Politics

05.30.14

Texas’s Other Sam Houston

There’s no family tie between the Democratic nominee for Texas attorney general and the state hero—and he’d appreciate if you stopped asking.

Life ain’t easy for a boy named Sue or a Texas politico named Sam Houston.

The Democratic candidate for attorney general, who shares a name with the George Washington of Texas, was born and raised in West Texas, he now lives and practices law in, of all places, Houston, Texas. Now he’s facing off against Tea Partier Ken Paxton in his bid to become the first Democrat elected statewide in the Lone Star State since 1994. 

The one topic that keeps on coming up for Houston, though, is his name. In an interview with The Daily Beast from the campaign trail in San Antonio, he said there’s “no relation” between him and the Texas hero and said he’s been asked about it “maybe once a week my whole life.” Indeed, Houston sounded a little tired of the topic, saying: “I’m proud of my name, not going to change my name, but I don’t run on my name, I don’t bank on my name.” He emphasized that he’s running as “a qualified, well-established lawyer,” not as a novelty candidate with a goofy campaign.

Yet for all his pride in his name, Houston noted: “I have a son, and there’s a reason that he’s not Sam Houston Jr.”

Paxton, a state senator from outside Dallas who just beat state Rep. Dan Branch in a runoff against to win the Republican nomination, has built a deeply conservative reputation in his time serving in the Texas legislature. In a 2010 coup attempt, Paxton attempted to unseat Texas’s  moderate Republican speaker of the House, and during his primary campaign for attorney general he tied himself to Ted Cruz in every way possible.

“I have a son, and there’s a reason that he’s not Sam Houston Jr.”

But Paxton is vulnerable because of ethical issues, Houston said. Paxton has been criticized for failing to disclose and appropriately register his business ties to real estate investor Fred Mowery, in particular for not alerting legal clients whom he encouraged to invest with Mowery that he was getting a referral fee. Paxton also has come under fire for not disclosing his ties to a number of nonprofits. Houston says he is optimistic that Republicans have done lasting damage to Paxton by attacking him all primary season for being “not ethical and competent.”

However, in Texas, often a flawed candidate can coast to victory in a general election with the letter R next to his or her name. But Houston, who ran for state Supreme Court and lost in 2008, said he feels confident that 2014 is the year Texas Democrats can break their 20-year drought. “This year we have a ticket that looks like Texas: You have very strong candidates at the top and all the way down,” he said.

There are no polls yet in the attorney general race, but in a turbulent year in Lone Star politics, anything could happen. And if being a boy named Sue toughened up the main character in the Johnny Cash song, going through life in Texas as Sam Houston has to be adequate preparation for the tough row a Texas Democrat has to hoe.