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Indictment? What Indictment? Criminal Case Has Little Impact on Texas AG

Ken Paxton is the state’s latest official to seemingly survive a political scandal.

Texas Attorney General Indicted
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
(AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, is facing charges of securities fraud. Politically, it doesn’t seem to matter. His trial, which has been postponed repeatedly, has now been put off at least until March.

Paxton is accused of misleading investors looking into a tech startup called Servergy Inc. prior to assuming his current office. Paxton, who is running for re-election in 2018 and hasn’t yet drawn an opponent -- either Republican or Democratic -- has insisted that he is innocent and that the charges are politically motivated. Related federal charges were dismissed earlier this year. “The facts, the law and the people of Texas are on his side,” says Matt Welch, his campaign spokesman.

In recent years, several other prominent Republican politicians in the state have seen cases against them thrown out, including former Gov. Rick Perry (currently the federal energy secretary) and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. That history does play to Paxton’s advantage, says Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University. “There’s enough skepticism among Republican primary voters that they’re willing to give Paxton the benefit of the doubt, absent convictions upheld on appeal,” Jones says. “Until there’s a conviction, the conventional wisdom in the Republican electorate is that he’s right, this is a political witch hunt.”

In that regard, Paxton’s timing is lucky. His trial had been set for Dec. 11. That date also happens to be the filing deadline for Texas state offices. Now it's been put off until March 6, or perhaps March 12. March 6 is the date of the primary election. It's now  certain that the legal outcome won’t be known in time for a Republican to mount a serious primary challenge should things not go smoothly for Paxton.

The current charges were brought back in 2015. His trial at one time was scheduled to begin months ago, but his attorneys successfully petitioned to have the case heard by a different judge. “Fliers were sent out that had called out the judge for politicizing the process,” says Brandon Rottinghaus, a political scientist at the University of Houston. “That created a new political dimension to surviving scandals while in office.”

*This story has been updated to reflect the delay in Paxton's trial.

Alan Greenblatt is the editor of Governing. He can be found on Twitter at @AlanGreenblatt.
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