AUSTIN (KXAN) — After Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal indictment this month for securities fraud, questions swarmed about his future as the state’s top lawyer – a post he has held barely seven months. Answers might not come until his case plays out. But if Paxton’s office is eventually vacated during his term, our sources point to one of seven people who Republican Gov. Greg Abbott could likely appoint to fill his shoes:
Eva Guzman is a Texas Supreme Court Justice, first appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2009. Both Republican and Hispanic, Guzman won her election in 2010.
Education: University of Houston, South Texas College of Law
• Associate Justice on the 14th Court of Appeals, appointed by Perry
• Harris County Family Court Judge, appointed by then-Gov. George W. bush
Why Would Abbott Pick Guzman? In his inaugural address, Abbott highlighted Guzman as a Texas success story – the 13-year-old daughter of Mexican immigrants who worked nights in a drapery factory “but never gave up on her dreams.” Not only is Guzman the first Latina to serve as a Texas Supreme Court Justice, but she is also the first Latina ever elected statewide. Such an appointment would go a long way in showing the Hispanic population how important its values are to Abbott – and to the Republican Party.
Daniel Hodge serves as Chief of Staff to Gov. Greg Abbott, a post he took shortly after leading the team that oversaw the transition between the new administration and the 14-year run of the Perry administration. State lawmakers have nick-named him “Governor Hodge” for his hands-on approach with the legislature.
Hometown: Fort Worth
Education: Davidson College in North Carolina, University of Texas School of Law
• Special Assistant in then-Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Office
• Campaign Manager for Abbott’s Re-election Campaign for Attorney General
• Chief of Staff for then-Attorney General Abbott
• First Assistant Texas Attorney General
Why Would Abbott Pick Hodge? Hodge has been by the governor’s side since the early 2000s, becoming perhaps the most trusted person in Abbott’s inner circle. Plus, Abbott has first-hand knowledge of Hodge’s experience in the attorney general’s office.
Wallace Jefferson served as Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice for nearly a decade, leaving the post in October 2013 before going into private law practice.
Hometown: San Antonio
Education: Michigan State University, University of Texas School of Law
• Appointed by Gov. Rick Perry as the first African American Texas Supreme Court Justice, then first African American Chief Justice
• Treasurer of the American Law Institute
• Current Member of the Texas Historical Commission
Why Would Abbott Pick Jefferson? While their terms as Texas Supreme Court Justices barely overlapped, Jefferson was Chief Justice throughout nearly the duration of Abbott’s time as Attorney General. As a new member of the Texas Historical Commission, he became one of Abbott’s statewide appointments during his first few months in office.
Chip Roy currently serves as the First Assistant Attorney General, which is second in command to Paxton.
Hometown: McKinney, Texas
Education: University of Virginia, University of Texas School of Law
• Staff Director for Texas Sen. John Cornyn
• Senior Counsel on U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee
• Special Assistant U.S. Attorney
• Senior Adviser to former Gov. Rick Perry, directing his state-federal operations (and helping the governor write his book “Fed Up! Our Fight to Save American from Washington”
• Chief of Staff to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (former Texas Solicitor General)
• Senior Political Advisor for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
Why Would Abbott Pick Roy? As second in command at the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Roy is the agency’s chief operating officer, managing the daily affairs of all of its lawyers and other employees – making this transition possibly the smoothest decision.
Jason Villalba is a Republican Texas House member who assumed office in 2013. In the most recent legislative session, he grabbed headlines after authoring a bill to limit the filming of police and another to require first-time DWI offenders to install an ignition interlock device in their vehicles. Villalba is also a practicing attorney in Dallas.
Education: Baylor University, University of Texas School of Law
• Dallas Housing Finance Corporation Board Member
• Dallas County Citizens Election Advisory Committee Member
Why Would Abbott Pick Villalba? Villalba has made no secret his message to fellow Latinos that they belong to the Party of Ronald Reagan. He has said in past reports how – as a child – he saw his family’s economic situation improve considerably during the Reagan presidential years. He travels the state speaking to GOP groups about how they can fit in with the state’s fastest-growing population. This message could continue to bolster not only the party, but also Republican leaders like Abbott.
Don Willett is a Texas Supreme Court Justice, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2005. Through elections, he has held the seat ever since. His current term ends at the end of 2018.
Hometown: Talty, Texas
Education: Baylor University, Duke Law School
• Director of Research and Special Projects for then-Gov. George W. Bush
• Special Assistant to former President George W. Bush
• Director of Law and Policy for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives
• Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy
• Deputy Texas Attorney General for Legal Counsel
Why Would Abbott Pick Willett? When Abbott became Texas Attorney General in 2003, Willett became his chief legal counsel – in charge of opinions, open records and public finance. He also helped with several high-profile cases like protecting the Ten Commandments monument on the State Capitol grounds and also the Pledge of Allegiance inclusion of “under God.” If Gov. Abbott wants someone who has gained a lot of traction on social media in recent years, Willett’s humorous approach to Twitter has earned him the ceremonial title of “Tweeter Laureate of Texas.”
Michael Williams is the Texas Commissioner of Education. Previously, he served on the Texas Railroad Commission – after a gubernatorial appointment then an election, making him the first African American elected to a position in the executive branch of Texas government.
Hometown: Midland, Texas
Education: University of Southern California, USC Law School
• Assistant District Attorney in Midland, Texas
• Federal Prosecutor at the U.S. Department of Justice
• Deputy Assistant Secretary for Law Enforcement at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, appointed by former Pres. George H.W. Bush
• Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, appointed by H.W. Bush
• Chairman of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission
• Texas Railroad Commissioner, appointed by then-Gov. George W. Bush
Why Would Abbott Pick Williams? Though Williams has said he is not interested in becoming Texas Attorney General, his law enforcement and civil rights credentials would make him a top candidate. In his capacity at the U.S. Department of the Treasury, he had policy oversight of the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Finance Crimes Enforcement Network. And as a federal prosecutor – amid death threats and armed guards – Williams prosecuted six Ku Klux Klan members, earning him the Attorney General’s Special Achievement Award for their convictions.