Attorney General Ken Paxton and his wife, Sen. Angela Paxton, a Texas state senator, went to Utah last week during the catastrophic winter storm in Texas that has left millions without heat or electricity for over a week.
According to Business Insider, the Republican officials left on a business trip but the revelation comes just days after Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, fled his home state for a family trip to Cancun, a jaunt in which the Senator and his wife invited several of their personal friends. Paxton reportedly left for Utah on the very same day that Cruz jetted down to Mexico.
Paxton spokesman Ian Prior told the Dallas Morning News that the attorney general's trip had been planned in advance of the blizzard. According to Prior, Paxton had already planned to meet with Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes about an antitrust lawsuit that Texas is currently leading against Google for the company's "anticompetitive conduct in advertising." The meeting took place in Salt Lake City "over the course of several days," according to the Texas Tribune, and involved "lengthy discussions, mostly about the Google antitrust case." The two attorneys general also took part in a police de-escalation training demonstration. "This is a program that AG Paxton has been considering implementing in Texas," Prior noted.
Prior, however, did not specify whether the trip's expenses had been paid for out of pocket or billed to the state's wallet.
"I cannot further share additional details or the specific reasons on the need for the meeting concerning Google as it involves an ongoing investigation," Prior told the Dallas Morning News. Prior also alleged that the Paxtons did not leave the state of Texas "until after power had returned to most of the state, including his own home."
On the day the two attorneys general met last Wednesday, approximately 2.7 million households in Texas were without power. Texas had issued a boil-water order because water pressure had plummeted as a result of the cold weather. As many as ten Texas residents had passed due to weather-related incidents, such as house fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and vehicle collisions.
Last week, Paxton's office sent out several public health advisories that pledged to investigate the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) –– the organization the operates Texas' power grid and is largely responsible for damages that Texas has incurred –– as well as "other entities that grossly mishandled this week's extreme winter weather."
Paxton, who, as the state's attorney general, is tasked with cracking down on incidents of price gouging, took to Twitter to condemn the price hikes on water and hotel rooms that came as a result of the storm. "ERCOT & other energy cos have slipped & fallen on their faces & it's not the ice's fault," Paxton tweeted on Wednesday. "They have left 3+ million homes w/o power for days, including my own. What do they do in response? Jack up prices, go silent, make excuses, & play the blame game. It's unacceptable!"
Paxton said in an interview on Monday that individuals and businesses profiteering off the storm may be fined up to $250,000 if the victim is sixty-five or older. According to Paxton, there have already been 500 reported cases of price gouging.
Paxton's trip to Utah marks just one of his deviations from good conduct. For example, Paxton is still facing an indictment of securities fraud by a state grand jury from over five years ago. Last year, several attorneys in Paxton's office resigned because they believed their boss had "[violated] federal and/or state law including prohibitions related to improper influence, abuse of office, bribery and other potential criminal offenses." These allegations are still under investigation.
On Monday, state Democrats issued a statement condemning Texas lawmakers for their latest derelictions of duty. "This is a pattern," said Texas Democratic Party Chair Gilberto Hinojosa. "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."