Tag Archives: Jim Mattox

Cruz gets shoved aside at Davis rally


Check out the look on Sen. Ted Cruz’s face. My guess is he’s thinking: “I can’t believe I’m hearing this … from this guy.”

What he’s hearing, apparently, is that he cannot go near the podium where Rowan County (Ky.) Clerk Kim Davis was shouting “Amen!” in the presence of thousands of supporters, including former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

The guy blocking Cruz’s entry into the rally is a Huckabee aide.

I’m no fan of Ted Cruz, but Huckabee’s conduct at that rally was disgraceful in the extreme. This is one example of how he and his campaign sought to commandeer the rally for his own political purposes.

Huckabee shuts down Cruz

Oh yes. Huck and Cruz are running for the Republican presidential nomination.

It turns out that Huckabee got there first. Davis got out of jail, where she had sat for a few days after refusing to do her job, which includes issuing marriage licenses. She shut down the license issuing to protest gay couples who were seeking such licenses, which the Supreme Court says they are entitled to do.

Davis has proclaimed a religious objection to gay marriage. Then we heard Huckabee shout from the podium that he is willing to take Davis’s place in jail.

That, I submit, is about as tasteless an example of grandstanding as I’ve seen since, oh, when Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox went to Mexico in the late 1980s vowing to capture the killers of a University of Texas student. The issue with that showboating example, of course, is that the Texas AG has next to zero criminal jurisdiction, but by God, the fiery Democrat was going to get ’em.

Huckabee’s behavior at the Davis rally rivals the Mattox example. Then he makes it worse when his aide shuts down another grandstander, Sen. Cruz.


Donald Trump: man of danger


Donald Trump came to Texas this week and, according to the man himself, thrust himself into harm’s way by speaking the truth about illegal immigration.

Well, since he’s the presumed frontrunner — for the moment — for the Republican Party presidential nomination next year, his visit requires a brief comment.


It meant nothing in the nation’s ongoing battle against illegal immigration.

Trump’s appearance was just for show. That’s understandable, though. Political candidates do these things on occasion. He swept into Laredo, bounded off his big ol’ jet wearing a ball cap emblazoned with “Making America Great Again.” He said he’s the only candidate speaking the truth about illegal immigration.

He offered zero specifics about what he intends to do about illegal immigration, although he has said he would build a wall to seal off our southern border to protect us against the flood of murderers, rapists and drug dealers who are pouring into the United States en masse.

I’m wondering, though: Is Trump going to make a similar campaign splash in, say, Buffalo, Detroit or Bellingham, Wash., cities that sit on our border with Canada? Let’s seal off our northern border as well, while we’re at it.

As the Texas Tribune reported, the brief fling in Laredo was long on sizzle and short on substance.

He said: “I’ll take jobs back from China, I’ll take jobs back from Japan … The Hispanics are going to get those jobs, and they’re going to love Trump.” There’s that third-person reference again.

According to The Trib: “The spectacle reached its apex when he held court with a crush of media at the border following a roughly half-hour closed-door meeting with law enforcement officials. Against the backdrop of a line of trucks waiting to enter the country, Trump regaled reporters with a string of boisterous predictions — that he would not only win the GOP nomination, but would also take the Hispanic vote — and vague prescriptions for the issue that brought him here: illegal immigration.”

This event kind of reminded me of the time then-Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox traipsed through the mud in Matamoros, Mexico, in the late 1980s after a University of Texas student was killed. Mattox, a Democrat, wanted to make a grand show of how he would root out the killers and bring them to justice. That’s all fine, except for this minor detail: The Texas AG has virtually zero criminal jurisdiction; the office deals almost exclusively with civil matters.

But, hey, it made for great photo ops.

So did Trump’s appearance in Laredo. That’s it.

Texas politics always is bloody

I’ve noted before how Texas politics is a contact sport.

The source of that description came to me from the late great Democratic U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen. It’s more than mere contact, however. At times it becomes a blood sport.

Take the Republican runoff race for Texas lieutenant governor or the GOP runoff contest for state attorney general. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and state Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston are going at each other hammer and tong. It well might be that the Dan Branch-Ken Paxton contest for AG is even nastier, with Paxton running TV ads accusing Branch of being a — gulp! — “liberal Republican” who voted for third-trimester abortions and has backed the dreaded Obamacare.

This kind of campaigning isn’t new to Texas.

The Texas Tribune looked back at the 1990 Democratic race for governor as its prime example of how low it can go.


Attorney General Jim Mattox squared off against State Treasurer Ann Richards. They finished at the top of the primary heap that year and faced each other in a runoff for the party nomination.

Mattox actually accused Richards of using illegal drugs. Richards, a recovering alcoholic, had been clean and sober for many years. That didn’t matter to the bulldog Mattox, who made the accusation during a live TV debate with Richards, according to the Tribune.

Richards would win the runoff and would go on to beat Republican oilman Clayton Williams in the fall after Williams (a) made that terrible gaffe about rape and how women should “just relax and enjoy it” and (b) refused to shake Richards’s hand at an event they attended jointly, instead calling her a “liar” within hearing distance of an open microphone.

Yes, we should lament the nastiness of these current campaigns. Let’s not get too overwrought about them, however. They’re hardly new creations of this new age.

This nastiness is part of what makes Texas politics so, um, invigorating.

Texas AG candidates misrepresent their role

Texas has a long history of tough-talking macho men running for state attorney general.

They make all kinds of vows: to crack down on border security, to be tough on crime, to fight the federal government.

That’s all fine, except that the office requires little of what they individuals are trying to sell.

This year’s Republican primary for attorney general is no different. It’s getting tiresome, to be honest, listening to these individuals try out to out-tough each other.


The attorney general essentially is the state’s in-house lawyer. He or she represents the state primarily in civil matters. Crime-fighting? They leave that job to the district attorneys elected to serve the state’s 254 counties.

The closest the AG comes to fighting crime is chasing down dead-beat parents who are delinquent on their child-support payments.

Barry Smitherman touts his experience as a prosecutor; Ken Paxton boasts that he has tea party U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s support; Dan Branch declares his devotion to the sanctity of human life. They’re all spending a lot of money to promote themselves.

None of it matters as much as how well they’ll perform as a civil litigator representing Texas.


My favorite attorney general candidate of all time, though, was the late Democrat Jim Mattox, who used to brag about how tough he was crime and how he loved a good political battle.

The late great liberal newspaper columnist Molly Ivins once said of Mattox that if he spotted an ice cream stand and a crowd of folks fighting on opposites sides of a street, he’d go for the fight.

Did that make him a good attorney general? No. It did make for a good punch line.

Mattox’s political descendants — who represent the other party — nonetheless are following his lead in their quest for the office he once held.

TV ad wars begin in Texas election ’14

The television ad wars have commenced in the heated races — on the Republican ballot at least — for some of Texas’s key statewide offices.

Dan Branch is running for Texas attorney general. His main foe is Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman. Both men are talking like prosecutorial tough guys.


Branch’s TV ad, which I saw early today, is quite fascinating.

The Dallas-area legislator says Texans need someone in the AG’s office who’ll “fight Obama.” OK, how’s that supposed to help the state? I guess he’s joined the GOP amen chorus in proclaiming that President Obama is picking on Texas, is trying to exert federal authority over the state which — they contend — he doesn’t deserve.

The camera pans across a “Don’t Mess with Texas” bumper sticker, further perverting the slogan’s actual intent. You remember that, right? The slogan became popular when then-Land Commissioner Garry Mauro — a Democrat, by the way — started a statewide anti-littering campaign in the 1980s. Don’t mess with the state means don’t throw trash out of your car onto our highways. Since then, though, the slogan has come to mean something quite different to many people. It has become a statement about Texas machismo, our tougher-than-you-are mantra.

What utter hooey.

These AG candidates need to focus more on how they intend to make constructive improvements in the office. Previous attorneys general, Democrat and Republican, used to make child support enforcement their mantra. My time in Texas dates back to the days of Democrat Jim Mattox. Others who followed him in that office, such as Democrat Dan Morales and Republican John Cornyn all have sought to make improvements in some of the duties unique to the office.

The current AG, Greg Abbott, has become lawsuit-happy in his effort to keep the feds at arm’s length. I guess Dan Branch is running as Greg Abbott 2.0.

To me, this continuing combativeness against the hated federal government is a small-minded turn-off.

Elect a ‘prosecutor’ for Texas AG?

“I have sued Obama 7X and am the only candidate 4 attorney general who’s a proven prosecutor! Help me secure our Texas border.”

That is a tweet from Barry Smitherman, one of the Republican candidates for Texas attorney general who’s seeking to succeed Greg Abbott, the presumptive GOP favorite for the party’s gubernatorial nomination.

I have been awaiting this kind of chest-thumping, which if you consider the nature of the office, is quite irrelevant.

Smitherman is a smart guy who happens to serve on the Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates the state’s oil-and-natural-gas industry. He also appears to be running for attorney general in the Jim Mattox mold of Texas grandstander.

The attorney general essentially is the state’s top lawyer, representing the state’s interest in litigation. Say, the state is taken to court. The AG’s office represents the state in the courtroom. The state does not “prosecute” bad guys. That task is left to district attorneys who are elected by county voters.

Why the Mattox comparison? Well, Mattox was the former Democratic attorney general who traipsed around a crime scene in Mexico vowing to capture and prosecute the individuals responsible for murdering a University of Texas student in the late 1980s.

Mattox had no business making the that pledge, just as Smitherman’s prosecutorial experience really doesn’t matter in the race for attorney general.

Hold the crime-fighter ads, AG candidates

I’ll be waiting during the next few months for someone running for Texas attorney general to pop off one of those “tough on crime” spots.

Then I will be mortified.

The Texas Tribune has an interesting story about three leading Republicans running for the GOP nomination for state attorney general. The guy who’s in the job now, Greg Abbott, is giving it up to run for Texas governor.


The three leading Republicans are Barry Smitherman, who is now serving on the Railroad Commission; Dan Branch, a state representative from Dallas and Ken Paxton, another state rep, from nearby McKinney. They all brand themselves as conservatives — although it’s not yet clear whether they’ll brand each other that way.

What happens occasionally in races for this office is that someone misconstrues — either deliberately or by mistake — what this office is all about.

The AG is the state’s top lawyer. The attorney general represents the state in litigation. His or her office argues for the state in court. The AG, in effect, is a civil litigator.

Every now and then, though, you see an attorney general or someone who wants the job stepping way out of bounds.

Exhibit A has to be the late Jim Mattox, a fiery Democrat who was AG in the 1980s. In 1989, Mattox decided to create a ghastly photo opportunity when the body of a University of Texas student was found in a grave in Matamoros, Mexico. In 1989, Mattox trudged through the mud at the death scene, declaring something to the effect that he would bring whoever committed the crime to justice.

It made for great pictures, except that it was irrelevant. The attorney general’s office would have next to zero influence in determining the outcome of that heinous act.

Of course, that was the year before Mattox launched an unsuccessful run for the Democratic nomination for Texas governor, a race won by then-state Treasurer Ann Richards.

Judges do the same thing all the time. They say they’re “tough on crime,” “tough on criminals.” I always thought judges are supposed to be totally without bias for or against either side. They’re supposed to be neutral when they try cases, aren’t they?

Whatever. I still will be waiting for some attorney general candidate along the way in this election cycle to make some kind of grand declaration about what he’ll do to fight crime.

I hope these fellows prove me wrong.