The Back MicThe Back Mic: Budget Committee Questions Paxton, NRCC Targets 5 Democrats for 2022 Midterm, Abbott Spokesman to Leave Post

This week — here's a look at Texas politics during the first week of Senate budget hearings.
February 12, 2021
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AG Paxton and Sen. Jane Nelson Spar Over Funding Request

In front of the Senate Finance Committee, Attorney General Ken Paxton faced tough questions from fellow Republicans.

When pressed by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) about the attorney general’s removal of his top lieutenants — for which the legislature appropriated extra funding to keep — Paxton responded, “We’ve replaced the lawyers that have left with, I think, even better lawyers.”

Huffman further questioned Paxton about his hiring of outside counsel to handle the Google antitrust lawsuit, while still requesting more funding for his new and improved legal team. The attorney general replied that the outside counsel was necessary to “even the playing field” with Google’s “unlimited resources” on the sparsely trafficked ground of antitrust law.

Pushing back, committee Chair Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) asked, “I had heard you had some excellent attorneys on staff as far as what you need for litigation, what did we give all those raises for [in the last budget]?”

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The attorney general again responded by saying the staff is not adequately experienced in antitrust law specifically. He maintained their experience is “excellent” with more typical issues the office faces — such as redistricting and election law.

“We are taking on a behemoth that I believe if we do not succeed and stop, that we’ll never be able to control it and stop it,” he added.

Nelson countered, “I’m not sure we can afford attorneys that can compete with the lawyers Google can buy.”

The budget, Senate Bill 1, currently proposes $585 million in funding to the Office of the Attorney General each year for the 2022-2023 biennium.

NRCC Announces 5 Texas Districts on 2022 Target List

With only 634 days remaining until the 2022 midterm election, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has announced its target list of incumbent Democrats.

On that list are five Texas Democrats:

  • Lizzie Fletcher, TX-07 — 3.3% margin of victory (MOV)
  • Vicente González, TX-15 — 2.9% MOV
  • Henry Cuellar, TX-28 — 19.3% MOV
  • Colin Allred, TX-32 — 6% MOV
  • Filemon Vela, TX-34 — 13.6% MOV

NRCC Chairman Tom Emmer stated, “We are just a few weeks into the Biden Administration and Americans are already seeing the job-killing initiatives House Democrats support.”

“We will relentlessly hold House Democrats accountable for their socialist agenda and ensure voters understand the damaging impact policies like defunding the police, government-run health care and ending the Keystone XL Pipeline will have on Americans’ everyday lives.”

Three of those members — Fletcher, González, and Cuellar — opposed President Biden’s federal land fracking moratorium, and Fletcher also opposed the halting Keystone XL pipeline.

Of those five targets, only Fletcher and González won their races by fewer than five percentage points. Each of the five underperformed the top of the ticket in their respective districts.

The NRCC has $12.6 million cash on hand as of the beginning of February.

Republicans maintained their hold on Texas congressional delegation, preventing the Democrats from flipping even a single seat.

Longtime Spokesman for Governor Abbott to Leave Office

First reported by the Texas Tribune, John Wittman will leave his post as the governor’s communications director to start his own public affairs firm.

Abbott said of Wittman’s departure, “John has been an invaluable member of my team for years and established himself as one of my most trusted advisers. Whether in times of crisis or managing the day-to-day operations of the communications department, John could always be counted on to provide steady and strategic guidance for the office, my team and state agencies.”

“John’s presence in the Office of the Governor will be sorely missed, but I will remain forever grateful for his unparalleled service to Texas, and I wish him the best as he embarks on his next endeavor.”

Wittman worked for Abbott for seven years beginning with the 2014 gubernatorial campaign.

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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.