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Still more on Paxton

The Observer takes a deeper dive into the dirty life and times of Ken Paxton.

Best mugshot ever

When Paxton was elected to the Texas House in 2002, his yearly personal financial disclosure form was essentially a blank slate, listing little more than a membership with the Collin County Bar Association.

By 2011, he was reporting a stake in 28 companies and a variety of other investments. Paxton’s prominence in Collin County provided him opportunities and connections, and as the years went on, he took advantage. A full accounting of Paxton’s business history would require an article much longer than this one, but a number of instances that raise serious questions about Paxton’s judgment have already been public for some time.

Take the 2004 case in which Paxton and a coalition of investors — one of whom was Paxton’s friend Greg Willis, who became Collin County’s district attorney in 2010 — purchased two plots of undeveloped land on Eldorado Parkway, in eastern McKinney, for some $700,000. The land was quickly rezoned by a city board, whose vice chairman Don Day, was a friend of Paxton’s. The rezoning opened up the area for development, and a small portion of the land was sold to Cornerstone Development Corporation, a Dallas real estate company, for $1 million. That site later became the offices of the Collin Central Appraisal District.

Then there’s Paxton’s investment in WatchGuard, an Allen company that hoped to meet local and state governments’ growing demand for police dashboard cameras. The company seemed to be aware of the benefit that government connections could provide when it advertised to potential investors. As the Associated Press first reported in 2008, company documents made sure to emphasize that WatchGuard was “privately funded and closely held by an influential shareholder group that includes three state representatives,” including Cook, who was elected to the Legislature the same year as Paxton, and had invested in property with him in central and north Texas. (The two men invested in a number of ventures together before the relationship turned sour over the Servergy deal, and Cook became a complainant in one of Paxton’s felony charges.)

In 2006, the Texas Department of Public Safety selected WatchGuard to outfit the agency’s fleet; the selection followed a bidding process that one of the company’s competitors charged in a letter to a state agency was designed from the start to select WatchGuard. Paxton and Cook later voted for a state budget that funded WatchGuard’s new contract. As WatchGuard’s prominence and profits rose, Paxton and Cook sold some of their stock in the company. Paxton told the AP in 2008 he’d owned only a small part of the firm, but WatchGuard’s CEO claimed that Paxton was a personal friend and original investor whose ownership stake was “not insignificant.”

The Texas Constitution bars legislators from benefitting “directly or indirectly” from contracts authorized by the Legislature. But Paxton told the news agency that the WatchGuard contract, in the context of the state budget he voted for, was as insubstantial as a “flea on an elephant.” Paxton also asserted he “didn’t even know [WatchGuard] had contracts with the state of Texas,” but even after confirmation that it did, he maintained an investment in the company. As of his latest available personal financial disclosure form in 2014, he continues to own an interest.

The problem with the WatchGuard cameras is that they didn’t match up to the competition, according to Aaron Smith, a Navy veteran and engineer who oversaw the McKinney police fleet. An officer with the department for 12 years, he said he got a directive from the police chief: The city would rip out its patrol fleet’s well-performing Panasonic cameras and replace them with WatchGuard models. Smith says the WatchGuard cameras failed frequently and featured much weaker safeguards against unauthorized editing of footage. The whole thing weighed on Smith’s conscience so much that he left the force in December 2013.

There’s a lot more, so read the whole thing, it’s both informative and more than a little depressing. The bit about how Paxton arrived in the Lege in 2003 as a moderate who supported public education just boggles the mind. As to what ultimately happens, who knows? It’s entirely believable to me that Paxton runs for re-election in 2018 having been convicted but going through the appeals process. I’d like to think that having him on the November ballot under such conditions would be detrimental to him and perhaps to the rest of the Republican ticket, but to say the least that remains to be seen. You’d think that would put a dent in the Republicans’ recent invulnerability here, but you’d be basing that on faith and hope. Anyway, we’re a long way off from that, and I suspect the trial when it happens will tell us a few more things about Ken Paxton. I look forward to it.

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