Attorney General Ken Paxton at the 2016 Texas GOP Convention.
Patrick Michels

Texas’ Indicted Attorney General is Barely Bothering to Campaign

This year, Ken Paxton is again running in absentia: avoiding the press, making few public appearances and refusing to debate Democratic challenger Justin Nelson.

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It’s the Ken Paxton Vanishing Act, where you insert yourself in matters deeply consequential to Texans, only to then disappear — declining to comment or even show your face in public.

In 2014, Paxton won a bitter GOP primary for Texas attorney general, a race that unearthed allegations of shady business dealings. Those eventually sprouted felony charges that still hang over him to this day. During the general election that year, Paxton kept his head down and began dodging the media so hard that, at one point, a spokesperson physically blocked a reporter from asking questions of the soon-to-be attorney general. That approach toward the press continued after Paxton beat his Democratic opponent in a landslide, despite barely campaigning. This year, Paxton is again running in absentia: avoiding reporters, making few public appearances and refusing to debate his Democratic challenger, Austin attorney Justin Nelson.

Nelson has spent much of the race reminding voters that his opponent still faces three-year-old criminal charges. He says Paxton has used the attorney general’s office like a partisan weapon. On the campaign trail, Nelson zeroes in on Paxton’s latest lawsuit to eliminate the Affordable Care Act, which experts say could have devastating effects on the entire U.S. health care system and kick millions of Americans off their health insurance. Legal scholars and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called the lawsuit an “absurd” and “far-fetched” move to kill a health care law that had, against all odds, already survived endless repeal votes and court challenges.

Nelson has promised to pull out of the lawsuit on day one as attorney general, and he’s made pre-existing conditions protections a central issue of his campaign. It’s a smart move politically: According to recent polling, health care is the top issue for voters in the midterms, and the majority of Americans say pre-existing conditions protections should be preserved. More than a quarter of adults in Texas have a condition that would likely make them unable to get coverage without the ACA’s protections.

“It’s such a personal issue, and people don’t understand why the Texas attorney general is trying to use this lawsuit to take away pre-existing condition protections using Texas taxpayer money,” Nelson told the Observer in September, at a rally he organized outside the Fort Worth courthouse where the judge would hear arguments in Paxton’s lawsuit. “This is not partisan, this is about people; their kids, their families are at risk. Why is Texas at the lead just to make a political point?”

Another thing that bothered Nelson at the hearing: Paxton was again a no-show.

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