For nearly a decade, Texas Republicans largely looked the other way as Attorney General Ken Paxton’s legal problems piled up.
That abruptly changed this week.
In revealing it had been secretly investigating Paxton since March — and then recommending his impeachment on Thursday — a Republican-led state House committee sought to hold Paxton accountable in a way the GOP has never come close to doing. It amounted to a political earthquake, and while it remains to be seen whether Paxton’s ouster will be the outcome, it represents a stunning act of self-policing.
“We’re used to seeing partisans protect their own, and in this case, the Republicans have turned on the attorney general,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “It’s really surprising.”
The House General Investigating Committee voted unanimously Thursday to recommend impeachment of Paxton, citing a yearslong pattern of alleged misconduct and lawbreaking. The vote included all three Republicans who make up a majority on the panel — and it launched a process that will likely force every other Republican in the Legislature to go on the record.
That is something most Texas Republicans have avoided since Paxton was first elected as the state’s top legal official in 2014. Months into his first term, he was indicted on state securities fraud charges, a criminal case he is fighting to this day. And in 2020, senior officials in his office asked the FBI to investigate allegations that he had abused his authority to help a wealthy friend and donor. Those claims led to a whistleblower lawsuit alleging Paxton retaliated against his former deputies.
Along the way, there have been other scandals, like the revelation that he cheated on his wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney.
For the most part, Republican state leaders and lawmakers stayed quiet throughout. If they spoke, it was usually to demur and say they wanted to see the legal processes play out.
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