Waco-area political leaders had a range of reactions to the acquittal of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, with local Republicans relieved and local Democrats disappointed by the Senate’s decision to clear Paxton of 16 articles of impeachment after a two-week trial.
But members of both parties expressed their desire to move past the impeachment trial and on to other pressing issues.
Texas and the rest of the country were shocked by the introduction of the articles in late May, which followed a months-long investigation by a Republican-led House committee into allegations against Paxton.
Those charges included abuse of power, bribery and whistleblower retaliation. The investigation began in March when Paxton asked the House for $3.3 million to settle a lawsuit with former employees he fired for reporting his alleged misconduct to the FBI and Texas Rangers.
People are also reading…
Paxton was impeached by the House on May 27 on a vote margin of 121-23, with 70% of House Republicans voting to send 20 articles of impeachment to the Senate for a full trial. In the Senate trial, no article received more than 14 votes for conviction, seven votes shy of the 21 needed for Paxton’s removal. The only Republican senators voting to convict on any articles were Sen. Kelly Hancock of North Richland Hills and Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville.
Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, R-Waco, was one of the 23 House members who voted against impeaching Paxton, which he said was due to his concerns that the process had been rushed, as he said House members had only been given 48 hours to read and vote on the articles. He also said the vote came near the end of the legislative session, when the legislature is extremely busy trying to finish discussion and voting on bills.
Anderson also expressed concerns that the House was asked to vote on the articles without any witness testimony, which was against the precedent set during the impeachment trial of Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917. Ferguson’s trial saw weeks of witness testimony before the House voted to send 21 articles to the Senate, which ultimately convicted Ferguson and barred him from holding public office.
Anderson said the 4.2 million Texans who voted for Paxton in 2022 would be disenfranchised if he was removed from office and said the will of the voters must be respected. He also said he believed the Senate did a good job in hearing the evidence presented by both sides and were diligent in setting rules for a fair trial to be conducted.
Anderson said he is glad the trial is over so that Texas Republicans can unite behind important issues such as the border and education.
Rep. Angelia Orr, R-Itsaca, whose district includes parts of McLennan County, voted to impeach Paxton in May. At the time, she said in a statement that the allegations against Paxton were disturbing and enough to warrant a full Senate trial. In a statement to the Tribune-Herald, she said the Senate conducted a fair and thorough trial.
“I voted to send the case to a full trial in the Senate based on the evidence and testimony presented by the whistleblowers, who reported their concerns to law enforcement,” she said. “The Senate conducted a fair and thorough trial and I respect their decision.”
Senator Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, who represents Waco, was the chair of the Senate panel that made recommendations for the rules of Paxton’s trial. Birdwell voted to acquit on each article of impeachment. His office did not respond to repeated requests for comment last week and this week, and he did not release a statement.
Pat Flavin, the Bob Bullock professor of political science at Baylor, said he initially believed the Senate might convict Paxton since 22 Senators voted to deny dismissing the case, signaling they were at least open to convicting.
He said the Senate ultimately decided to acquit Paxton because they didn’t believe the evidence was strong enough or because they were concerned about constituent blowback, or a combination of the two.
Flavin said voter pressure was lurking in the background of the trial, as there were many reports of people calling senators’ offices urging them to acquit Paxton.
Paxton has attempted to brand the trial as a “kangaroo court” brought on by Democrats and RINOs (Republicans in Name Only), but Flavin said that is an inaccurate term to describe the two Republicans who voted to convict. He said “RINO” has become more of a political buzzword used to brand certain Republicans as being “insufficiently conservative.”
While Flavin noted Roberts is one of the more moderate members of the Texas GOP with a history of breaking with his party’s ranks, a Texas Tribune analysis of the Senate said Hancock was one of the more conservative members of the Senate, with only three senators ranking above him.
Brad Holland, chair of the McLennan County Republican Party, said there is great enthusiasm and relief among local Republicans following Paxton’s acquittal. He said he knows many of the senators personally, and said they take their jobs seriously and subsequently, took the trial seriously.
Holland said he didn’t think the Senate could convict Paxton based on the evidence presented in the trial, and said he believed justice was served.
While the trial may have exposed some rifts in the Texas GOP, especially between House Speaker Dade Phelan and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, an issue he said was exacerbated by the trial, Holland said he believes issues of division are contained to Austin. He said he doesn’t think the trial will matter much in the future, and said he believes Texas Republicans will unite behind defeating president Joe Biden in the 2024 election and other issues.
Holland said he hopes Paxton regains his footing in the Attorney General’s office, and he praised Paxton’s pro-life stances and resistance to federal intrusion.
Mark Hays, chair of the McLennan County Democratic Party, said Paxton’s acquittal was a “sad day for Texas” and amounted to an endorsement of corruption.
“So much for the party of law and order,” Hays said.
He said he felt that the whistleblowers’ testimony during the trial was enough evidence to warrant Paxton’s removal as attorney general, and said he felt the senators’ motivation for acquittal was due to a fear of being ousted from office.
“Their only goal was to stay in office,” Hays said. “At some point, you have to take a risk to do what’s right.”
Hays also commended Nichols and Hancock for showing courage by voting in favor of conviction.
With the trial done, Hays said Democrats should put the impeachment behind them and focus on the party’s ultimate goal of creating more political balance in Texas. He said it is unhealthy for Texas to have a one-party government.
Flavin said he believes the trial signals the start of a “prolonged battle” for what the future of the Texas GOP will look like. He said he believes there is a split in the party between establishment Republicans and a “competing Trump strain” that is more conservative in their beliefs.
Flavin said many of the issues behind the trial will not be resolved, and said it is rare for there to be such a split in the controlling party of a state.
“It’s very rare to have the leader of the Senate, the House and the governor be so openly at odds each other with each other politically,” Flavin said. “It would be hard to think of another state where that’s currently the case. And so I think that’s just going to be continued political drama with the upcoming special session that occurs, with primaries in the spring, with the election next November, with the session in spring 2025. I don’t think this is going to be resolved. It’s going to be ongoing and very politically interesting to watch.”