Standoffs on school funding and property tax reductions bookended the final days of the 88th regular session of the Texas Legislature. It was a dramatic weekend, even without the House voting on articles of impeachment for Attorney General Ken Paxton.
On Saturday, the House voted 121-23 to impeach the state’s embattled top cop, which breaks down to 61 Democrats and 60 Republicans. Among those who voted for impeachment are the entire Collin County delegation of state representatives. (Paxton and his wife, State Rep. Angela Paxton, have lived in McKinney for decades.)
The representatives—Jeff Leach (R-Plano), Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), Justin Holland (R-Rockwall), Candy Noble (R-Lucas), and Frederick Frazier (R-McKinney), called Paxton a “longtime friend,” and said that the vote was “incredibly difficult.”
“General (sic) Paxton, like all Texans, is entitled to a presumption of innocence,” they said. “In that regard, it is our hope that the Texas Senate will expeditiously hold a fair, impartial and full trial on the merits.”
The five were the subject of some ire from Collin County GOP Chair Abraham George, who held a rally Monday at the Collin County Courthouse and demanded that everyone who voted for impeachment be voted out of office while questioning the impeachment process.
“The Texas House followed all applicable laws and rules [relating to impeachment] to the letter,” Holland said in a Tweet. “Abraham George is misinformed and has led the @CollinGOP so poorly that it has led to a decline in participation in Republican politics. I hope, he too, is faced with a primary.”
Among the 23 that voted against impeachment include North Texas representatives Brian Harrison (R-Midlothian), Nate Schatzline (R-Fort Worth), and Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington).
Paxton, who has been under indictment for securities fraud for the entirety of his tenure as attorney general, will now defend himself in a Senate trial on charges largely centered around how he used his powers.
Saturday, the House Committee on General Investigating laid out all 20 articles of impeachment for the entire House prior to the vote. (You can also see the transcript of the public hearing last week.) The committee included two North Texans — state representatives David Spiller (R-Jacksboro) and Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth) — in addition to committee chair Andrew Murr (R-Junction), vice-chair Ann Johnson (D-Houston), and Oscar Longoria (D-Mission).
The articles allege that Paxton used his official powers to help Austin-based real estate developer Nate Paul throughout 2020. In return, the committee said, Paul remodeled Paxton’s kitchen, and found a job for a woman with whom Paxton allegedly was having an affair.
But what brought the matter to the committee, and ultimately to impeachment, was a proposed 2020 whistleblower suit settlement that stemmed from former employees reporting their concerns. Paxton agreed to settle the case for $3.3 million, and asked for lawmakers to OK the taxpayer-funded expense. That prompted an ethics investigation that began in March.
All of the committee members reiterated that Paxton’s job as the “top cop” of the state should mean that he follows the laws he swore to uphold.
“No one person should be above the law, least not the top law enforcement official of the state of Texas,” Spiller said. Geren seemed to question Paxton’s actions even as his ethics were being debated, insisting twice that the attorney general had been calling representatives and warning them of “political consequences in their next election” if they voted in favor of impeachment.
On Monday, Phelan appointed a board of House Impeachment Managers who will present the case to the Senate, acting as prosecutors. The board includes the five committee members, plus Leach, Morgan Meyer (R-University Park), Joe Moody (D-El Paso), Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), Cody Vasut (R-Angleton), and Erin Gamez (D-Brownsville).
According to the state’s government code, the Senate will act as a jury. The committee will call witnesses and provide evidence, and Paxton (or his attorney) can also ask questions. Paxton can also choose to provide witnesses and testify on his own behalf.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Monday announced a committee of seven senators who will craft the rules for the trial. Those senators include North Texans Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury), Phil King (R-Weatherford), and Royce West (D-Dallas). They join Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe), and Joan Huffman (R-Houston).
No doubt chief among those rules will be considering how to broach the fact that Paxton’s wife is a senator and is named in one of the articles, as is State Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). State government code requires that all senators be present, but does not address what happens when a senator is either a witness or otherwise involved in the impeachment allegations.
The Senate will convene on June 20 to consider the rules and vote to adopt them. Patrick said that the impeachment trial will begin no later than August 28. Until then, Paxton is suspended from office, and first assistant attorney general Brent Webster is serving as interim attorney general. Gov. Greg Abbott could choose to appoint someone to act as attorney general, but so far has not given any indication that he would do so. He has not commented on the impeachment.