UNIVERSITY PARK — Saying he plans to put an end to “runaway federal government,” state Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, on Tuesday officially launched his bid to be the state's next attorney general in an announcement at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law.
"I'm running for attorney general to fight against an overreaching federal government, to fight for open and accountable government and to preserve limited government in Texas," Branch told a crowd of supporters, which included fellow Dallas Republican legislators Kenneth Sheets and Jason Villalba.
Branch had been open about his interest in running for the position if it were vacated by current Attorney General Greg Abbott, who announced his campaign for governor last week.
Like Abbott, Branch starts off his campaign with a formidable financial advantage. According to recently released campaign finance reports, Branch's campaign has more than $4 million cash on hand, roughly four times that of Railroad Commission Chairman Barry Smitherman, who has also declared for the race.
Cal Jillson, a political science professor at SMU, said that because none of the candidates has significant statewide name recognition, the race is anybody's to win. Of Branch's fundraising totals, he noted, "I don’t know if that makes him the favorite, but he’s certainly been thinking about it longer."
Branch, a lawyer, credited former President Ronald Reagan with inspiring him to pursue political office. In Tuesday's announcement, he recounted numerous accomplishments during his decade in the Texas Legislature, including a push to allow prayer in schools and an effort to require representatives to record their final votes on legislation.
Since 2009, Branch has served as the Higher Education Committee chairman and has promoted investment in colleges and universities. He noted that Texas currently boasts the "highest number of emerging tier one universities in our state's history."
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a former Texas solicitor general, got a nod in Branch's speech. Branch said that, as attorney general, his office "will be filled with constitutional conservatives like Ted Cruz and Jim Ho." Also a former solicitor general under Abbott, Ho served as the master of ceremonies at Branch's announcement.
Branch said he would work to continue Abbott's legacy, which is largely marked by numerous lawsuits against the federal government. "Every day, it seems, there’s another story about [the Obama] administration’s assault on our freedoms," Branch observed, specifically citing problems with the Internal Revenue Service, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice.
He also added, "I will fight for our state’s right to protect the unborn and our right to define marriage as between one man and one woman."
State Sen. Ken Paxton, R-McKinney, who challenged Straus' speakership unsuccessfully in 2011, is also mulling a bid for attorney general. Shortly after Branch's announcement, he issued a statement saying that he too would be "honored" to continue Abbott's legacy.
"Conservatives have shared with me their belief that Texas’ next Attorney General should be a committed conservative with a proven, decade-long record of standing firm for our principles," he said, noting that he will make his own announcement about the attorney general's race next week.
"Whether or not Paxton will be able to get Tea Party leverage remains to be seen," Jillson said. "It will also be very interesting to watch Branch as he moves out of running in his district, which assumes a little civility, into a Republican primary that does not."