News & Politics

Game Changer? Eva Guzman Announces Run for Texas Attorney General

Eva Guzman photographed June 12, 2021 in Houston, TX. Nathan Lindstrom Photography

Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman is officially running for attorney general of the Lone Star State. Here’s her announcement video:

The Texas Office of the Attorney General is 90% about enforcing child support. You’d never know that from what campaigns for the office tend to discuss. Child support is the first item noted on the attorney general’s official website

In recent years, though, the Texas attorney general has taken on an additional and far more high-profile duty: battling Democrat administrations. It’s on this ground that the campaign for attorney general will be fought in 2021 and 2022. 

Greg Abbott blazed this trail when he was Texas attorney general during the Obama years. He famously quipped that “I go into the office, I sue the federal government and I go home.” That quote and the lawsuits he backed it up with endeared him to Texas Republicans. Texans wanted a fighting general in the courtroom, and Abbott was it. 

Abbott also claimed to have sued the Obama administration 25 times. PolitiFact, no friend to Abbott or any other Republican, was forced to rate his claim as True. The number of lawsuits Abbott had filed against the federal government at that point was actually 27.

All Abbott’s legal warfare against Obama did was push back against some bad policy and propel him straight to the governor’s mansion. He’s now in his second term and has a war chest north of $30 million. He’s facing primary challengers but unless something very big happens, he’ll win a third term if he wants it.

Abbott’s transformation of the AG’s office has changed Texas politics considerably. That office is now seen as a viable path to governor, and Abbott won’t be governor forever. 

Incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) has followed the Abbott example of suing a hostile federal administration now that he has one in Joe Biden. He has already sued the feds over Biden’s executive order pausing oil and gas leases on federal lands, and shared in victory in that case, and sued for canceling the Keystone XL pipeline. He has sued twice over Biden’s border policies, which have created unmitigated chaos for Texans even 100 miles or more inside the border. So that’s at least four lawsuits, a pace of one a month, putting him on course to out-sue Abbott — if he remains in office.

He may not. Paxton has been swarmed by scandals going back to before he was elected attorney general. One of those scandals includes an extramarital affair, and his staff resigning in protest over what they call corrupt behavior. All of this is a terrible look for a man who says he is a Christian and a conservative and the state’s top government attorney.

Up to a week ago he was only facing Land Commissioner George P. Bush (R), who has universal name recognition and also his own problems. It’s tough to make the case that he would fight for Texas with Paxton’s vigor given the fact that he isn’t fighting for the Alamo, which is currently entirely under his management. He said practically nothing about that project for more than two years and didn’t testify when a key permit was up for debate at the Texas Historical Commission in September 2020. His General Land Office didn’t legally have to submit to the THC’s ruling (state law is clear on who manages the Alamo), but did anyway. With a new best-selling book smearing the Alamo defenders as cowards and fools, Bush remained silent until late last week. He also recently got smacked by Harris County and the city of Houston over disaster recovery funding, losing a public argument outside the courtroom to Joe Biden. I’m told behind the scenes that he once joked about naming a project after Biden if that meant freeing up federal funds for it. Add to all that the fact that he’s never really practiced courtroom law but would be in charge of the legal fights Texas would wage against the federal government. He reportedly let his law license lapse for several years.

Related: An Abolitionist at the Alamo?

Then there’s the koozies his campaign distributed as his kickoff event, which to many eyes looks cloying. 

It’s fair to say, then, that both the incumbent and the challenger headed into the campaign for courtroom warrior with significant damage, battle and otherwise. 

Then came news that Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman was resigning her seat on the court, which she has held for more than a decade. Speculation burned across the political landscape that she was running for attorney general. Last Monday she filed the necessary paperwork to do so, and today she has announced. 

Guzman was born in Chicago but grew up in humble circumstances in Houston. She was appointed to the Texas Supreme Court by Gov. Rick Perry in 2009. She won re-election in 2010 and ever since, and racked up the highest vote total ever, for a statewide candidate in either party, in 2016, both in the Republican primary and in the general election. The daughter of legal immigrants from Mexico, Guzman is the first female Hispanic to win statewide office in Texas. She is also the wife of a retired Houston cop and strongly backs the blue. She has been a judge for 22 years and has piled up a record of conservative jurisprudence. 

In a recent speech in Hidalgo County, which is 85% Hispanic and trending Republican, Guzman told her story and laid out her vision of public service.

Thus far there is no hint of scandal with Justice Eva Guzman, which separates her from the other two contenders. She is extremely popular with the Republican party base. Guzman has blazed trails to reach the heights she has reached, all while staunchly defending conservative principles in her service. There probably are, to be sure, votes in individual cases that came before her on the court that will be sifted and weighed. That’s fair and part of the political process. But at this point, Guzman represents a genuine conservative record and brings with her a history of amassing a record-breaking coalition of support. 

Texas Republicans have an important choice to make in this race. As the Biden administration lurches hard to the left and leaves Texans reeling from his energy, border, and other policies, the attorney general of Texas will have to be a fighting general — one with the mind, heart, and guts for multiple important and prolonged battles. 

Is Eva Guzman a game-changer in a state in which the Tejano vote is up for grabs and shifting Republican, and in which the suburban voter tends to be center-right and is looking for stable, adult leadership? With Guzman’s sterling record, telegenic presence, and compelling story?

That will be up to Texas voters to decide. 

Disclosure: The writer worked for Bush for four years and led the Alamo project for one of those years.