Policy Topics

Slimy Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton gets impeached by his fellow Republicans

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.

Joel Connelly

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