Records and experience have become a major campaign theme this primary season. And with so many of the state’s top offices up for grabs, a candidate’s record and level of experience is truly where we must look. One race this theme has really played out in is the race to replace Greg Abbott as Texas’ next Attorney General.
Each side’s supporters have repeatedly called into question the experience and past records of the other. Conservative Senator and AG candidate Ken Paxton even frequently weighs in from the campaign trail stating, “The best indicator of future behavior is past behavior.” And while all three run their campaigns around how they will fight federal government intrusion in Texas, each has their own past records to run on as well. Moderate State Representative Dan Branch and Sen. Paxton both have legislative records to run on, however Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman does not.
So what has Smitherman been running on?
His campaign has revolved around his legal experience as a “proven prosecutor.” (So much so that many followers of his campaign have commented that it resembles one of a candidate for District Attorney…) However, after spending most of his career as a banker, Smitherman only served as a prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office (HCDAO) for 15 months.
Last month, blogger David Jennings grew skeptical of Smitherman’s many claims to prosecutorial fame within a mere 15 months at the HCDAO. In a post published on Jennings’ political blog, Big Jolly Politics, as well as the Houston Chronicle’s Blog, he broke down Smitherman’s claims and compared them to his actual trial record from the HCDAO.
A couple days later, Ken Paxton made the claim on the Chad Hasty Show that in light of Smitherman’s 15-month record as a prosecutor, he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify for most of the jobs in the Office of the Attorney General (OAG).
Someone without enough experience to apply for “most” of the jobs in the OAG wants to run the OAG? That’s quite a hefty claim and, if true, seriously disconcerting.
A quick download and some sorting of a spreadsheet from the Texas Tribune’s data portal shows there are 4,074 jobs within the OAG, including the Attorney General. Since we’re talking legal experience, I drilled down to “legally-related” jobs: 891 of them. Of those 891 jobs, 717 are Assistant Attorneys General (AAG) levels I-VII, 173 are Legal Assistants and Secretaries levels I-IV, and the last one is, of course, the Attorney General.
A brief perusal of job openings on the OAG website reveals various necessary and preferred levels of experience for all of these jobs:
AAG I is required to have their Juris Doctor (JD), be a licensed attorney in good standing with the State Bar of Texas, and have “knowledge of laws and legal principles and practices.” Those applying for AAG II must meet the same requirements as well as have one year of “full-time legal experience as a licensed attorney.” As the AAG levels go up, the amount of time of “full-time legal experience as a licensed attorney” increases by one-year increments.
Back to Barry Smitherman. Again, he has a little over one year of prosecutorial experience. According to a recent post by Politifact Texas, Smitherman also practiced as a briefing attorney and municipal bond attorney for one year, giving him a total of two years and three months of practicing legal experience.
With less than three years of experience, Smitherman would qualify for AAG I-III. According to Politifact, he would not qualify for 70 percent of the jobs that require legal experience in the OAG.
As Jennings says in his post, “if we as Republicans are going to dissect Wendy Davis’ life story and find exaggerations and omissions . . . we’d probably better look at our own candidates.”
With less than a week left until the March 4th primary and early voting underway for a few more days, it couldn’t be more important to ensure you are looking at the facts and records of each candidate.
Attorney General is one of the most important offices we will vote on in 2014, but “the people” are still his employers. With just 15 months of applicable experience, would you hire Barry Smitherman as the chief lawyer for the State of Texas?