Last Wednesday, Austin residents entered their third day of frigid temperatures, powerless homes, and frozen pipes. Shelves in grocery stores were bare, schools had transformed into warming centers, and local hospitals struggled after losing water pressure and heat. Winter storms were battering the state.
But one city homeowner had escaped the misery: Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who was nearly 1,300 miles away in Salt Lake City, where water flowed freely and electricity pumped warm air indoors.
Paxton traveled to Utah’s capital with his wife, Republican state Senator Angela Paxton, and met with Utah Republican Attorney General Sean Reyes “various times” between Wednesday and Friday, a spokesman for Reyes told The Washington Post.
Paxton’s trip out of state during the historic crisis has attracted ire from state Democratic leaders, who last week scorned Republican Senator Ted Cruz for his own effort to escape the storms by heading to Cancún with his family.
“They don’t believe in governance, and couldn’t care less about the people they’re supposed to represent,” tweeted Democrat Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and housing secretary under president Barack Obama, referring to Paxton and Cruz.
The news has added fuel to the outrage being thrown at GOP leadership in the state, with critics accusing Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott and the Republican-controlled state legislature of not cold-weatherproofing the state’s power grid and ignoring warnings of its fragility for decades.
Paxton is also being compared to Cruz and the embattled Abbott, who aside from falsely blaming the outage on frozen wind turbines has been largely inconspicuous during the state’s crisis.
Paxton made national headlines last year when he filed a long-shot lawsuit seeking to overturn the presidential election results in four key swing states that Democratic candidate Joe Biden won. The Supreme Court dismissed the case in December.
The attorney general faces several legal challenges of his own. In July 2015, he was indicted on charges of felony securities fraud. Numerous legal challenges have pushed off a trial. Last October, seven of Paxton’s high-ranking staffers accused him of bribery and abusing his office by cozying up to wealthy donors. On Feb. 11, the Associated Press reported the FBI was looking into Paxton’s million-dollar Austin home as part of the probe based on the staffers’ allegations.
News of Paxton’s trip to Utah, which was first reported by the Dallas Morning News, cited campaign spokesman Ian Prior, who said the Texas attorney general met with Reyes to discuss "an antitrust lawsuit several states are pursuing against Google." Prior said Paxton attended a "demonstration of a police training program."
It is unclear when Paxton left Texas. Representatives for Paxton and Reyes did not specify whether the meetings were planned before the storms hit.
A spokeswoman for Angela Paxton, meanwhile, told the Morning News that the state senator joined her husband "on a previously planned trip to Utah which included meetings that benefit her efforts to promote human dignity and support law enforcement," without providing further details.
Texas Democrats on Monday blasted Paxton for the Utah trip, linking his conduct to Cruz’s trip to Mexico.
Paxton "joins Greg Abbott and Ted Cruz in either fleeing their responsibilities for Texans or fleeing the state entirely," Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa said in a statement. "This is a pattern."
He added, "Texas Republicans do not give a damn about the people they were elected to represent, and they continue to focus on issues that don’t affect the lives of everyday Texans to gaslight them into thinking they are doing their jobs."
Both Cruz and Paxton are listed among the speakers at this week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando. Former president Donald Trump is expected to address attendees on Sunday.