AUSTIN, Texas — Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has wielded immense influence nationally among grassroots conservatives since his 2012 election, and now, thanks to his mentoring of several key staffers, he is poised to have a significant role in shaping the politics of Texas for years to come.
Cruz’s litigation skills and dedication to conservative constitutional principles led Attorney General Greg Abbott to tap him as Texas’ youngest ever Solicitor General and the first Hispanic to hold that office. In an interview with The New Yorker earlier this year, Abbott said that he had selected Cruz “to take a leadership role in the United States in articulating a vision of strict construction,” calling him “supercharged and ready to go” from day one on the job.
Cruz made a name for himself as Solicitor General among conservative legal scholars on a national level, authoring over 80 briefs for the United States Supreme Court and presenting nine oral arguments before the Supreme Court, more than any other practicing attorney in Texas or current member of Congress.. His work on prominent cases that dealt with legal issues that were conservative priorities — from gun rights in District of Columbia v. Heller, to religious liberty in Van Orden v. Perry, to national sovereignty in Medellín v. Texas — earned him a reputation as a fierce defender of constitutional principles.
In a 2012 interview with the Texas Tribune, Cruz said that he had worked on so many major legal cases because he and Abbott purposely sought them out. “We ended up year after year arguing some of the biggest cases in the country,” said Cruz. “There was a degree of serendipity in that, but there was also a concerted effort to seek out and lead conservative fights…[Abbott] gave me the charge and said ‘I want to look across the country and if we can stand up and fight for conservative principles, go do it.’ And that was an extraordinary mandate to have.”
This attitude of Cruz’s has been exhibited in his short time in the Senate, where he has put himself on the front lines of conservative political battles, delivering the fourth-longest filibuster in Senate history and playing a significant role in triggering the 2013 government shutdown. Cruz’s philosophy is also reflected in many of his staffers, especially those who have served in legal roles, and it was not a surprise to political observers when Attorney General-elect Ken Paxton tapped several Cruz staffers to fill key roles in his office.
As Breitbart Texas reported, the first official hire Paxton announced was that he was bringing on Chip Roy, Cruz’s former Chief of Staff, to serve as his second-in-command as First Assistant Attorney General. In making the announcement, Paxton praised Roy with language that echoed how Cruz has often been described by conservative legal scholars. “I am pleased that [Roy] will bring his strong legal mind, devotion to liberty, and servant’s heart to the Office of Attorney General as First Assistant,” said Paxton. “We are building a highly qualified and dedicated team that will be ready to defend Texas and ensure we are protected from an overreaching federal government.”
This week, Paxton announced that three more Cruz staffers were joining the Attorney General’s Office, as Breitbart Texas reported: Scott Keller, Cruz’s Chief Counsel, has been tapped as Solicitor General, Bernard McNamee, Cruz’s Senior Domestic Policy Advisor, will be Paxton’s Chief of Staff, and Brantley Starr, who served as Assistant Solicitor General under Cruz when he was Solicitor General, will serve as the Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel. In announcing the hires, Paxton said, “These highly-respected professionals and brilliant legal minds bring impressive public and private sector experience. I look forward to working with this team of committed public servants who will continue an already proven track record of promoting and defending conservative principles.”
Cruz also had a major influence over this year’s legislative races, with many Republican candidates touting their support of his campaign as a way to establish their own conservative bona fides. Perhaps the most prominent of these is State Senator-elect Konni Burton (R-Colleyville), who will replace Wendy Davis in the seat after Davis’ unsuccessful campaign for Governor.
Burton was an activist with the powerful NE Tarrant County Tea Party and a grassroots leader for Cruz in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, organizing get-out-the-vote events and participating in press conferences with Cruz. Cruz endorsed Burton in the primary for her State Senate race, calling her “a tireless, unwavering warrior for the conservative cause” and “a fighter and will serve the people of Texas well.” Burton went on to win the general by a nearly 7 point margin, as Breitbart Texas reported, a victory that was celebrated by conservatives across the state and even nationally, as she would be replacing Davis, who rose to fame after her 2013 filibuster against HB 2, the Texas bill banning late term abortion and raising safety standards at abortion clinics.
Cruz is widely assumed to be running for President in 2016, but regardless of the outcome of that election, or if he even decides to throw his hat in the ring at all, it is clear that he will continue to exert enormous influence over conservative politics across the country, and especially here in Texas.
Photo credit: James Ashby.