Editorial: We recommend Sam Houston for Texas attorney general

Editorial: We recommend Sam Houston for Texas attorney general

Serious legal issues dogging Republican state Sen. Ken Paxton should rule him out for consideration to be the next attorney general of Texas. It’s fortunate for voters that there’s a solid alternative in a Houston attorney whose name isn’t easy to forget.

Career litigator Sam Houston, a Democrat, is making his second run for office, having been on the ballot in 2008 in an unsuccessful run for the Supreme Court of Texas.

This newspaper recommended Houston for office then and recommends him now, on the strength of his legal experience and ideas for the office.

Paxton’s impaired candidacy stems from his written admission that he broke state law by failing to register with the State Securities Board even though he solicited paying clients for a financial services firm that paid him a 30 percent cut. It wasn’t a one-time slipup on Paxton’s part. The Securities Board’s civil complaint against him cites solicitations from 2004, 2005 and 2012.

As if to make the situation vanish, Paxton, 51, a veteran lawmaker from McKinney, declined to contest the disciplinary order and paid a $1,000 fine in May. But the matter lives on. A complaint has been filed with the Travis County district attorney’s office, which has postponed any decision on taking the matter to a grand jury until after the election. That raises the possibility of felony charges against a sitting attorney general, the state’s chief law enforcement officer. Voters should not invite that kind of embarrassment for Texas.

Houston, 51, is a partner in a law firm with experience on both ends of a lawsuit. He has a clear-eyed view of the attorney general’s office and its core function as the state’s chief legal counsel.

As such, Houston said he would bring the art of mediation to bear more often, saving the state considerable legal costs that could be spent better elsewhere.

Houston makes one commitment, in the wake of the chemical disaster in West: He would override the attorney general’s recent ruling that allowed the State Department of Health Services to withhold records on dangerous chemicals stored by Texas businesses. That ruling relied on a portion of the Texas Homeland Security Act, which intended to keep potential explosives out of the hands of terrorists.

Houston criticized the ruling as unnecessarily restrictive on release of information, based on vague notions of how how certain substances could be used. He said other sections of law are clear on the public’s right of access to government documents. In the same vein, Houston said the attorney general erred in barring release of records on grant requests from the Texas Enterprise Fund, administered by the governor’s office.

Defending the Texas Open Records Act is another core duty of the attorney general’s office. Houston’s zeal for government transparency shows he has the right stuff for that important part of the job.

Libertarian Jamie Balagia and Green Party candidate Jamar Osborne are also on the ballot.