Ken Paxton’s lawsuits intrude on city autonomy

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Attorney General Ken Paxton cherishes liberty, which is apparent when he sues the federal government for intruding into Texas’ affairs. His lawsuits against his favorite target, the EPA, have cost us $433,471 (and counting). However, he promises his lawsuits are “taking power out of the hands of unelected bureaucrats” and returning it to us, the people.

But when he sniffs disagreeable local policy, Paxton takes matters into his own hands and invades city policy. An examination of Paxton’s litigation against several cities this past year reveals this contradiction between fighting against government intrusion and being a perpetrator of it. 

Last month he joined a lawsuit against the City of Austin and the Austin Firefighters Association for a labor agreement that provides firefighters leave for union business. Paxton justifies the suit by claiming that the agreement violates anti-gift clauses in the Texas Constitution and wastes Austin taxpayers’ money. He adds that the city should instead spend the money on emergency services. 

Though a Texas court will determine whether Paxton’s constitutional interpretation is correct or not, his other claim of knowing how to better spend Austin’s budget than the city is state intrusion. 

He also seems unaware that firefighter unions in Texas have to constantly renegotiate for fair payment, benefits and acceptable workplace conditions because “few, if any, elected officials ‘give’ firefighters anything,” according to John Riddle, president of the Texas State Association of Firefighters, in an interview with the Texas Tribune. He adds that the Austin labor agreement for firefighter leave already came from other agreed concessions. 

Our city budget, funded by Austin residents, is never decided so lightly that an unrelated state employee can interject his outside opinion of it — especially through legal action. 

But Paxton sues cities irrespective of the context of their policies or his awareness of them — as long as it seems like he’s fighting overbearing regulation. Last month, he also sued Brownsville for charging $1 per plastic bag because it constituted to be an “illegal sales tax.” 

Although the Brownsville city government was using the fee — which added no cost to businesses — to curb pollution of its waterways and streets, lessen sewer and drainage clogs and fund street cleaning, Paxton could not bear to watch a city regulate its waste. One wonders if Austin, Kermit, Fort Stockton and others should expect court summons in the mail.

And Paxton’s litigative hunger is insatiable. Last August in Waller County, while a local court was determining whether Texas’ recent open carry policy permitted guns inside a particular courthouse, Paxton still sued the county in a Travis County court in the name of Second Amendment rights. This confused the Waller County district attorney, who in a statement questioned “why [Paxton] is afraid to cooperate with us in our pre-existing suit here in Waller County” and that the issue could have been “quickly and finally resolved in the court system.”

Taxpayers should wonder why they allow Paxton to spend their money on frivolous lawsuits. His intrusions into city affairs not only squander taxpayer money, but reveal that we elected an attorney general whose primary principle is not removing government’s shackles on individual decision but using his own arbitration to overpower those he disagrees with.

Zhao is a history and corporate communications junior from Shanghai, China. Follow him on Twitter @_AlbertZhao.