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Is This a Sign of a Shift in the Texas Attorney General Race?

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Since Joe Biden was inaugurated, it’s been clear that he would push radical policies on the country, and the states would have to lead the pushback. The offices at the state level that will fight back will tend to be state attorneys general, as they have the resources to take the federal government on in court.

So far, the states have led pushback against Biden’s border policies and his executive orders against U.S. energy producers, with successful results in the bag. A multi-state lawsuit challenged Biden’s moratorium on energy development on federal lands, and the states won.

Another multi-state lawsuit challenged Biden’s order nullifying the “remain in Mexico” policy, and the states won that case in August.

As Biden’s agenda stalls in Congress, and with Congress focusing more on reelection than governing (not a new problem), Biden is likely to push more policies via executive order and test the limits of his power. The states will have to be ready and willing to fight back.

Texas has been a party to both of the lawsuits mentioned above and was the lead plaintiff in the border lawsuit. The nation’s biggest red state will be expected to take the lead in the battles for the rest of Biden’s term.

Incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton faces two opponents in the Republican primary. Due to redistricting, that primary is likely to take place in June 2021 but the date is not set and could move forward or backward depending on how long redistricting takes. That will be handled in a special legislative session, the state’s third of 2021, set to kick off on September 20.

Paxton’s two opponents in the primary are well-known to Texans: Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman. Regular and special legislative sessions keep state representatives and senators in town and prevent them from fundraising while the legislature is in session. None of the three candidates are legislators and thus are free to fundraise. The Texas Tribune’s Patrick Svitek published numbers from the three candidates’ campaigns, and the numbers are causing a stir.

It’s only one month but it’s interesting, as it’s the first time all three candidates have had an equal playing field and have it largely to themselves because legislators cannot fundraise. Paxton, the incumbent, has faced several scandals (and an apparent staff coup) and has been fundraising for years as he is legally allowed to do. He has also led cases to victory in the aforementioned lawsuits. Bush, likewise, has been fundraising for years but his fundraising pace seems to have slowed. He is also facing a brewing scandal in the veterans’ homes his agency manages along with issues over disaster recovery funds in Houston, the state’s largest city (disclosure: I worked at the General Land Office under Bush a few years ago).

Justice Guzman, on the other hand, just recently resigned from the Supreme Court to launch her campaign for attorney general. She was last to enter the race and had very limited time between her announcement and the first fundraising deadline but did quite well, raising more than $1 million. In this interim report, she has raised more than both of the other candidates combined once you subtract the $6,040 in-kind donations in Bush’s total.

Of the three, Guzman is arguably the most experienced, most qualified, and least tainted by scandal (she has none). She has served on the Texas Supreme Court, where she distinguished herself as a serious conservative jurist, for two decades. During that time she broke the record for highest vote total in a statewide election in Texas history, twice. The wife of a retired Houston cop, Guzman has been quietly amassing support from sheriffs and police officers’ organizations around the state. She is running as a conservative who will defend Texans from Biden’s leftist policies and executive order overreaches, which Texans will prioritize in next year’s Republican primary. Her life story as the daughter of legal immigrants who worked hard and has risen to the top of the legal profession in Texas isn’t lost on anyone. Of the three candidates, Guzman’s story is arguably the most compelling. Meanwhile, both of the others have their scandals and the interim fundraising total is being read around Austin as trouble for Bush, who has brought in out-of-state campaign consultants.

Attorney general in Texas is both a battling post in the present and a viable stepping stone to future higher office. Current Gov. Greg Abbott and Sen. John Cornyn both served as Texas attorney general prior to landing their current offices. Abbott, in particular, earned his spurs suing the Obama administration for all of its eight years.

Former Justice Eva Guzman hasn’t put a foot wrong in her quest for Texas AG so far.