Law professor to run against Republican Ken Paxton for state attorney general

Chase Karacostas

UT law professor Justin Nelson is running as a Democrat to be the next state attorney general in 2018.

Nelson will be vying for the office against Republican incumbent Ken Paxton, who was elected attorney general in 2014 after spending a term in the state Senate and 10 years as a state representative. Nelson has never been elected to a public office but has been a practicing attorney for more than decade. Nelson said he thinks Texans want to elect someone who is not a career politician to be attorney general.

“People want to have this real opportunity to have a change,” Nelson said. “There’s a real hunger across all Texans to have an attorney general who fights for the people of Texas.”

Nelson said he had been considering campaigning for state attorney general for several months but decided just last week to run. Currently, Nelson is the only Democrat in the state campaigning to be the next attorney general. However, the filing deadline for the March primaries is Dec. 11, giving any other potential competitors almost a month to file for candidacy.

Due to his upcoming campaign, Nelson said he will not be teaching at the University next semester. In the past, Nelson has taught constitutional law and — during the last regular session of the Texas Legislature — taught a class about legislation.

Paxton has been under indictment for the majority of his time as attorney general with charges of securities fraud. The charges arose from allegations from before he was elected to his current office.

Nelson said Paxton’s indictment is part of why he wanted to run.

“We need a real lawyer in this job,” Nelson said. “I looked at our current attorney who is indicted for fraud … and appears to be favoring special interests, and I thought that Texas can do better.”

Paxton has yet to release a statement on Nelson’s decision to run. Nelson is currently his only challenger.

Nelson previously clerked for conservatives Sandra Day O’Connor, a former U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and Harvie Wilkinson, a judge on the U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, and said he is not concerned by the prospect with working with Republicans in the state’s executive branch.

Democrats have not won a statewide office since 1994, but several Democrats are lining up to challenge major Republican incumbents. U.S. Congressman Beto O’Rourke is the most prominent Democrat running for a major office as he vies for incumbent Ted Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat.

“It’s clearly a challenge,” Nelson said. “(But), this race is unique … I think there’s a hunger for change across even Republicans.”

Once his campaign gets farther down the road, Nelson said he plans to visit UT and other colleges to hear from students about what they want in an attorney general.