce. In 1985, he was elected Student Body President of the Baylor Student Government Association.[8]

Paxton received a psychology degree in 1985 and continued his education at Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, earning a Master of Business Administration in 1986. Paxton then worked for two years as a management consultant before returning to school in 1988. He enrolled at University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia, and in 1991 earned his Juris Doctor degree.

Paxton then joined the firm of Strasburger & Price, L.L.P, where he worked from 1991 to 1995. He then went to work for J.C. Penney Company, Inc., as in-house legal counsel. In 2002, he left J.C. Penney to start his own firm specializing in estate planning, probate, real estate and general business matters and to run for office in Texas House District 70.

A resident of McKinney, Texas, Paxton serves or has served on numerous local organizations and councils. He is a member of the Chamber of Commerce in Allen, Frisco, and McKinney. He is a director of the Centennial Medical Center. He is a member and former director of the Collin County Bar Association, a member of the Dallas Estate Planning Council, director at Marketplace Ministries, and a member of Rotary International in McKinney. Paxton is a charter member of the nondenominational Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, founded in 1998 by senior pastor Chuck Swindoll.[9]

Texas House of Representatives[edit]

Elections[edit]

2002[edit]

On March 12, 2002, Paxton ran for his first nomination in the Republican primary for the Texas House in District 70 against five opponents. He captured 39.45% of the vote and moved into a runoff with Bill Vitz, whom he then defeated with 64% of the vote. He went on to face Fred Lusk (D) and Robert Worthington (L) for the newly redistricted open seat. On November 4, 2002, Paxton secured his first win with 28,012 votes to Lusk's 7,074 votes and Worthington's 600 votes.[10]

2004[edit]

On November 4, 2004, Paxton faced a challenge from Democrat Martin Woodward after running unopposed for the Republican nomination. Paxton captured 76% of the vote, or 58,520 votes compared to 18,451 votes for Woodward.[11]

2006[edit]

On November 4, 2006, Paxton won his third term in the Texas House of Representatives, defeating Rick Koster (D) and Robert Virasin (L). Paxton received 30,062 votes to Koster's 12,265 votes and Virasin's 1,222 votes.[12]

2008[edit]

On November 4, 2008, Paxton won House re-election by again defeating Robert Virasin (L), 73,450 to 11,751 votes.[13]

2010[edit]

Paxton ran unopposed for re-election in both the Republican primary and the general election in 2010. On November 11, 2010, entering his last term as a state representative, Paxton announced that he would run for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives against Joe Straus of District 121 in Bexar County and fellow Republican Warren Chisum of District 88 in Pampa, Texas. Paxton said:

On Election Day [2010], we witnessed a monumental shift in the political climate, and I believe that historic opportunities demand bold action in defense of our conservative values. Voters across Texas sent a clear message that they favor leadership dedicated to protecting our freedoms and fighting government growth. Texans have provided us with an historic mandate, and they expect us to use this mandate to honestly advance conservative principles and not simply protect the status quo. These goals can only be accomplished with a conservative Speaker.[14]

Sensing certain defeat, Paxton pulled out of the Speaker's race before the vote.[7]

Straus was elected to his second term as Speaker and was re-elected in 2013, 2015, and 2017.

Tenure[edit]

Political action committees[edit]

After joining the House in 2003, Paxton was endorsed and supported by multiple non-partisan and conservative organizations. Paxton was one of six Texas House candidates endorsed by HuckPAC, the official political action committee of Mike Huckabee.[15]

Paxton received endorsements and "A" ratings from the National Rifle Association[16] and its state affiliate, the Texas State Rifle Association.[17]

Past committee assignments[edit]

  • Land & Resource Management Committee, Texas House
  • Ways & Means Committee, Texas House
  • Fiscal Stability, Texas House

Texas State Senate[edit]

Paxton was elected to the Texas State Senate in 2012, and served for two years, until January 2015, when his term as Attorney General began.

Attorney General of Texas[edit]

2014 election[edit]

Paxton's 2013 campaign announcement

Paxton became a candidate for Texas attorney general when the incumbent Greg Abbott decided to run for governor to succeed the retiring Rick Perry.[18]

Paxton led a three-candidate field in the Republican primary held on March 4, 2014, polling 566,114 votes (44.4%). State Representative Dan Branch of Dallas County received 426,595 votes (33.5 percent). Eliminated in the primary was Texas Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman of Austin, who polled the remaining 281,064 (22.1 percent).

Paxton faced Dan Branch in the runoff election on May 27, 2014, and won with 465,395 votes (63.63 percent). Branch received 265,963 votes (36.36 percent).[19][20]

In the November 4 general election, Paxton defeated a Democratic attorney from Houston named Sam Houston. At a meeting of the sheriff's association in July, Paxton said that if elected he would be committed to defending state laws and envisioned Texas "remaining a beacon of freedom and liberty to the nation."[21]

Paxton took office on January 5, 2015.[22] Paxton's campaign raised $945,000 in the first half of 2016, leaving Paxton with just under $3 million in his campaign account for a potential 2018 re-election bid.[23]

Paxton's wife, Angela, his closest political advisor, often opens up his events with a musical performance. She calls her husband "a very competitive person".[7] State Senator Larry Taylor of Friendswood said that Paxton has "got that internal fire. It just doesn't flame out where everybody can see it."[7]

Paxton won the attorney general's election without the endorsement of a single Texas newspaper. He generally avoids reporters, most of whom he considers biased against him.[7]

Tenure[edit]

Challenge to executive orders on immigration[edit]

Paxton led a coalition of 26 states challenging President Barack Obama's executive amnesty orders. According to The New York Times, Obama's executive actions "would protect millions of illegal immigrants from deportation and allow them to work indefinitely in the country legally."[24] In January 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the legal challenge to Obama's overhaul to the nation's existing immigration rules. Paxton argued that the president should not be allowed to "unilaterally rewrite congressional laws and circumvent the people’s representatives."[24] In June 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a split 4-4 ruling in the case. Because of the split ruling, a 2015 lower-court ruling invalidating Obama's plan was left in place.[25]

Challenge to the Clean Power Plan[edit]

Paxton has mounted a legal challenge to the Clean Power Plan, which is President Obama’s "state-by-state effort to fight climate change by shifting away from coal power to cleaner-burning natural gas and renewable resources."[26] Paxton says the Environmental Protection Agency is trying to "force Texas to change how we regulate energy production" through an "unprecedented expansion of federal authority."[26] The Clean Power Plan would require Texas to cut an annual average of 51 million tons of emissions, down 21 percent from 2012 levels. Paxton says the required reductions would cost the state jobs, push electricity costs too high, and threaten reliability on the electrical grid. Paxton says there is no evidence that the plan will mitigate climate change,[27] and that the EPA lacks the statutory authority to write the state's policies.[28]

Challenge to Department of Labor overtime rule[edit]

Paxton is suing the Obama administration over a new rule by the United States Department of Labor which would make 5 million additional workers eligible for overtime pay. The new rule would mean workers earning up to an annual salary of $47,500 would become eligible for overtime pay when working more than 40 hours per week.[29] Paxton has said the new regulations "may lead to disastrous consequences for our economy." Along with Texas, twenty other states have joined the lawsuit.[30]

Same-sex marriage and transgender bathrooms[edit]

On June 28, 2015, in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, Paxton issued a statement offering moral support for clerks with religious objections to issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. His statement said in part that "numerous lawyers stand ready to assist clerks defending their religious beliefs, in many cases on a pro-bono basis, and I will do everything I can from this office to be a public voice for those standing in defense of their rights."[31]

Paxton is leading a coalition of thirteen states that seek an immediate halt to the Obama administration's transgender bathrooms directive which he called a “gun to the head” that threatens the independence of school districts.[32][33]

Challenge to Department of Labor's "Persuader Rule"[edit]

Paxton is involved in a legal challenge to a rule by the Department of Labor which forces employers to report any "actions, conduct or communications" undertaken to "affect an employee's decisions regarding his or her representation or collective bargaining rights."[34] Known as the "Persuader Rule," the new regulation went into effect in April 2016. Opponents of the rule say it will prevent employers from speaking on labor issues or seeking legal counsel. In June 2016, a federal judge granted a preliminary injunction against the rule. Paxton called the injunction "a victory for the preservation of the sanctity of attorney-client confidentiality."[35]

Exxon-related First Amendment lawsuits[edit]

Paxton, along with attorneys general from ten other states, filed an amicus curiae contending that Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey used her office to "tip the scales on a public policy debate, undermine the first Amendment and abuse the office's subpoena power."[36] Healey had launched a probe of ExxonMobil's historical marketing and sale of fossil fuel products, requiring the company to produce 40 years worth of documents regarding fossil fuel products and securities. Healey said the documents would prove that ExxonMobil "knew about the risks of climate change decades ago and fraudulently concealed that knowledge from the public." [37] The amicus brief supported Exxon Mobil's motion for a preliminary injunction.[36] Paxton questioned Healey’s use of law-enforcement authority regarding the global warming controversy, which he called an "ongoing public policy debate of international importance." Paxton described Healey's attempts to obtain historical company records for a public policy debate as a threat to freedom of speech, stating: "The Constitution was written to protect citizens from government witch-hunts that are nothing more than an attempt to suppress speech on an issue of public importance, just because a government official happens to disagree with that particular viewpoint."[37]

U.S. Virgin Islands attorney general Claude Walker had also issued a subpoena for Exxon's records. Paxton issued a request to intervene in the case, stating: "What is Exxon Mobil’s transgression? Holding a view about climate change that the Attorney General of the Virgin Islands disagrees with. This is about the criminalization of speech and thought." Walker dropped the subpoena in June 2016.[38]

Volkswagen, Apple, and MoneyGram lawsuits[edit]

In 2012, Paxton was part of a lawsuit against Apple, charging the company with violating antitrust laws by conspiring with publishers to artificially raise the prices of electronic books.[39] Apple was ordered to pay $400 million to U.S. consumers who paid artificially-inflated prices for e-books, and $20 million to the states in reimbursement for legal costs.[40]

In June 2016, it was announced that Volkswagen would pay the state of Texas $50 million in relation to the Volkswagen emissions scandal. Paxton had sued the company in 2015 in connection with the automaker’s admitted use of software that allowed its vehicles to circumvent emissions limits.[41]

Paxton is part of a 21-state lawsuit against the state of Delaware. The lawsuit alleges that MoneyGram gave uncashed checks to the state of Delaware instead of the state where the money order or travelers check was bought. The case has gone directly to the U.S. Supreme Court because it is a dispute among states.[42] Paxton said an audit showed that Delaware owed other states $150 million, and that Delaware unlawfully took possession of uncashed checks instead of sending the checks back to the states where the money orders were purchased.[43]

Lawsuit over homestead tax exemptions[edit]

In 2015, the Texas State Legislature passed a law implementing property tax reductions by increasing the homestead exemption to $25,000 and prohibiting localities from reducing or repealing any local option homestead exemption already on the books. After this law was passed, 21 school districts reduced or eliminated their local optional homestead exemptions. In 2016, Paxton intervened in a lawsuit challenging the practice of school districts reducing or repealing their local optional homestead exemptions.[44]

Second Amendment lawsuits[edit]

In 2016, three University of Texas at Austin professors sued in an effort to ban concealed handguns from campus. The state's campus carry law allows law-abiding citizens to carry concealed weapons. The lawsuit brought by the professors seeks to block the law. Paxton called the lawsuit "frivolous" and said it should be dismissed.[45][46]

In 2016, Paxton sued the city of Austin to allow license holders to openly carry handguns in city hall.[47]

Christmas[edit]

In 2016, he successfully opposed the school district in Killeen for taking down a display of Charles M. Schulz's "A Charlie Brown Christmas", with the character Linus explaining the meaning of Christmas.[7]

Voter fraud investigation[edit]

Paxton's office is seeking 2016 voting records to determine if fraud occurred in both the primary and general election in Texas. The state seeks evidence regarding potential voting by non-citizens or in the name of the deceased. This includes individual voting history and application materials for voter registrations. Officials in Bexar County said there has been no major cases off voter fraud in San Antonio.[48] However, the Associated Press reported that the top election official in Bexar County estimates that nearly six hundred affidavits submitted by voters there who declined to present identification should have been declined. Instead, the official said such voters should have been required to cast provisional ballots. AP projected that the overall number who cast improper affidavits as 13,500 in the largest Texas counties.[49]

The San Antonio Express-News, meanwhile, criticized the state's voter identification law, which Paxton seeks to have reinstated after it was struck down in October 2016 by United States District Judge Nelva Paxton Ramos of Corpus Christ, who claims the measure has "an unconstitutional discriminatory purpose." The newspaper calls the law "voter suppression." Appeals continue in the case.[50]

In March 2017, Paxton told The Washington Times that he is convinced that voter fraud exists in Texas: "I know it’s an issue because I deal with it. We just got a conviction on an illegal that voted in an election.” Paxton said that local election officials in Texas are not on the lookout for detecting fraud: "They're complicit in allowing it to happen. I guarantee it is happening - whatever people say."[51]

Controversy over Muslim Students Classroom Use[edit]

In early 2017 Paxton objected to a Texas school’s use of an empty classroom to allow its Muslim students to pray, issuing a press release claiming that “the high school’s prayer room is … apparently excluding students of other faiths.” School officials said that Paxton had not verified this assertion with them and that the room was used by faculty and non-Muslim students as well for multiple activities, from grading papers to Buddhist meditation. “This is the seventh year we’ve been doing this, and we’ve never had one issue,” school principal Scott Warstler said. According to the school’s superintendent, Jeremy Lyon, “This ‘press release’ appears to be a publicity stunt by the OAG to politicize a nonissue.”[52]

Criminal indictment and SEC fraud civil action[edit]

On July 31, 2015, a state grand jury indicted Paxton on charges of felony securities fraud.[53] Paxton's indictment marked the first such criminal prosecution of a Texas Attorney General in 32 years since Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox was indicted for bribery in 1983.[3] The complainants in the case are investors Joel Hochberg and Byron Cook, a Republican member of the Texas House of Representatives. Paxton and Cook, former friends and roommates while serving together in the Texas House, became political adversaries as Paxton staked out a conservative political position while Cook is moderate. While in the Texas House, Cook and Paxton were involved in a variety of investment deals together. The complaint regarding Servergy was not filed until four years after the business deal was made. Paxton believes the charges stem from political differences.[54][55]

On August 3, 2015, following the grand jury indictment, Paxton was arrested and booked. He faces two first-degree securities fraud charges, along with another third-degree felony charge, which carry a total sentence of 5 to 99 years if convicted.[56] He was released on $35,000 bail.[57]

Prosecutors allege that Paxton, while he was a legislator in the Texas statehouse, advised investors to fund financial firm Mowery Capital Management and technology firm Servergy without disclosing that he was being paid by the companies.[58] Paxton allegedly raised $840,000 from investors in Servergy without conducting due diligence regarding the company's false claims that its computer servers were highly energy efficient or that it had already made bulk sales.[58] Paxton allegedly solicited these investments from his legal clients, legislative colleagues, and friends, with funding from Paxton and Cook’s investment club making up 25% of all investment Servergy received in 2011.[59] Paxton says he did not receive compensation, and that the 100,000 shares of the company that he received from Servergy's founder were a gift.[6][58]

On April 11, 2016, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil enforcement action against Paxton in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. The SEC's complaint specifically charged Paxton with violating various provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 and various provisions (including Rule 10b-5) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 by defrauding the Servergy investors.[60] Paxton denied the allegations. He also appealed the state charges against him, which he says are politically motivated.[6][61][61][62][63][64] Paxton’s challenge of his indictment was rejected by the trial judge, the Texas Court of Appeals, and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Texas' criminal court of last resort.[65] One of the defendants and Servergy itself reached a separate settlement with the SEC, agreeing to pay $260,000 in penalties.[59]

On October 7, 2016, Judge Amos L. Mazzant III, a 2014 appointee of U.S. President Barack Obama, who sits on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, conditionally dismissed the SEC’s civil fraud charges, finding the SEC had not alleged Paxton had any legal obligation to inform investors that he was receiving a commission and giving the SEC two weeks to refile with any new allegations.[66] Mazzant said that the SEC was trying to fit a "square peg into a round hole."[67]

On October 22, 2016, the SEC refiled its securities fraud claims against Paxton.[68] The SEC made the additional allegations that Paxton and Cook’s investment club required all of its members to accept the same risks on all investments and that it specifically forbade members from making money off investments of other members.[68] The SEC further alleged that Paxton did not properly disclose his Severgy ownership stake on his taxes and that he attempted to conceal the stake by at different times claiming it was his fee for legal services, that it was a gift, and that he had only received it after investing money.[59]

On March 2, 2017, Mazzant dismissed the civil securities fraud case against Paxton for a second time on grounds that the attorney general had "no plausible legal duty" to inform investors that he would earn a commission if they purchased stock in a technical company that Paxton represented. With the second dismissal of the case with prejudice, the SEC cannot bring new action on the same claim against Paxton.[69] The decision does not affect pending state charges against Paxton, where Paxton faces charges of securities fraud and failure to register as a securities advisor.[66] Paxton's trial in the state case is scheduled to start on May 1, 2017.[4]

Electoral history[edit]

Texas House of Representatives 70th District Republican Primary Election, 2002
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 2,168 39.45
Republican Bill Vitz 1,171 21.31
Republican Matt Matthews 1,100 20.02
Republican Robert Rankins 954 17.36
Republican Harry Pierce 102 1.86
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Republican Primary Runoff Election, 2002
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 2,775 63.33
Republican Bill Vitz 1,607 36.67
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2002
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 28,012 78.50
Democratic Fred Lusk 7,074 19.82
Libertarian Robert Worthington 600 1.68
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2004
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton (inc.) 58,250 76.03
Democratic Martin Woodward 18,451 23.97
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2006
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton (inc.) 30,062 69.03
Democratic Rick Koster 12,265 28.16
Libertarian Robert Virasin 1,222 2.81
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2008
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton (inc.) 73,450 86.21
Libertarian Robert Virasin 11,751 13.79
Texas House of Representatives 70th District Election, 2010
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton (inc.) 43,006 100.00
Texas Senate 8th District Election, 2012
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 178,238 62.29
Democratic Jack Ternan, Jr. 99,010 34.60
Libertarian Ed Kless 8,899 3.11
Texas Attorney General Republican Primary Election, 2014
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 569,034 44.45
Republican Dan Branch 428,325 33.46
Republican Barry Smitherman 282,701 22.08
Texas Attorney General Republican Primary Runoff Election, 2014
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 466,407 63.41
Republican Dan Branch 269,098 36.59
Texas Attorney General Election, 2014
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Ken Paxton 2,743,473 58.82
Democratic Sam Houston 1,773,250 38.02
Libertarian Jamie Balagia 118,197 2.53
Green Jamar Osborne 29,591 0.63

References[edit]

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External links[edit]

Texas House of Representatives
Preceded by
David Counts
Member of the Texas House of Representatives
from the 70th district

2003–2013
Succeeded by
Scott Sanford
Texas Senate
Preceded by
Florence Shapiro
Member of the Texas Senate
from the 8th district

2013–2015
Succeeded by
Van Taylor
Legal offices
Preceded by
Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas
2015–present
Incumbent