Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas was indicted for securities fraud in 2015, and in 2020 saw four top aides call him a crook and quit on him.
But it took until May 27th, 2023, for the House of Representatives of the Lone Star state to impeach the shady Attorney General on multiple charges of corruption and performing favors for a wealthy contributor.
The saga of Paxton, now suspended from office pending a Senate trial, carries national lessons in the lengths to which the political right shows loyalty, and meet out punishment to those who dare to question even conduct that is outrageous.
Paxton filed a lawsuit, after the 2020 election, seeking to block the counting of electoral votes from Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona. The Supreme Court refused to hear it. Paxton has also waged war against DACA, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals initiative, which allows migrants who arrived as very young children to continue living in the United States.
The state’s Republican primary voters love him for it. Paxton faced George P. Bush, son of a Florida governor, nephew and grandson of presidents, in a 2022 primary runoff and licked Bush by a margin of better than two-to-one.
The fall of Paxton was precipitated not by taking bribes or obstructing justice, or persuading developer-campaign donor Nate Paul to find a job for a woman with whom the AG was having an extramarital affair. It came when he tried to saddle the state of Texas with a $3.3 million settlement with the four fired aides.
Even after a Republican-run committee drew up a bill of particulars, Paxton still had an amen corner. “Ken Paxton is the best attorney general in the entire country… this witch hunt is a disgrace,” tweeted U.S. Representative Ronny Jackson, R‑Texas, adding in reference to House Speaker Dade Phelan: “Dude Phalen ought to be ashamed of himself.”
Phelan is “barely a Republican at all,” grumbled Donald Trump, who ranted: “Hopefully, Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed – I will fight you if it does. It is the radical left Democrats, RINOS and Criminals that never stop. Election interference.”
Defending Paxton, Senator Ted Cruz, R‑Texas, declared: “No attorney general has battled the abuses of the Biden Administration more ferociously – and more effectively – than has Paxton.”
As for Paxton, he has described the “illegal impeachment scheme” as the work of “the abortion industry and anti-gun zealots.”
But the House vote wasn’t even close. Impeachment carried by a 121–23 margin, including a majority of Republicans. It was a victory for Texas’ traditional ultraconservative rulers over the far-right, ultra MAGA fringe of the party.
Said State Representative David Spiller, a pro-impeachment Republican: “Attorney General Paxton continuously and blatantly violated laws, rules, policies and procedures. As a body we should not be complicit… Texas is better than that.”
Is it? The Lone Star state’s traditional rulers are quite willing to outlaw abortion, shortchange special needs kids in the state’s educational system, make the poor breathe polluted air and deny climate change. They deploy numerous gambits to make it difficult for discourage college students and working poor people to vote. They looked the other way for more than seven years and acted only when Paxton tried to rip off the state treasury to settle with his former deputies.
In a wider sense, the “wacko birds” – I love John McCain’s phrase for them – will overlook just about anything in their quests for reaction, retribution and revenge. The religious right and ultraconservative Catholic bishops ignore Trump’s multiple sins and have blessed his presidential campaigns. Murdoch’s Fox pundits have broadcast claims of a stolen 2020 election which they knew to be false.
Vengeance is the goal of governing with these people.
Presiding over the Senate trial will be Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, high in the aviary of wacko birds. Patrick gained notoriety three years ago when he told Tucker Carlson that he would rather die from the fast-spreading COVID-19 pandemic than damage the economy for future generations.
The cheated-on wife of AG Paxton is also a state senator. One of the twenty articles of impeachment states that Paul paid for extensive renovation of the Paxton home which included countertops valued at around $20,000.
A two-thirds vote is required for conviction by the Texas Senate, its current makeup nineteen Republicans and twelve Democrats. In the meantime, Gov. Greg Abbott has the option of naming an interim successor.
Abbott, Paxton’s predecessor as AG, has remained silent on the impeachment. Trump used his social media platform on Saturday to say: “Missing in action! Where is the Governor of Texas on his Attorney General’s impeachment?”
The polarizing of American has produced one-party states. The Republicans in Texas have used gerrymandering to dominate the legislature, and wealthy right-wing donors to fill their campaign coffers.
Still, there is pressure: Even policies that seem far right to the rest of America do not go far enough. Texas has experienced a rash of mass shootings, yet legislators have loosened rather than strengthen gun safety laws.
The infighting among Republicans may encourage some to view Paxton’s actions as a product of Texas’ political culture. Look again.
Seventeen fellow AGs and one hundred and twenty-six members of the U.S. House of Representatives – a majority of the Republican caucus — signed on with his challenge to counting electoral votes in the 2020 election.
One of those members, Kevin McCarthy, is now House Speaker, put in power and kept in office by ultra MAGA wacko birds.