Friday, October 2, 2015
Will voters allow state official to serve from prison?
I smell a conspiracy.
I have just learned that we Texans will be asked in November to vote on a peculiar amendment to our state Constitution.
For 139 years, that constitution has required certain statewide officeholders to live in Travis County while serving all the people of Texas.
When the Constitution was passed in 1876, undoubtedly the reasoning for this provision had to do with the state’s vast geography.
Travel was mainly by horse and long-distance communication by telegraph.
The State’s business would be hampered by having our top leaders scattered from Texarkana to Presidio.
That’s no longer a problem, of course, and hasn’t been since the widespread use of automobiles and telephones, oh, about a century ago.
But there remains a value to having all our leaders in one basket, so to speak.
For one thing, they need to be available to their employees.
Plus, it’s easier for the public — or our proxies in the media — to keep an eye on them.
Dispersing them could also lead to a rise in our cost of living.
Corporations would have to pass along the costs for their lobbyists to have to travel first-class around a state bigger than the nation of France.
So why the change, and why now?
One observer suggested it might be so that crooked politicians could face prosecution in the presumably friendlier confines of their home towns, rather than Austin.
But the Legislature already gave themselves and other officials that option last spring.
No, I think this proposed constitutional amendment has to do with one man — Attorney General Ken Paxton.
As you may be aware, Paxton is under indictment for felony securities fraud.
If he is convicted he would almost certainly lose his law license.
But under the Texas Constitution, the attorney general isn’t required to be an attorney — or a general, for that matter.
He does have certain duties that require a law license, such as representing the state and giving advice to the governor.
But like Kim Davis, the conscientious Kentucky clerk, he could delegate those duties.
So there doesn’t appear to be a single law that would automatically remove Paxton from office if he is convicted.
What’s more, he likely couldn’t even be impeached.
A 1993 law says a public official “may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer’s election to office.”
Paxton’s alleged offenses fit that description.
But there is one provision in the Texas Constitution that could result in Paxton’s removal from office.
It is Section 23, Article IV.
It requires that statewide office holders live in Travis County.
That could be problematic for Paxton.
He is charged with two first-degree felonies and one third-degree felony.
The possible punishment ranges to life in prison, though a prison sentence would likely be for considerably less time.
Still, there is no prison in Travis County.
Despite considerable evidence that locating prisons close to the families of prisoners cuts down on recidivism, Texas has always built its prisons away from urban centers.
Rural Texas legislators have always been able to win prisons with the argument that their areas needed the jobs.
So prisoner Paxton would be unable to live in Travis County — the only bar to his continuing in office if he is convicted.
Amendment No. 3 on the November ballot would remove even that bar.
Texas gives the nation enough reasons to laugh at us.
Let’s not vote to allow our attorney general to serve from prison.