Ken Paxton, the Texas Attorney General and a long-time Republican, has been a constant source of embarrassment to the voters of Texas for many years, but both voters and elected representatives have ignored the problem. I originally wrote about Paxton in the 2019 post, Should This Bill Pass.
There have been many accusations of impropriety and abuse of office over the years, and Paxton still has criminal charges pending for securities fraud from 2015, for which he has never stood trial.
Paxton, who was first elected as Texas Attorney General in 2015, is the top law enforcement officer in Texas. He is responsible for over 4,000 employees and 117 offices around the state, and may finally see some accountability thanks to Texas Whistleblower Act.
The current road to accountability started in 2020 when eight high-ranking employees at the attorney general’s office went to law enforcement and the FBI with allegations that the attorney general had committed bribery and abuse of power. All eight employees were fired and allegedly threatened with retaliation, with four of the employees subsequently filing a whistleblower lawsuit under the Texas Whistleblower Act.
Earlier this year the whistleblower lawsuit was settled, with neither side admitting “liability or fault” and “Paxton accepts that plaintiffs acted in a manner that they thought was right and apologizes for referring to them as ‘rogue employees.’” The whistleblowers are to receive a financial settlement of $3.3 million!
However, because the lawsuit, under the Texas Whistleblower Act, was filed against the Office of the Attorney General, and not Paxton himself, the settlement of $3.3 million must be paid by the State of Texas. This requires approval by the state Senate and House of Representatives and must be signed by the governor – so the sordid circumstances surrounding the attorney general can no longer be ignored!
After an investigation, in May a GOP-led House ethics panel filed 20 articles of impeachment against Attorney General Ken Paxton, accusing him of sweeping charges, including bribery, obstruction of justice and disregard of official duty. With some of the impeachment articles relating to lapses in ethics reporting and the nearly 8-year-old indictment of securities fraud, which Paxton has never gone to trial for.
For the top law enforcement official to even have any one of these charges against him is disgraceful, but the charges listed show a pattern of unethical actions as a matter of policy. This is why we have ethics committees and rules to hold those in power accountable. If you need to bribe your way into or out of something, the general rule of thumb is that you’re doing it wrong. Acting ethically doesn’t require bribes, obstructing justice, or disregarding your duty. In any situation.
On Saturday, May 27, 121 of the 149 members of the Texas House voted overwhelmingly to impeach Paxton, with his being removed from office while the Texas Senate must decide by at least a 2/3 vote of its 31 members whether or not to convict Paxton and permanently remove him from office.
And a final twist – Paxton’s wife, Angela Paxton, is a State Senator who has confirmed in a press release on Monday, June 19, that she will carry out her duties on the court of impeachment in following the Texas constitution. Given that she is likely to have personal gain by her husband holding his position, the only ethical option is for her to abstain from voting even though she’ll be present for the trial. This is a corruption hearing at its core, so her voting in it to protect her own interests would show that she is in on the corruption. Refusing to attend would put her in dereliction of duty under the Texas Constitution and put the trial at risk. So, we’re back to being present and abstaining in the actual vote.
But, then again, as the Texas Tribune pointed out, Angela Paxton “has done little to disentangle her political legacy from her husband’s.” Like they said, her husband funded her campaign and she’s tried to pass legislation to benefit him. She’s shown that they are a team. We’ll see if she develops a stronger ethical code than her husband.
Perhaps her vote won’t matter and she’ll be just one minority voice in a resounding decision to remove him from office.
Maybe, just maybe, ethics and integrity will finally be upheld in Texas! Stay tuned…