By: Bobby Blanchard
Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN — A down-ballot election between two Greens is testing how red Texas will go.
Former state lawmaker Rick Green — who has long associated with the tea party and boasts endorsements from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and actor Chuck Norris — is challenging state Supreme Court Justice Paul Green in a Republican matchup.
The race, with its potential to be swayed by name confusion and voter apathy, could have a noticeable impact on the ideological makeup of the state’s top civil court, which is dominated by conservative jurists.
Serving on the Texas Supreme Court has long been a springboard to higher office. Before Gov. Greg Abbott became attorney general, he was a state Supreme Court justice. Republican Sen. John Cornyn also served on the state high court before moving on to the Texas attorney general’s office and, later, Congress.
Paul Green has been on the bench since 2005. Before that, he spent 10 years on the state’s 4th District Court of Appeals. Rick Green, the challenger, has never served as a judge. Since leaving the state House in 2003, he’s been associated with WallBuilders, a conservative Christian organization. He is also the founder of the Patriot Academy, a conservative leadership organization that trains young people.
The primary between the unrelated Greens won’t just elicit confusion; it might conjure old memories, too.
Green vs. Green
As a legislator, Rick Green served Dripping Springs in Central Texas. He made headlines for alleged ethics violations, including an accusation that he pressured a state agency to scrap a regulation affecting a business client. He has always denied wrongdoing.
Craig McDonald, director of the watchdog group Texans For Public Justice, said Green was a “serial abuser of ethics standards.”
“His career in public service has been ethically challenged,” McDonald said. “He has been in ethical hot water from the day he was sworn in to the Legislature till after he left.”
Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said ethics allegations can create “a lasting problem for candidates,” and for Republicans.
“How many of these characters can the Republican Party withstand?” Rottinghaus said.
Paul Green has also faced ethics accusations. In 2008, a complaint was filed with the Texas Ethics Commission alleging that he improperly used campaign funds to reimburse mileage expenses. That same year, McDonald’s Austin watchdog group released a report accusing Paul Green of taking contributions from energy industry donors who stood to benefit from a controversial 2007 workers’ compensation ruling from the Texas Supreme Court in favor of a power production company, Entergy Gulf States.
Paul Green said he would be “concerned” about Rick Green serving on the state’s highest court.
Rick Green declined several requests for a phone interview. But in a statement, his spokesman accused Paul Green of a “smear campaign.”
“The Paul Green campaign continues to spread lies in their attempt to distract voters from Paul’s record,” spokesman Luke Macias said. “The Rick Green campaign is focused on issues that voters care about, including holding the federal government accountable, protecting your constitutional rights and defending your liberties, and restraining judicial activism.”
McDonald’s watchdog group filed a 2001 complaint against Rick Green with the Travis County district attorney. The complaint accused Green, while in the Legislature, of lobbying on behalf of his law firm’s client Metabolife International Inc. According to a 2002 Associated Press report, Green and a fellow lawmaker were accused of pushing the state’s health department to scrap a regulation requiring warning labels on Metabolife’s weight loss supplements, which contained ephedrine.
Then-Gov. Rick Perry — who has endorsed incumbent Paul Green — signed several ethics reform bills following the controversy.
Rick Green also drew fire when he endorsed a nutritional supplement on a TV infomercial filmed in his state Capitol office. Texas ethics guidelines prohibit unauthorized use of state property. At the time, in 2001, Green told The Dallas Morning News that he wasn’t making an ad but was just doing an interview about the product.
That same year, The News reported that Rick Green helped family friend Melvin Cox obtain early release from a 16-year jail sentence for defrauding investors. According to The News’ report, Cox lent Green’s company $400,000. While Green did not break any ethics laws in assisting Cox, McDonald and others questioned his role given that it is somewhat atypical for a lawmaker to appear before the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Running against another Green might serve to obscure some of Rick Green’s record, McDonald said.
“He doesn’t want to run on his own name recognition,” McDonald said. “He probably wants to muddy the waters about who he is and his past.”
But the Green-vs.-Green race does more than that, said Rottinghaus, the political science professor at the University of Houston.
“It creates an additional burden on the incumbent,” Rottinghaus said. “The incumbent now not only has to communicate their message to voters but communicate an extra procedural level. That’s more complicated.”
A battle over records
In a book Rick Green co-wrote with his wife, Kara Green, the former lawmaker said he was called a “God and Guns” conservative — a label he liked. When writing about his time as a lawmaker in Our American Story, Rick Green said his experience ran the gamut.
“I’ve been cussed out, choked, ridiculed, shouted down, booed, and hissed by fellow members of the Legislature, not to mention members of the lobby,” Green wrote. “But I’ve also been prayed for, shared tears of joy and pain, supported, encouraged, and applauded by other members.”
Both Paul Green and Rick Green are staunch conservatives who say they want to protect the U.S. Constitution. They both claim endorsements from tea party figures and groups. Incumbent Paul Green boasts his judicial experience. Rick Green says he’d be a constitutional watchdog.
During his first legislative session, Rick Green won passage of a bill that prevented Texas cities from joining the Clinton administration in suing gun manufacturers. In his second session, he created “Celebrate Freedom Week,” which encourages school districts to spend a week studying the Founding Fathers and the Declaration of Independence.
Rick Green’s time in the Legislature ended when he lost to Democrat Patrick Rose by just 335 votes in a 2002 election that prominently featured attack ads.
Several years later, in 2006, Rose invoked Rick Green in a mailer ad attacking his new Republican challenger, Jim Neuhaus, saying Rick Green was “back” as Neuhaus.
Green wrote in his book that he was upset at Rose over the mailer, and he said he punched Rose at a polling place after the Democrat allegedly lobbed an insult at him.
“After four years of ignoring him, he had finally pushed me over my limit,” Green wrote in his book. “It was the first real punch I had thrown since I was a kid, but it sent him to the ground. It was wrong, foolish and sinful. It set a horrible example for my children and for the young people in my community.”
Reached by phone, Rose declined to comment or to talk about Green.
This is Rick Green’s second attempt at the Supreme Court — he also ran in 2010. In a move that was described by some experts as unusual, five former state Supreme Court justices endorsed his opponent — criticizing Rick Green for lacking judicial experience.
It is an issue that Paul Green, the incumbent, is hitting his opponent over now.
“If you’re going to serve on the highest court, you ought to have some experience,” Paul Green said. “I just don’t think he brings anything that’s useful to the court.”
For his part, Rick Green said in a statement that his campaign is about pushing back against the federal government.
“My family has been blessed with opportunities to travel across the country and teach Americans about the Constitution and our Founding Fathers,” he said. “The deliberate violation of the separation of powers is a threat to the liberty we all cherish. It’s time to put a constitutional watchdog on the Supreme Court.”