AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week was monumental for Rochelle Garza in more ways than one: marking the start of early voting and her daughter turning 7 months old.
The South Texas Democratic candidate faces incumbent Republican Ken Paxton, who is running for a third term as Texas attorney general. On Monday, when the polls opened, Garza pushed her 7-month-old daughter in a stroller through Brownsville’s Veterans Park to vote and pose for photosalong with several other candidates.
“I’m in this fight for her and her future. I want to make sure my daughter has more rights than I did growing up. This includes the rights to her own body. It’s one of the most fundamental things we have as human beings – to be able to decide our own future,” she said.
Abortion access became a central issue for Garza’s campaign after the Supreme Court’s summer decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which gave states the right to regulate abortions and effectively overturned Roe v. Wade. As a result of the decision, a Texas law went into effect banning abortions except in certain emergencies.
Garza has campaigned for abortion for years and even confronted Paxton on the issue in 2017. In a federal case, Garza represented a detained immigrant teenager who wanted an abortion. Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a brief defense the right of the federal government, under former President Donald Trump, to deny access to abortion services to this teenager and others — saying that “Texas should not become an abortion sanctuary state.”
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He told the court, “Texas has a legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life, as well as an interest in promoting respect for human life at all stages of pregnancy.”
This year, after Dobbs, Paxton filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Health and Human Services criticizing the use of something called the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA). He argued that the department was misusing this law to protect patients to “force Texas hospitals and doctors to perform abortions.”
Garza said that as a civil rights attorney, she is putting choice at the center of her campaign: “Once we give up one civil right, it affects all the other hard-fought rights we have. So today it’s a choice. Tomorrow is marriage equality. This is our right to contraception. And where does it end?”
KXAN reached out to Paxton’s campaign several times in the weeks leading up to early voting to request an interview, but did not hear back.
What are the problems?
Monday marked a big day for Paxton as well, as his office announced the launch of its 2022 General Election Integrity Team. Those attorneys, investigators and support staff will look into alleged violations of the Texas Election Code to ensure the election is “ transparent and secure’.
In its announcement, the AG’s office listed some of these violations, which include a vote collector who collects your postal ballot or someone who helps you vote by suggesting by word, sign or gesture how you should vote. It’s an initiative similar to one the office launched last year.
A 2020 KXAN investigation found that complaints of voter fraud are rare and even less likely to result in jail time. A decision by the Texas Court of Appeals also recently noted that the attorney general does not have the authority to prosecute these cases unilaterally.
“I have spent my career defending our country and the rule of law,” Paxton said after issuing a recent attack adcriticizing his opponent on immigration.
The ad claims Garza wants “fully open borders” and calls her a “liberal extremist.”
During his tenure in office, Paxton has filed several lawsuits against the federal government targeting border policies — saying the Biden administration has “sowed nothing but disaster” for the country with policies he says are illegal.
The ad says Garza will defend human traffickers; Garza told KXAN she’s worried her opponent is “soft on crime” and quotes Associated Press investigation in a series of human trafficking and child sexual assault cases dismissed by his office because he “couldn’t find” the victim.
“You have an attorney general charged with a crime who just doesn’t care about doing his job. We need to go back to basics. We need to have someone in this office who will stand up for Texas families,” Garza said.
Garza went on to criticize Paxton’s handling of other consumer protection cases, citing the 2021 Texas winter storm and its goal of holding price-gouging corporations accountable.
Meanwhile, the incumbent has filed its latest lawsuit in a series of lawsuits against major tech companies over consumer privacy concerns. He accuses Google of allegedly using user biometric data without permission; he sued Facebook’s parent company over the same issue in the spring.
Earlier this month, he announced a new program targeting opioid abuse among students.
At the time, he said, “This will be the largest drug prevention, education, reduction and disposal campaign in our nation’s history, at least that’s our hope.”
KXAN political reporter Jala Washington approached Paxton after that press conference to request an on-camera interview about other topics; his team refused.
What do the polls show?
Recent polls show Paxton leading in the race for attorney general.
A Dallas Morning News-UT Tyler poll from August showed Garza within two points of Paxton, while an Emerson College-The Hill poll released Monday showed her trailing by five points.
In addition to his criminal charge of securities fraud, which has been pending since 2015, Paxton has faced other scandals in the years since the last election.
Several officials filed bribery and malfeasance charges against him in 2020 — accusing him of using his office to help Nate Paul, a wealthy Austin-area developer and Paxton donor. Four former top aides eventually sued Paxton for wrongful termination and retaliation after they filed a whistleblower complaint.
This year, the State Bar filed an ethics complaint and ultimately sued Paxton for trying to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. He claims the bar is “politically motivated” against him.
It is unclear what impact these increasing incidents will have on the election.
A recent survey by the Texas Policy Project found that 16 percent of voters who responded said they had never heard of Paxton’s legal troubles. 26% said they had heard “not much” about it, and 37% of people had heard “some”. 20% reported hearing “a lot” about it.