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Texas Democrats blast governor’s pick for secretary of state

Democrats say Texas’ Republican governor has appointed a backer of Donald Trump’s false claim that he won the 2020 presidential race to oversee the state’s elections.

(CN) — Texas Governor Greg Abbott appointed Fort Worth attorney John Scott as secretary of state Thursday, outraging Texas Democrats who say Scott supports Donald Trump’s claims the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him.

Scott, who served as a Texas deputy attorney general from 2012 through 2014 and chief operating officer of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in 2015, briefly represented the former president in one of the more than 50 lawsuits Trump and his allies filed over the results of the 2020 election.

Scott signed up to represent Trump on Nov. 13 in a lawsuit seeking to block the certification of Pennsylvania’s vote tally, according to the Texas Tribune. He withdrew as counsel a few days later, on the eve of a hearing in the case.

Texas Democrats blasted Scott’s appointment to a position in which he will be the chief administrator of the state’s elections.

“Abbott is appointing one of the architects of Republicans’ big lie that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election to oversee all electoral activity in our state,” said state Representative Chris Turner of Grand Prairie, chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Turner noted Abbott could have appointed a new secretary of state during one of the three special legislative sessions he convened over the summer and early fall, which would have allowed the Texas Senate to hold a confirmation hearing for Scott.

“Instead, he waited until the Legislature adjourned [Tuesday], denying Texans the fair and transparent process they deserve,” Turner added in a statement.

Abbott is running for a third term as governor and received Trump’s endorsement in June.

Though Trump comfortably carried Texas in the presidential election, beating Joe Biden by more than 600,000 votes, he pressured Abbott last month into launching an audit, via the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, of the vote count in the state’s four largest counties.

Prior to Scott’s appointment, no one was leading the office, as the previous interim Secretary of State Ruth Hughs resigned in May after the Texas Senate declined to confirm her.

Democrats have posited the Senate refused to back Hughs due to her staffers’ statements that the 2020 election in Texas was “smooth and secure,” clashing with claims of Republicans, including Abbott, that voter fraud is a problem in the state.

Republican state lawmakers used the specter of voting fraud to justify their passage, along party lines, of new voting restrictions this year that Abbott signed into law.

Even before Hughs, the position of Texas secretary of state was mired in partisan controversy.

Her predecessor David Whitley, who like Hughs was appointed on an interim basis by Abbott and not confirmed by the Texas Senate, resigned in May 2019 after he spearheaded a voting-rolls cleanup effort that incorrectly flagged thousands of voters as possible noncitizens.

Three federal civil rights lawsuits were quickly filed against Whitley by the League of United Latin American Citizens, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and ACLU of Texas, claiming the list was meant to intimidate Latino voters.

Whitley settled the lawsuits in April 2019, agreeing to rescind the list and pay $450,000 in attorneys’ fees.

Scott starts the job with some experience with Texas election laws.

As a deputy attorney general in 2014, under then-Texas Attorney General Abbott, he defended the state’s strict voter ID law against challenges from civil rights groups who alleged it was crafted to disenfranchise left-leaning minority voters.

The Fifth Circuit ultimately agreed with a lower court the law had a discriminatory effect on voters of color and ordered revisions ahead of the November 2016 presidential election.

Abbott played up Scott’s experience in a statement announcing his selection, noting Scott has successfully tried more than 100 lawsuits over his 33 years as an attorney.

"John Scott is a proven leader with a passion for public service, and his decades of experience in election law and litigation make him the ideal choice for the Texas Secretary of State," Abbott said. "John understands the importance of protecting the integrity of our elections and building the Texas brand on an international stage.”

Scott will also serve on interim status and the Texas Senate will decide in 2023, the Legislature’s next scheduled session, whether to confirm him.  

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