At Inauguration, Ken Paxton Comes in From the Cold

Ken Paxton, after being sworn in, stands among Texas GOP VIPs: From left to right, Governor-elect Greg Abbott, Senator Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Justice Don Willett, and Governor Rick Perry.
Christopher Hooks
Ken Paxton, after being sworn in, stands among Texas GOP VIPs: From left to right, Governor-elect Greg Abbott, Senator Ted Cruz, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Justice Don Willett, and Governor Rick Perry.

During last year’s elections, Ken Paxton sometimes felt like the odd man out. After trampling his opponents in the Republican primary for attorney general, Paxton admitted to violating state securities law—a potential felony—after unethical business dealings surfaced in the press. He stopped campaigning, more or less, and his fellow ticket-mates, like soon-to-be governor Greg Abbott, shied away.

But he was carried across the finish line, sure enough, and today, at a star-studded inauguration in the Texas Senate, he was welcomed back as a member of the state GOP in full standing. A felony indictment may still be coming—but as the state’s new top lawman, he’s had a pretty unusual rise to the highest echelon of state power.

On hand to celebrate Paxton’s ascension were a who’s who of Republican leaders. Sitting behind the lieutenant governor’s dais at the front of the chamber were David Dewhurst, its current occupant, and Dan Patrick, his soon-to-be successor. Rick Perry was present. Ted Cruz, Perry’s presumptive 2016 rival, was there too. (This was, in part, a Cruz moment: Paxton was his candidate, and his election marks another half-step in the transformation of the state’s political landscape in Cruz’s image.) And there was Greg Abbott, though he seemed dwarfed by his compatriots.

There were, in other words, a lot of bruised and competing egos in the Senate today. The men seemed in a rush to outdo each other in their effusive praise for Paxton: Dewhurst said the new attorney general would be “sustained” by his Christian faith, while Patrick told the crowd he knew in his bones that Paxton would be “first and foremost a servant to his lord and savior, Jesus Christ.”

Perry, our state’s chief lay minister, led the crowd in prayer, in which he managed to slip in a few digs at the president. And Cruz outdid them all, thanking Abbott for his protection of Texas against the “United Nations and the World Court,” along with those pesky feds, and predicted Paxton would do the same.

This was technically Paxton’s show, but his speech, delivered in his typically lethargic style, will not long be remembered. Why are Barack Obama’s federales coming for Texas, he asked? It’s “because we’ve been successful,” he says. But he’s not too worried, because Texas, the “shining city on a hill” that Reagan mentioned that one time in that speech, is strong, and also, our Founding Fathers persevered through the storm with the spirit of 1776, and we rose up to fight those two world wars, and you know, all that good stuff. God bless our great state.

Ken Paxton with his family
Christopher Hooks
Paxton with family

A large number of Paxton’s family were in attendance—his wife sang the national anthem—and they can be suitably proud. The boy from McKinney (well, he was born in some place called Minot, North Dakota but that’s not important here) has done good, in spite of himself. And perhaps the large turnout of notable conservatives today is a sign that if and when the indictment comes down, the party will stand by him.

The closest analogue to Paxton in recent Texas history might be Jim Mattox, the sleazy Democratic populist who took control of the attorney general’s office in 1983 and was indicted just nine months later. Can our humble champion beat Mattox’s record? Today, pomp and circumstance; but the clock is ticking.

Christopher Hooks is a freelance journalist in Austin.

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Published at 5:28 pm CST
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