In a recent conversation, The Signal spoke with Democratic nominee Rochelle Garza about her run for attorney general, including how she will restore dignity to the office long-held by the indicted Ken Paxton and use the powers of the office to protect everyday Texans from an increasingly extreme Republican Party.
The questions and answers in this interview are edited for clarity.
Just to start off, what inspired you to get into the race? Did you ever envision yourself wanting to be Texas’s chief law enforcement officer?
Well, there were a lot of things that inspired me to get into the race. Right now, we’re in a really critical moment where we need leadership that not only reflects our communities and values but is going to actually look out for the people of Texas.
We’ve currently got Ken Paxton, who should be answering for his criminal indictments. He’s been under indictment for more than seven years, is under FBI investigation, has ties to the January 6 insurrection, and the list goes on and on. He’s more worried about those issues and staying out of prison than actually looking out for the people of Texas, so I wanted to jump into this race and make sure that we bring back integrity and accountability to the office and look out for Texas families.
I have a 3 1/2 month old baby, and I want to make sure that she grows up with more opportunities than I had. Right now what we’re seeing is that we’re trending in the wrong direction as a state, and I want to ensure that that she can make decisions for her own body, that she can decide to marry whoever she loves, and to chart her own path in life and under the current leadership that we’ve got right now that’s not going to be possible. So that’s why I’m running: because we need to have a real champion for families in the attorney general’s office.
How do you plan on protecting families on issues like abortion, labor rights and other things affecting them day-to-day?
This should actually be a pretty boring job, so this office is in charge of and should focus on measures like ensuring child support is paid or making sure consumers are protected from corporations. I want to make sure that I am focusing on the bread and butter issues like accountability for what happened with the power grid failure, which Ken Paxton has done nothing to investigate or hold anyone accountable for.
I also want to make sure that we have a fully funded Civil Rights Division that ensures that people have their right to vote respected, that they aren’t purged unnecessarily from the voter registration rules like we’ve seen over the last year.
And of course I will also work towards restoring abortion access in the state of Texas. There’s nothing more fundamental than being able to decide what happens with your body and whether or not to become a parent. That impacts your entire course in life, and right now we’ve got Ken Paxton who is litigating to ensure that emergency room doctors don’t provide lifesaving care to people in their emergency rooms. It’s cruel, it’s hateful, and it’s femicide: it’s advocating for the deaths of women when they really need to be saved from pregnancies that could threaten their lives. Ken Paxton is way too extreme for Texas.
You obviously have a history of advocating for womens’ reproductive rights like with your success in enacting the “Garza Notice.” Could you talk a little bit about your history in fighting for these rights for women and for those less fortunate?
My entire career has been built around standing up for people that those in power don’t believe matter, and a lot of that comes from my personal experience and my family life growing up. I saw my parents fight tooth and nail to make sure my brother Robby, who couldn’t walk or talk because of a traumatic brain injury he experienced during his birth, was actually treated as a person and that he got basic medical care. That deeply impacted me and my understanding of community, government, policy, and how important it is to make sure that each part of our society is taken care of.
That informed my work of fighting for Jane Doe, who was an immigrant teen in custody who was denied her right to access abortion care by the Trump administration. Standing up against Ken Paxton and Brett Kavanaugh, who’s decision would have forced her to have a child against her will, and winning on her behalf and on behalf of every single teen in immigration custody: that’s at the heart of my work. It has to do with ensuring that everyone is treated with basic human dignity. The law really is a tool that can be used either to destroy or to build. I want to use it to build.
With regards to dignity, obviously Ken Paxton has incurred countless ethics violations and criminal charges and has in a lot of ways tarnished the dignity of the office of Texas attorney general. How do you plan on bringing back that dignity, holding Paxton accountable, and making sure that Texans once again trust the office which is supposed to legally represent us?
I want to bring back transparency and accountability to the office and that does start with the change of leadership. One example that’s so stark to me is what we saw in Uvalde after the shooting and the reaction that we saw from Ken Paxton. When asked to give comfort to the grieving families, he told them that “life is short.” He has not utilized the resources that his office has in the victims compensation program to ensure those families are taken care of. There are basic funds to help with funeral costs, medical services that were necessary, and he’s failing at every turn in using the resources of his office to improve the lives of Texans.
I want to make sure that we utilize all of these programs that are within the office that can meaningfully improve communities, whether that’s fighting for access to running water in unincorporated cities or ensuring that victims are treated with some basic dignity through the compensation program. Those are the things I want to focus on, and it starts with kicking Ken Paxton out of office. He’s dangerous, not only for democracy in the state but because he has been causing real harm to this state and cares more about his own power than doing his job.
As you said, you have a sense of community and actually wanting to protect Texans. Does your background growing up in a community like Brownsville impact your thought process at all with regards to helping your fellow neighbor?
I grew up in a really tight knit family in a tight knit community in the Rio Grande Valley. People really care about each other there, and I’ve learned that is absolutely the case in every part of this state. This campaign has really been a blessing, being able to go all over the state and to talk to people and hear from folks. Texans care about their families and communities. Politics aside, those are the things that matter the most to people and why it’s so important to have leadership reflect that. I’m a 5th generation Texan, I’m a regular person that has had to experience living paycheck to paycheck. I know what people are going through across this state, and it’s important to have that perspective in an office like the attorney general because it better informs what we can actually do to meaningfully improve peoples’ lives if we understand what everyday folks are going through.
Ok great! Here’s a policy specific question that interests me in particular and I think is something that if we are so lucky as to have you be elected in November you might unfortunately have to deal with: teachers have become demonized for simply teaching accurate history and legally vulnerable as a result of the law that Republicans passed last year. How would you protect teachers who could be punished for just doing their jobs properly?
I actually come from a family of public school teachers. My parents met when they were both public school teachers at a local high school in Brownsville. I think it’s really important that our children learn the true history of the United States and of Texas because that’s how you move forward as a society, so I think we need to provide the support that the teachers need and stop this attack on our public schools because that’s what this is really about. This is about attacking our public school system and undermining it in any which way we can with the goal of privatizing education, but that’s just not who we are as Texans.
Thank you for saying that. I’ve written before about this continued attack on public schools and how they’re trying to privatize it. Sadly, we’re also seeing how on matters that actually should be private, Republicans like Ken Paxton are taking a cue from Justice Clarence Thomas’s Dobbs v. Jackson concurrence by taking on Supreme Court cases like Lawrence v. Texas, which covers the legality of same-sex relationships.
That’s exactly Paxton’s road map. Attacking access to abortion care really is just the first step, and he has made it really clear where they’re going with this.
On a final note, is there anything that you would like you know our readers to take from this interview? Something to help get people motivated to support your campaign or show how important this race is for Texans and their legal rights?
The attorney general’s office is an independent executive position and can decide whether to litigate or not litigate cases. The power of this particular office is really vast, and kicking Ken Paxton out of office in November would be an absolute game changer for Texas. Currently, I’m within three points of Paxton, so I’m within striking distance. This campaign really just needs peoples’ support, so helping make sure that Texans turn out to vote is the best way we can take this in November.