Three weeks ago, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent out a press release that seemed weird, but not too weird. The attorney general, never one to avoid a fight with the federal government or any of Texas' 49 fellow states, had a problem with an order issued by a Colorado county demanding nonresident homeowners get out during the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks to an exclusive Associated Press report published Wednesday, we now have a better idea about why Paxton got in the fight.
According to the AP, Paxton's decision "stood to benefit an exclusive group of Texans, including a Dallas donor and college classmate who helped Paxton launch his run for attorney general and had spent five days trying to get a waiver to remain in his $4 million lakeside home."
The college roommate's name is Robert McCarter. McCarter's neighbors in Crested Butte, Colorado, are also donors to Paxton and his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton.
Paxton framed his quarrel with Gunnison County as a constitutional fight.
“While I applaud several measures Gunnison County has taken to ensure the health and safety of its citizens, the banishment of nonresident Texas homeowners is entirely unconstitutional and unacceptable,” Paxton said on April 9. “To unlawfully prevent Texans from inhabiting or enjoying property that they own, regardless of its location within the U.S., is a blatant violation of our Constitution.”
Three weeks later, Paxton's office said he'd talked with some Texans about the Colorado county's decision, but declined to say which ones.
"(I)t is a normal practice for the attorney general to speak with multiple constituents from around Texas about issues pertinent to Texas residents,” Paxton spokesman Marc Rylander told the AP.
McCarter did not respond to requests for comment from the AP and the Observer.
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Gunnison County sits about 200 miles southwest of Denver. The resort community has only one hospital with 24 beds, which, in part, caused county officials to ask nonresidents to leave.
According to the AP's investigation, McCarter twice asked the county for permission to stay despite the order, saying that he had a healthy family and a "freezer full of elk." The county gave McCarter an exemption three hours after Paxton intervened.
Despite the timing, Gunnison County said Paxton had no influence on its decision.
“Our public health officials had no knowledge of the connection between the McCarters and AG Paxton and even if they had it would have had no effect on decision-making,” Gunnison County Manager Matthew Birnie told the AP.