(CNN) — Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt announced Tuesday that he’s running as Democrat for Texas attorney general, joining a competitive state race to take on Republican incumbent Ken Paxton.
Merritt has become nationally known over the past few years for representing several families of Black men and women who have died at the hands of police officers.
In his campaign announcement on Twitter, Merritt wrote that he’s “seen the generational impact of the prison-industrial complex and the injustice of mass incarceration up close in my own family.”
“I’ve spent my legal career helping families who are unjustly affected by this broken system,” he wrote. “Now I’m running for Texas Attorney General to make some real changes.”
Merritt told CNN Wednesday the state and country are at a “turning point” and that Republican leadership has “failed the people consistently.” He also said that the families he represents will remain a part of his practice.
“I continue to advocate for those families but more importantly they are given an avenue — this campaign is as much about them as it is the other citizens of Texas because those families have been confronted with roadblocks,” he said.
Merritt faces tough odds given that a Democrat hasn’t held the office of Texas attorney general in over two decades, or won statewide office since 1994.
Paxton, who’s been in his role since 2015, is already facing a high-profile challenge on the right from Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, and former state Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman.
Paxton is currently under indictment for securities fraud and, separately, facing an FBI investigation for abuse of office. He has denied the charges and allegations.
Merritt’s campaign announcement video points to Paxton’s legal troubles and highlights the attorney general’s lawsuit, which was dismissed by the Supreme Court, contesting the 2020 election results in four states that former President Donald Trump lost in November.
“He’s betrayed his oath. He’s been indicted by a grand jury, prosecuted people for showing up to the polls, and pledged his allegiance to Donald Trump,” Merritt says of Paxton in the video. “That’s the only person he’s picking up the phone for.”
“Not the people of Texas, not the victims of violent crime or police brutality. Not our neighbors who froze to death,” he said, referring to February’s power outages during a winter storm. “Not those who are simply trying to exercise their right to vote.”
His announcement comes as Texas Democrats are hoping to block state Republicans’ push for restrictive new voting laws during this legislative special session. Merritt also accused Paxton and Texas Republicans of launching an “all-out assault on our voting rights and civil liberties.”
“This campaign is a response from the people of Texas,” he added.
This story has been updated.
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