Republicans, who have remained largely silent during years of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, are now being forced to take a stand. A Republican-led state House committee recently recommended Paxton’s impeachment, marking a stunning act of self-policing by the GOP. The House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to impeach Paxton, citing a yearslong pattern of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking, and this could lead every other Republican in the Legislature to go on record.
The years of alleged misconduct by Paxton have raised the question of why it took so long for the GOP to act. Most Republican state leaders and lawmakers have stayed quiet throughout, usually demurring and saying they want to see legal processes play out. Paxton’s legal issues have piled up since his election as Texas’ top legal official in 2014, from a criminal case involving state securities fraud charges, which he continues to fight, to allegations of abuse of authority to help a wealthy friend and donor. Other scandals have since surfaced, such as Paxton cheating on his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton.
House leaders have said the committee’s investigation was prompted by a $3.3 million settlement that Paxton reached with whistleblowers in February. Paxton needed the Legislature to approve the use of state funds to settle the lawsuit, but he quickly encountered resistance. This prompted House Speaker Dade Phelan, the first Republican in the Legislature to come out against using taxpayer dollars to pay for the settlement, to launch a full and thorough investigation. To be clear, however, the 20 articles of impeachment are broader than the whistleblower claims at the center of the settlement.
Paxton comes from a wing of the Texas GOP that frequently criticizes the House as too moderate, and his supporters say chamber leaders are now striking back in extreme fashion. Michael Quinn Sullivan, a longtime far-right activist and Paxton ally, said the House’s attempt to impeach Paxton was a “dramatic escalation” in Phelan’s “war against Texas’ GOP primary voters.” Paxton has closely aligned himself with former President Donald Trump over the years, but Trump has yet to come to the attorney general’s defense. And while Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick ultimately endorsed Paxton in 2022, it came after The Texas Tribune reported that he was meddling in the primary and working against Paxton.
To send the matter to a trial in the Texas Senate, a majority of the 149-member House must approve a resolution containing the articles of impeachment. While all 64 House Democrats can be expected to vote to impeach Paxton, early reaction among House Republicans was mixed Thursday night and Friday morning. Some, like Republican Senator John Cornyn, found the investigation “deeply troubling” and feel it speaks to the need to preserve the public trust and integrity of the institution. Others, such as State Representative Steve Toth, feel impeachment would be an “illegal” action.
With an impeachment vote looming, Paxton is about to learn how many Republican friends he really has, both inside the Capitol and out. Only a handful of Republicans in the Legislature have already sided against Paxton by supporting his primary challengers in 2022. But for most, this will be the first time they have to publicly render judgment against the scandal-plagued attorney general.