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How to Brush Aside Scandal

Ken Paxton shows how it's done. Meanwhile, five Michigan candidates for governor are disqualified for submitting forged signatures and a reminder why it's so hard to beat incumbents.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. (TNS)
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How to Brush Aside Scandal: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton may have stamped out the last embers of the Bush political dynasty on Tuesday. Paxton defeated George P. Bush, the state land commissioner and a son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, to win nomination to a third term as AG.

Bush and other seeming heavy hitters were drawn to the March GOP primary because of Paxton’s apparent vulnerability. Paxton was indicted, years ago now, for securities fraud. Since then, he’s come under FBI investigation, had several members of his own staff accuse him of using the office for criminal wrongdoing and is being sued by the state bar for his lawsuit, dismissed by the Supreme Court, seeking to block 2020 presidential election results in four other states.

The whiff of scandal doesn’t seem to have hurt him politically. He took 68 percent of the vote against Bush. Republicans seem happy with his performance, notably his habit of repeatedly suing the Biden administration. “I really don’t care as long as he’s fighting the fight,” Chris Byrd, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, told the Texas Tribune last week. “Like him or not, Ken Paxton has exhibited more courage in fighting evil than any attorney general we’ve had.”

Naturally, Paxton denies any wrongdoing. But the playbook for Republican politicians caught in scandals is pretty well-established at this point. What worked for former President Donald Trump is being tried by many others: Blame your enemies, including the liberal media.

That’s the tack taken by Scott Pruitt, who resigned as Trump’s EPA head amid scandal in 2018. “I had enemies,” Pruitt says in an ad for his Oklahoma Senate campaign. “The New York Times. The Washington Post. They think they canceled me, but guess what? I'm back.” Missouri GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens, who resigned as governor in 2018 amid scandal and has since been accused of domestic abuse, is taking the same line. Former football star Herschel Walker was able to brush aside stories about domestic abuse and his business and charitable failures in winning the GOP nomination for Senate from Georgia Tuesday.

It's not foolproof. It didn’t work for Charles Herbster, Trump’s favored candidate for Nebraska governor, who lost the GOP primary two weeks ago following multiple accusations of sexual harassment. But candidates are no longer shamed by accusations that, a generation or even a decade ago, might have led earlier politicians to drop out.

Tina Peters, the county clerk and recorder in Mesa County, Colo., was indicted in March for election tampering. Last week, she smiled for her arrest photo and pledged she’ll keep on running for secretary of state. On Monday, the Arizona Senate voted to investigate one of its members, Wendy Rogers, for claiming the recent mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., was a federal “false flag” operation. Majority Republicans refused a Democratic plea to expel her, however. Rogers, a 2020 election denialist, has a long history of making outrageous statements. Rather than hurt her, this has helped her raise $4 million over the past couple of years – huge money for a state legislator.

In today’s polarized politics, the enemy of your enemies still seems to be your friend, almost regardless of how much trouble that friend may get into.
Lansing, Mich., Michael Brown
Republican Michael Brown, a candidate for Michigan governor, submits his petition signatures in Lansing on April 12, 2022. Brown was one of five GOP candidates kicked off the ballot for submitting forged signatures. (TNS)
What Is Disqualifying?: The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that maybe there is such a thing as going too far. It found a 19th-century law that allowed former Confederates to run for federal office does not offer blanket amnesty to current politicians who have violated the 14th Amendment’s ban on insurrectionists.

The opinion doesn’t spell out how exactly to spot an insurrectionist, though. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who recently was on trial to determine whether her role in the Jan. 6 coup attempt disqualifies her from serving in Congress, won nomination to a second term in Tuesday’s Georgia primaries.

Constitutional questions are one thing, but not doing your paperwork correctly is something else altogether. Nearly 70,000 candidate qualifying signatures were forged by canvassers, the Michigan Board of State Canvassers announced on Monday. This means five out of 10 expected GOP candidates for governor, including two of the top contenders, won’t appear on the August primary ballot.

It’s an enormous break for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, generally considered among the nation’s most vulnerable governors this year.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders
Sarah Huckabee Sanders (TNS)
It’s Hard to Beat Incumbents: No fewer than 15 Republican governors seeking re-election this year are facing or have faced primary challenges, but so far they’re all doing fine. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who has been a special target of attack for Trump, easily defeated former Sen. David Perdue on Tuesday, taking 74 percent of the GOP primary vote. Kemp now faces a rematch against Democrat Stacey Abrams, a former state legislator.

Alabama GOP Gov. Kay Ivey also easily defeated two primary challengers on Tuesday. She’ll be an overwhelming favorite in the fall, as will Sarah Huckabee Sanders in Arkansas. Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary and a daughter of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, cleared the field when she came home to run and officially won the GOP nomination on Tuesday.

It’s been a little rougher for state legislators. Most win, of course, but several have suffered defeat in recent weeks in states such as Idaho and Kentucky, including some committee chairs. In Arkansas, a half-dozen state senators either lost or were forced into runoffs in primaries Tuesday. A couple of incumbents also lost their seats in both Georgia and Alabama. Mike Jones, who chairs the Alabama House Rules Committee, was defeated in a primary for a state Senate seat.

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