There is now little doubt that the coalition government of liberal Republicans and Democrats who control the Texas House are responsible for the politically motivated indictments against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
The leadership of that coalition, headed by Speaker Joe Straus, and Paxton have been political opponents for several years. In 2011, Paxton challenged Straus for the Speaker’s office and though he was unsuccessful, Paxton went on to win an open state senate seat in 2012. From there, he launched an underdog bid for Attorney General, defeating Straus’s boyhood friend, Rep. Dan Branch, in the process.
The indictments against Paxton were unsealed on Monday to reveal that the complainants were none other than Rep. Byron Cook (R–Corsicana) and a Florida businessman with connections to Cook, Joel Hochberg.
Cook is chairman of the powerful House Committee on State Affairs. It was at Cook’s Austin home that Straus was chosen to be speaker in 2009. As one of Straus’s most powerful lieutenants, Cook used his committee this session to stop a major ethics reform package, to bury pro-life legislation and legislation aimed at curbing illegal immigration, and to prevent a vote on legislation aimed at protecting paychecks from being raided by public employee unions.
Hochberg was not well known to Texans before Monday, but research reveals connections to Cook spanning decades. Cook earned his millions at the helm of a videogame publishing company named TradeWest that was founded by his father. Joel Hochberg was the creator of the popular video game “Battletoads” and other games that were published by TradeWest in the 1990s.
On Saturday, just before the indictments were leaked to the New York Times by one of the special prosecutors involved in the case, we ran a piece examining, amongst other things, a series of open records requests filed with the offices of several members of House leadership. The requests, which were filed with the offices of House Speaker Joe Straus (R–San Antonio), Rep. Jim Keffer (R–Eastland), and Rep. Charlie Geren (R–Fort Worth), sought records of communications and meetings with the Travis County DA’s office about Paxton’s case. It is unclear what records specifically were being sought, but it is clear that the person who filed the requests, Democratic operative Matt Angle, thought there had been communications between those offices and the DA about Paxton.
Since then, a source has informed us that two other member’s of Straus’s leadership team, Rep. Drew Darby (R–San Angelo) and former Republican Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, were overheard discussing Paxton’s case at the 2014 Republican State Convention. According to the source, Darby and Hilderbran stated that they were waiting until after the 84th legislature commenced to renew their attacks on Paxton.
Some commentators close to House leadership have speculated that if Paxton is forced to resign due to the indictments or their related financial cost, Branch or some other politician close to Straus may be appointed to fill the vacancy.