Editor’s Note: the interview took place on July 29th over Zoom and has been edited for length and clarity.
Garrit: So, first off, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
Paul: Yeah, I grew up in a little town called Decatur, Texas. It’s about 40 miles north of Fort Worth. I graduated high school there in 1982. I graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in science, and then I went to law school. I’ve been practicing criminal law here in Wise County, and really all over the state, but my main base is really in Wise County. I have a son that’s 23. He just accepted an invitation to SMU law school, and I am very proud.
Garrit: So, you’re a criminal defense attorney that, according to your website, has tried between 200-250 cases. How has that influenced your belief system? What role will your experience as a criminal defense attorney play in your term as Governor?
Paul: Well, it’s a very nice and interesting question. In seeing so many trials and experiences with the justice system, only from a defense standpoint…it’s kind of jaded me a little bit in that…I don’t know how to describe it but sometimes you feel like you’re behind the eight ball before you even start. Now, a lot of people are under the impression that if you are charged or arrested then that’s kind of on you, to begin with. But the criminal justice system is all about due process and things like that that a lot of people tend to overlook in their quest for justice. My experience in the field kind of leads me to, you know, I have the honor and privilege of getting inside government and trying to reform a little bit—our penal system and our prison system. It’s a very complex set of situations that are in place. And I think it’s important to, like President Trump, to put the proper people in charge. Sometimes he didn’t agree with what they were doing, what he thought was right, and fired them and got the people that he thought could take care of it. So, I think we have the best criminal justice system in the world, but it still needs attention.
Garrit: So, what specifically would you like to reform? What are some specific problems that you see?
Paul: Well, I guess not to get into a discussion about state versus federal, but federal law is more geared to…it’s kind of an archaic law where usually there’s a minimum of 10 years for drug offenses or conspiracies. State law is very discretionary. It’s very arbitrary. Sometimes, I’ll consider it capricious that one county, a person charged with the same crime, with the same criminal history, basically, the same set of facts would receive a disparity of sentences. I think where the reform comes, though, is for people that do go to prison. I think that there needs to be some type of uniformity, instead of such discretionary input that allows someone to make parole or get a shorter sentence on their sentence that another person with basically the same criminal history in another region of the state would not get. So, I think that there have been some oversight committees that have looked into that, but it just hasn’t been that high of a priority. You know, it’s a system that I consider broken. But, you know, I deal with that. That’s what keeps me in business, you know, trying to help people with their legal issues that don’t seem fair to them. So, one of my agendas would be for someone to look into that and fix it.
Garrit: So, you’re running against Governor Abbott (who is endorsed by President Trump), Don Huffines, Allen West, and Chad Prather. These men have more money, name recognition, and political capital than you. What is your strategy to win the primary?
Paul: Well, I don’t want to in any way compare my campaign to that of Shelley Luther, but you know, Governor Abbott made her quite famous, and lightning almost struck when she was in the runoff with Senator Drew Springer. She had no experience. Again, I think that people are looking like when they voted in President Trump—he had no political experience, and he was a businessman, and he came in to drain the swamp. Nothing against Governor Abbott, or Huffines, Prather, and West, they all have more name recognition. They have more resources. But at the same time, everyone has a chance to live their dreams and mine is to get in there and make a difference. I first aligned myself with the Conservative Patriot Party, but they were a bit…I’m more moderate right and not extreme right. So, I don’t agree with Lt. Colonel Allen West’s opinions. I think Huffines was beaten in his last election. So, I mean people can beat me all day long about not having any experience, but, you know, I can’t say that I’ve lost yet.
Garrit: Yeah, so can you elaborate on what you specifically disagree with West or Huffines on?
Paul: Well, the articles that I read, and I was at a book signing with Donald Trump Jr. in Weatherford not too long ago, and retired Lt. Col. Allen West was there. I didn’t get a chance to speak with him. Don’t get me wrong, I respect him (West). They just, the articles that I read and the interviews, seem to tout the pugilistic methods that were advocated by Trump. In my opinion, I think President Trump would have been reelected had he listened to his advisors a little bit—a little less adversarial. I don’t think we can unite ourselves as a state and become Texans again until the extreme right and extreme left come to some understanding about how things get done. I don’t disagree necessarily with any of their agendas—I just disagree with their approaches.
Garrit: So, on your website, you describe yourself as the “black sheep of the Texas conservative party. What do you mean by that?
Paul: Well, just like you brought up, I have no…well, in the criminal defense field I have recognition in North Texas. Obviously, my opponents do not practice law up here, but I have more name recognition. Number one, black sheep refers to me as the underdog. Like I say, less political resources. People who know me, like my personality. I can be very aggressive and yet yielding to certain issues. So, I got into this knowing full well what is ahead of me.
Garrit: So, why should voters not vote for Abbott and why should they vote for you?
Paul: I think people have seen a little bit of Governor Abbott’s political aspirations for the presidential bid in the future. I think that they’re a little bit upset about ERCOT. In his defense, I think people don’t understand how that grid system works. I would say that they would want to vote for a fresh face that is similar to President Trump—someone that goes in with little political experience surrounds himself with people he can trust, and fix the system. At some point, you become, put in criminal defense terms, institutionalized. You’re in politics for so long that you become beholden to certain entities.
Garrit: Absolutely, so, again, on your website, you state that you want to “Make Texans Texan Again.” What do you mean by that?
Paul: I’ve been approached by a lot of people about my views on TEXIT—whether or not Texas should secede from the union. My position on that is that the voters should decide that. When I say “Make Texans Texan Again.” I mean we used to be a destination state. Galveston was a great place to go. Again, nobody could have anticipated Covid. That was a devastating effect that can never be, and hopefully never can be replicated or duplicated in the US or in the world. But, Texas used to be a place where businesses and people would beg to come to. Instead, now we give tax abatements and we try to lure businesses here. I think Texas needs to be basically our own nation, but still part of the US. We need to rely less on federal subsidies and things like that. I think we can get into how that affects different things like the energy grid and things like that. But, I just think that Texans need to be proud to be Texans again.
Garrit: So, you want to see the state cut its dependence on the federal government. In what specific ways is Texas dependent on the federal government? What do you plan to do about it?
Paul: Well, again, I think the voters would be instrumental in deciding whether or not Texas should be able to have the right to secede. But my platform goes all the way back to, I think it’s, 1984 when federal legislation was passed that raised the national minimum drinking age and at the time, the legal age to drink in Texas was still 18. When the federal legislation was passed it was related to Texas—that if we didn’t raise our drinking age to 21, then the National Transportation Highway Association would cut off federal funding for our road systems. Well, it didn’t take long for our legal drinking age to rise from 18 to 21. That’s a way in which the federal government influences the states and infringes upon the 10th Amendment. I understand the fact that you know, no one wants to be the person that has their federal funding cut because they took a stand. But there are other ways to raise revenue, and those are things that we can get into later on. If we’re going to be totally, or 90%, say independent, we have to make a statement somewhere. But to be truly independent, I think is never going to happen. I think maybe the voters might want that. I just think that Texas at this time is still dependent. Matter of fact, I think Governor Abbott came out and asked for federal assistance on the energy grid the other day. And so, you know, it’s a no-win situation.
Garrit: Talking about the state pursuing new revenue sources, I found this to be particularly interesting because I haven’t seen many other candidates for Governor talk about this, but you have expressed interest in expanding gambling and legalizing THC and Marijuana. You want to use these as new revenue sources. Can you elaborate on this?
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. As a matter of fact, three weeks ago…let’s see Decatur, Texas is probably 45 minutes from Gainesville, Texas, which is one minute away from Windstar…I went and gave the state of Oklahoma $1,000 of casino money. The point being, as I went all the way to Oklahoma, I gave them $1,000, and just doing research on the internet and talking to people that are in power, there is a tremendous amount of tax revenue there. And for people that are on the extreme right, and nothing against them, or the people that are against it for religious reasons, I always tell them that when you drive by Windstar on 35 or wherever road you go by in Oklahoma, you don’t burst into flames. Nobody is going to make you go to a casino. It’s an additional revenue source. We have such destination places like Fort Worth, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Austin, all of these wonderful places where we could put in casinos and just bring in all kinds of tax revenue. Then, the more tax revenue you have, the less dependence you have on other entities i.e. the federal government.
Garrit: Ok, can you elaborate more on your THC and Marijuana policy?
Paul: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I practice primarily in Wise County. I’ve traveled to many other counties in the state to practice law. The bulk of my business actually is people being pulled over that have marijuana or THC products that are from a legal state that is passing through our state. That says, though, that just because you purchase brownies in Colorado and you drive to Texas to go to California, when you enter the Texas border or state line you are in violation of Texas Penal Law and the penalty for THC, say brownies and things like that, is two to twenty years in a penitentiary. Now again, that’s not very common for that to happen unless you have an extensive criminal history. But a lot of people are uninformed that they can’t go to another state and drive through and have those products. Now, I do have clients that live in-state that the product is legal and they are taxed immensely—just like gambling. No one is going to enforce the edibles. No one is going to enforce marijuana cigarettes. Nobody is going to enforce these things or make you go to areas of choice. It’s a choice for you. It’s coming to Texas. Maybe not now but eventually. It’s not like Oregon where they legalized heroin or meth. THC does have some medicinal use.
Garrit: Yeah, so on the issue of revenue sources, I interviewed Don Huffines recently and he is in favor of totally abolishing property taxes. What is your stance on property taxes?
Paul: I don’t think that I want to abolish property taxes because it’s already a system that’s set up to bring in revenue. But you can drop those property taxes down to a level that’s acceptable—with other sources of revenue coming in. And even without those sources. In some of my meetings, I actually went to one of the meetings with the Wise County Conservative Republicans where they had a tax expert. It basically said that you can reduce property taxes and those monies will come from a different fund. You know nothing is going to get cut. There are ways to fund property tax so that you can live in your home, you can keep your home, and you don’t have to pay outrageous fees like everybody who owns a house does. But I don’t believe you should abolish it. I think you should have it, but you can lower it down to a level that’s acceptable. I think most taxpaying citizens don’t mind paying their fair share, but the keyword being fair share, and they want to know where their money is going. Nobody likes paying taxes but it’s a central burden of our government.
Garrit: So, we’ve talked about criminal justice reform, legalized gambling, and legalized THC and marijuana. Are there any other issues that are priorities for your campaign?
Paul: Well, I’ll be honest with you, I have a very good friend that is into horse racing. At one time, Texas was a very good state for horse racing—of course, there was revenue generated from that. But the point being used, the big thing, horses, and the big events are never going to come to Texas until we have horse racing, just like we did with the Texas Motor Speedway. We need to do something to promote horse racing because Texas, as much as we want to say is a tech-savvy state, is actually very real and a lot of revenue is generated from agriculture, horses, and cattle. I think we need to do a better job.
Garrit: So, Governor Abbott has received backlash from many conservatives over his handling of Covid—with the lockdowns and mask mandates. What are your thoughts on that? How would you have handled the COVID-19 pandemic?
Paul: That’s one of those hypotheticals where, you know, you really can’t say because you weren’t there. I think Governor Abbott and President Trump were in such…maybe things could have been anticipated a little bit better…but when it hit, it hit, and it didn’t go away. As I say, I believe Governor Abbott’s response put people in the limelight because they wouldn’t wear their masks, or they would wear their masks, or there were restrictions in place. There’s no consistency. So now, I think there’s been an executive order that will not allow entities that receive state funds to require masks or vaccinations. It’s kind of a reversal of what his policies were, to begin with. I think that’s where you have to rely on medical experts. I think this is like the 100-year flood. It happened. We’re trying to figure out how to fix it. I’m not sure anything that could have been done would have been the right solution because this hasn’t happened to our generation. I think Governor Abbott is inundated with a lot of issues that probably people haven’t faced before—like the pandemic and things like that.
Garrit: So, what are your thoughts on abortion? That’s always a controversial issue.
Paul: Well, my thoughts on abortion, or the only time that I would think abortion would be permitted, I believe would be if the mother’s health was in jeopardy. There are some advocates that a person that is alleged to be a victim of rape, not be able to have that choice. My only issue with that is, doing criminal law, it’s a tough situation, but sometimes people are found innocent of those crimes. There may be an allegation of rape or sexual assault, but it turns out that it was mutual consent and the person got pregnant. That is too discretionary. I think there has to be a doctor saying that the mother’s life is in serious and total jeopardy and if the abortion is not performed then the mother will die. I don’t believe that two lives should be lost.
Garrit: The last question that I am going to ask you is, do you have anything else to say?
Paul: You’re right, I don’t have the name recognition—except up in North Texas. If you google criminal defense lawyer, again, it may or may not hurt me, because a lot of people associate that with liberalism—defending people that are charged with a criminal offense. But I take the defense of the Constitution very seriously against search and seizures and Second Amendment rights. As Governor, I actually would support that. However, the system is, even if you’re a felon, I think in certain circumstances, you should be able to carry a weapon. Because sometimes, it might be you’re convicted of a felony. It may be nonviolent, it may be drug-related. I just think that there are things that can be done. Again, I’m trying to extend my presence throughout the state. As you mentioned, it takes millions of dollars and things like that. Most people that I know, and that is a limited pool, say that they want someone who is like former President Trump—who goes in there, says what they say, do what they say, but people in power and if you don’t like them then you fire them. All I’m saying is give me one term. If you don’t like it, then we’ll go on to the next person.
Editor’s Note: Check out Paul Belew’s website here.
Garrit Blizzard is the Editor-In-Chief of The Texas Horn. He is a senior studying government at the University of Texas at Austin. Garrit enjoys reading, listening to music, and discussing politics and economics.