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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Texas AG is the first statewide officeholder to be impeached in over a century


The Texas State Capitol, on Saturday, May 27, 2023.

By J. David Goodman, James Dobbins and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs


Lawmakers in the Texas House voted Saturday to impeach Ken Paxton, the state’s Republican attorney general, temporarily removing him from office over charges that he had used his elected position to benefit himself and a campaign donor.


After a four-hour proceeding before a packed gallery, the vote landed with titanic force in the Texas Capitol, where a statewide officeholder had not been impeached in more than a century, since the Legislature voted to oust the sitting governor, James Ferguson, in 1917, for embezzlement and misuse of public funds.


Before Saturday’s vote, Rep. Andrew Murr, the Republican chair of the House investigating committee that recommended impeachment, closed by urging his colleagues to impeach. “The evidence presented to you is compelling and is more than sufficient to justify going to trial,” he said, adding, “Send this to trial.”


The final vote was 121 members in favor of impeachment — a bipartisan coalition that included nearly every Democrat and a majority of the chamber’s Republicans — and 23 against, with two abstaining. As they voted, the board in the front of the chamber lit up in green lights signaling support. It went well beyond the 75 necessary.


“It was a hard one, a hard one, really hard,” Rep. Jeff Leach, a Dallas-area Republican who voted in favor of impeachment, said after the vote.


According to Texas law, Gov. Greg Abbott may appoint an interim attorney general, pending the Senate trial, but he is not required to. A spokesperson for his office did not respond to a request for comment on what he intended to do.


With the impeachment vote, Paxton was immediately removed from office, pending the Senate trial. No date had been set for that to begin.


The Senate trial will be presided over by the lieutenant governor, Dan Patrick, an arch conservative aligned with many of Paxton’s supporters. Patrick has maintained a neutral posture in public comments this past week. A two-thirds vote is necessary to convict in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 19-12 advantage.


The speed with which events proceeded left legislators, Texas officials and other political observers stunned and grasping: Just a few days ago, almost no one in the Capitol had been even aware that such a significant investigation of Paxton was underway, much less that an impeachment vote could be the result.


His fellow Republicans, who introduced the 20 articles of impeachment, presented Paxton as a rogue public official who could not be trusted in the office he occupied. They did so in reference to Paxton’s actions, which they said in many cases amounted to crimes, and contrasted them with the integrity of those who stood up to him, many of them conservative Republicans.


“Attorney General Paxton continuously and blatantly violated laws, rules, policies and procedures,” said David Spiller, a Republican member of the investigating committee, speaking to the House on Saturday. “As a body, we should not be complicit” in that behavior, he said. “Texas is better than that.”


Paxton released a statement immediately after the vote, calling the process “illegal, unethical and profoundly unjust.”


“I look forward to a quick resolution in the Texas Senate, where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just,” Paxton wrote. He has many allies in the more conservative Senate, including his wife, Angela, and personal friends.


The articles of impeachment charged Paxton with abusing his office in a range of ways, including taking what amounted to bribes, disregarding his official duty, obstructing justice in a separate securities fraud case pending against him, making false statements on official documents and abusing the public trust.


Many of the articles focused on Paxton’s purported use of his office to benefit a particular donor, Nate Paul, a real estate investor in Austin who has given $25,000 in political contributions to Paxton. Those included using the office to intervene in a legal dispute that Paul was having with a nonprofit, and hiring a lawyer on contract to work for the attorney general’s office, at Paul’s request and over the objections of senior staff members at the attorney general’s office, in order to look into a federal inquiry of Paul.


Paul also provided other benefits to Paxton, the articles of impeachment said, including giving a job to a woman described during the impeachment proceedings as Paxton’s “mistress,” and providing expensive home renovations, including countertops valued at around $20,000.


Paxton, 60, who has denied any wrongdoing, has been a strong supporter of conservative legal causes and one of the chief antagonists of the Biden administration on a range of issues, including the Affordable Care Act and immigration on the southern border. Paxton also challenged the results of the 2020 election in court, a losing fight that won him the support of former President Donald Trump.


The allegations of corruption and abuse of office were described in 2020 by several of his top aides, who requested an investigation of Paxton. The aides who spoke up either resigned or were forced out or fired. Four of them filed a lawsuit over their firing. The FBI also opened an investigation, and in February, the Justice Department said the inquiry had been taken over by investigators in Washington.


What changed this year was that Paxton sought state money to try to put the most serious matter behind him, asking for $3.3 million in state funds for a settlement that he had reached with the four aides. The Texas House responded by initiating an investigation of the request and the underlying accusations. Their findings that Paxton’s actions had been improper and possibly illegal provided the first official condemnation of his behavior.


Outside the Capitol, a small number of opponents and supporters of Paxton protested and occasionally confronted one another. “What he’s doing is the right thing, and the speaker is doing the wrong thing,” said a 76-year-old retired information systems manager from Austin, who declined to give his name.


Ilan Levin, 54, an associate director at an Austin nonprofit, stood beside his bicycle arguing with Paxton’s supporters. He held a cardboard sign that said, “IMPEACH!!!” But he said he did not think the impeachment vote would have a big impact.


“A lot of Texans will forget about it by the next election cycle,” he said.


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