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DALLAS — The two statewide officials whose halos have slipped got a couple of the least-prominent speaking spots at the Texas GOP’s state convention.
Attorney General Ken Paxton and Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller were scheduled for the closing hours on Saturday afternoon, following in the wake of Ted Cruz, the man many of these delegates came to see.
The partisans started trickling out as soon as Cruz finished, but sizeable crowds remained for the last speeches of the day.
Here’s the headline: They didn’t treat either Paxton or Miller, who spoke back to back, like bad boys. They weren’t the stars of this show, but the GOP faithful appear to be giving both the benefit of the doubt.
Saturday was about Cruz — like much of the three-day convention. The second big attraction was U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who spoke as a surrogate for Donald Trump. The third was the Texas GOP’s latest platform, adopted after the delegates voted individually on 266 separate planks.
Paxton and Miller weren’t looking for attention, particularly, and weren’t in a place to get a ton of it if they had been. They also didn’t look for sympathy; in their remarks to the full convention, neither mentioned political and legal problems, sticking instead to the bread-and-butter lines such speeches require: They didn’t make any news.
The two officials are, quietly, the weights around the ankle of their party right now: not discredited — that innocent-until-proven-otherwise rule remains in effect — but in trouble and not hanging out with the cool kids on the political playground.
Many delegates discount the troubles facing the two state officials. After the ultimate exonerations of Kay Bailey Hutchison, Tom DeLay and Rick Perry — each of whom was accused and then either acquitted or freed from the charges against them — it’s easier than ever to discount criminal allegations against political figures.
Paxton is fighting indictments on three charges related to securities fraud, based on allegations that he was steering people to investments without revealing he was being compensated for doing so. He faces related federal civil fraud charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission, too. He has said — like Perry, DeLay and Hutchison before him — that the charges against him are politically motivated and that he did nothing wrong.
Miller is being investigated by the Texas Rangers, who are trying to find out whether he billed taxpayers for personal trips to Oklahoma and Mississippi, one for a so-called Jesus shot that would help with back problems, the other to participate in a rodeo. Miller says through aides that he will be found to have done nothing wrong.
Nothing at all might come of that. But both men took office 16 months ago, and all of this extracurricular legal fighting is a distraction at best. It’s also given both men a lesson in how friendly their friends are, or are not.
Most of the statewide officials spoke on Thursday, as the convention opened, starting with Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, Land Commissioner George P. Bush and Railroad Commissioner Christi Craddick. Legislators walked across stage and waved.
Saturday afternoon wasn’t a complete backwater, but the agenda put the spotlight on Cruz. He was the focus in many ways before he even arrived — the main applause line for both the governor and the lieutenant governor, for instance — but he was the main attraction on Saturday.
Everybody else was not the main attraction.
Paxton talked at a Faith and Family event early Saturday morning, telling the small crowd there that, had he known what he was in for before he ran for attorney general, he probably would not have run. That said, he told them to warm applause that he was glad he had done it.
It was subdued. On the first day of convention, he and his lawyers were in another part of downtown Dallas, arguing before the 5th Court of Appeals that the indictments against him were improper and should be tossed.
If either man was seen by the party as a real problem, he might have been asked to find something else to do this weekend. That didn’t happen. But while others were grabbing a bit of the limelight in front of the thousands rock-ribbed Republicans gathered here — Abbott with his new book, Patrick with his culture-war battle over transgender people in public bathrooms — Paxton and Miller remained in the shadows.
That said, they were in the room and on the stage. The crowd thinned some after Cruz spoke, but nobody booed. Some clapped and cheered. The attorney general and the agriculture commissioner have some rough patches behind and in front of them, but here, among the party faithful, they found a little warmth.