In the 2020 election, by a good margin, Texas re-elected a Republican Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General. Both the Senate and the House kept solid Republican majorities. On September 5th, an impeachment trial for Attorney General Ken Paxton is set to begin.
He could be convicted and removed from office. Does this signal that the Texas GOP is putting away tribal politics and putting the state before the party? Or are they just trying to cut their losses and save face?
Who is Ken Paxton, and how did this whole thing start? Well, Paxton is the very conservative AG that likes to claim to be more MAGA than thou. How MAGA? Post-election 2020, he sued in the United States Supreme Court Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, claiming their pandemic voting procedure led to illegal voting irregularities. Former President Donald Trump returned the favor by holding a fundraiser for Paxton.
This whole turn of events started in October 2020 when the Texas Attorney General’s office members accused Paxton of bribery, improper influence, abuse of office, and more. Then, in November 2020, four top aides filed a whistleblower suit against their boss. In February of this year, a $3 million settlement was announced between the Attorney General and the aides. Then, Paxton tried to have the taxpayers of Texas foot the bill for the settlement. That’s when the fit hit the shan.
In May, by a whopping 121 – 28 vote, the Texas House of Representatives (a.k.a., the Lege) voted to make Paxton only the third person in the state’s history to be impeached and included in those voting to put the AG on trial Speaker Dade Phelan. At that point, Paxton was suspended and could no longer administer his duties pending his trial in the Senate.
Now, as we walk down the hall to the Senate, one of the members of that body is his wife, Angela. She must attend the trial, but she is not allowed to vote.
He may not want her voting anyway. You see, the 20 counts mostly revolve around Paxton’s interference on behalf of a real estate developer named Nate Paul. Well, it turns out that Paul gave a job to Paxton’s mistress, Laura Olsen. This whole part of the story comes complete with the 21st-century soap opera package of burner phones and Uber accounts.
Why was Paxton interfering on behalf of Nate Paul? Well, it seems the FBI and the Texas Department of Public Safety were looking into Paul’s business practices. For a breakdown of the counts, you can go here https://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2023/08/31/what-is-ken-paxton-accused-of-that-is-leading-to-his-impeachment-trial/
All of this does not mean that the first dagger in the death of tribal politics has been stabbed in the heart of Texas. First of all, it takes two-thirds of the Senate to convict. Many think there are 11 votes for Paxton. If convicted, Republican Governor Greg Abbott (famous lately for giving one-way tickets to immigrants to New York, DC, and other places) will get to name someone to succeed Paxton until an election is held. That person is going to be a Republican and in the same mold as the other statewide officeholders. It is also more than likely that a Republican would be elected to be Attorney General. So, it is not like there are huge political consequences for ousting Paxton.
Adding to the intrigue is the inside politics of the state house. Get out your pencil and paper because this one is quite byzantine. House GOP hates the Senate and vice-versa. Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who presides over the impeachment trial, and the Speaker hate each other. Also, Patrick hates the Governor. So, the Lt. Governor may not want to give the Governor a say in who enforces the laws in the state.
On top of that, someone, someplace, is releasing a slow drip of news leaks embarrassing to Paxton. Is it staff? House members? Anyway, it seems that the Attorney General has been on a world tour, leaving the state more than the Governor. Also, he has been hogging the annual Christmas cake sent to the office for the employees. Such pettiness is fueling the impeachment intrigue.
What has been the effect on the general public? Well, I did my own little focus group. Once a month, I attend a lunch with a bunch of folk here in North Texas. I don’t talk politics and don’t make my views heard. But on this past Wednesday, the video of Paxton came up on the screen. There were three middle aged Caucasian men who all had voted twice for Donald Trump. Each of them had something derisive to say about Paxton. And, when I asked them whether he should be acquitted or convicted, all said convicted. Now, this is not scientific research and it is anecdotal, but I found it interesting that the Paxton pre-trial messaging had not found traction amongst this group.
Let’s get to the question posed at the top of this piece. If Paxton is convicted, is it because the GOP is putting state over party, or are they just covering their behinds? Is there a measure of revenge because Paxton was threatening on an occasion or two to some of his GOP officeholders?
I would say this one has very little of the state over party. This is not exactly the most pro-tax state in the nation, and the notion of sticking taxpayers with a $3 million bill for settling a whistleblower suit is odiferous. Also, there is not much love – see the legislature vote – for Paxton in Austin. If they vote to convict, it is more than likely the GOP wants to cut their losses than put up with the scandals and antics of Paxton. A vote to acquit the tribe of Lt. Gov Dan Patrick wins the challenge.
Jim Bloom is a marketing executive currently located in Dallas, TX. He has been involved with several digital, mobile, and social startups. Bloom also directed the marketing of the Moneyball era Oakland A’s and Toronto Blue Jays.