Partisanship vs. Accountability: Unpacking the Ken Paxton Impeachment Controversy

AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez, File

Another shakeup in Texas politics occurred last week as the Lone Star State’s legislative session was set to come to a close. The state House of Representatives moved to impeach a key figure in Texas Republican politics, and the controversy has continued to spill over into Memorial Day.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican known for his controversial tenure and legal challenges to the 2020 election results, has been impeached by the state’s House of Representatives. The impeachment vote, which was approved 121-23, suspended Paxton from office pending a trial in the Senate.

This historic move marks the first impeachment of a Texas attorney general since 1917. The impeachment articles accuse Paxton of multiple offenses, including conspiracy, dereliction of duty, bribery, and obstruction of justice. The allegations primarily revolve around Paxton’s alleged abuse of power to benefit a political donor and friend, real estate developer Nate Paul. Paxton denies any wrongdoing and has called the impeachment proceedings a politically motivated sham.

A two-thirds majority of the Senate’s 31 senators, including Paxton’s wife, will be needed to permanently remove Paxton from office. The Senate can either begin impeachment proceedings immediately or schedule them for a later date.

During the trial, House members will act as managers, presenting arguments, while the senators will serve as jurors. Governor Greg Abbott has the authority to appoint a temporary replacement for the attorney general’s position during the Senate proceedings. Despite the impeachment, Paxton’s close ties to the far-right faction of the Republican Party and his association with former President Donald Trump have earned him support from some Republicans, though no state senators have publicly defended him.

The issue began when Paxton’s office asked the state legislature for $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit involving whistleblowers who had made a slew of allegations against the attorney general, indicating a disturbing level of corruption on his part. The whistleblowers accused Paxton of retaliating against them after they reported that he allegedly used his position to help a donor.

The House’s Committee on General Investigating had initiated an inquiry in March after Paxton and his office asked the legislature for $3.3 million to settle a wrongful termination lawsuit filed by whistleblowers in the office. The former employees had called in 2020 for an investigation into Paxton’s actions regarding an Austin real estate investor who had his home searched by the FBI. They accused Paxton of using his office to protect him by authorizing an investigation into the FBI.

The articles of impeachment allege that the settlement delayed the discovery of facts and testimony to Paxton’s advantage.

The investigation found that Paxton asked Paul to hire a woman with whom the attorney general was allegedly having an affair. Paul also helped Paxton renovate a home he owns in Austin in exchange for Paxton using his position as attorney general to provide legal assistance to the real estate developer.

When news of the impeachment effort broke, some on the right criticized the House’s decision. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took to social media to defend Paxton ahead of his impeachment vote in the state House. Cruz praised Paxton as the “strongest conservative AG” in the country and accused the “swamp in Austin” of targeting him.

“For the last nine years, Ken has been the strongest conservative AG in the country. Bar none. No attorney general has battled the abuses of the Biden admin more ferociously—and more effectively—than has Paxton,” Cruz wrote in a Twitter thread.

“That’s why the swamp in Austin wants him out. The special interests don’t want a steadfast conservative AG,” the lawmaker continued, also pointing out that most of the details about Paxton’s legal issues were “public BEFORE Election Day, and the voters chose to re-elect Ken Paxton by a large margin.”

Former President Donald Trump also voiced his support for Paxton and criticized Texas Governor Greg Abbott for remaining silent on the impeachment proceedings. Others have argued that the move for impeachment happened far too quickly and that Paxton should have been given more of an opportunity to defend himself.

However, Trump and Cruz’s protests against the impeachment seem to be based more on politics than principle. The articles of impeachment against Paxton are predicated on charges of bribery, abuse of public trust, and other serious offenses. It involves reports from at least eight whistleblowers who spilled the beans and were allegedly punished for doing so.

These allegations must be thoroughly investigated and assessed based on the available evidence and legal standards. Blindly supporting Paxton without considering the weight of these allegations compromises the integrity of the legal process and diminishes public confidence in the system.

Moreover, Cruz’s contention that the people who voted for Paxton in the previous election were fully aware of his legal issues doesn’t seem to hold water, given that we know most people do not pay close attention to statewide races. Yes, we should be giving these campaigns more attention than we do national politics, but unfortunately, far too many of us focus more on federal issues rather than the issues that affect us at the state and local levels. If credible allegations are being made, it makes sense to investigate them.

The notion of “law and order” must apply to everyone, especially government officials. Defending Paxton based on his party affiliation undermines this principle, sending a message that partisan loyalties take precedence over ethical conduct and accountability. It is imperative to hold public officials accountable for their actions, irrespective of their political identity.

Yes, we are in an age of hyperpartisanship in which too many people seem to believe they must defend behavior conducted by people on their side that they would vocally condemn if the other team engaged in it. But the real issue here is alleged corruption in our government. As people who claim to distrust the state, conservatives and libertarians alike should be more than willing to see Paxton go through the legal process in the Senate regardless of the letter he has next to his name.



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