On Saturday, May 27, the Texas House of Representatives voted to impeach the state attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton. The news would already be relevant in itself – the attorney general is one of the most important posts of American state institutions, a sort of Minister of Justice with the power to open investigations and bring people and companies to court, and Texas is one of the most important and influential in the United States – but it is made even more noteworthy by the fact that it was the MPs of the Republican Party who formally impeached Paxton, i.e. his party colleagues.
The list of allegations against Paxton by the House Committee on General Investigating – the committee of the Texan House that recommended the impeachment – was made public following an investigation secretly authorized by the committee itself last March. Among other things, the prosecutor is suspected of having accepted bribes from a real estate developer and political financier, Nate Paul; that he misused public funds, again for Paul’s benefit; and to have convinced an entrepreneur and a former politician to invest $100,000 to a tech company in 2011, without disclosing to them that he would earn a commission in return. The allegations formalize facts largely emerged thanks to journalistic inquiries and testimonies of former assistants of Paxton, but only partially investigated.
Paxton denied all charges, calling the impeachment proceedings against him “illegal”; some supporters of him have also criticized the timing of the vote, which was held on the weekend before “Memorial Day”, the day dedicated to the commemoration of US soldiers who died in the war, considered an important moment of national unity.
The impeachment involves a process that will begin by the end of August at the latest through hearings in the Texas Senate, where a two-thirds majority of members will be needed to remove Paxton from his role. The position of Attorney General – the highest judicial office in the state – is among the most important in the Texan political system, as well as being seen as an opportunity to aspire to more prominent political positions. To date, only two people in Texas, a governor in 1917 and a judge in 1975, have been removed from office following an impeachment trial.
Saturday’s vote in the House was clear and bipartisan: out of a total of 150 deputies, 60 of the 85 Republicans voted in favor of impeachment, in addition to all the Democrats present. What surprised many observers was not so much the alignment between the two factions as the large majority of Republican deputies who decided to vote against Paxton: all in a party considered particularly corporate and monolithic, especially in Texas.
During the last legislature, the Republican members of the House – and in particular the speaker, Dade Phelan – were accused by the more extremist wing of the party of being too close to the Democrats, neglecting, for example, the political battles to limit the rights of minorities to type. On the other hand, the position of the Senate is less certain, whose members still have more radical positions than the Chamber: the Texas Tribune he wrote as among the 31 senators, 12 of whom are Democrats, there is great secrecy about voting intentions, although most of them have numerous political and personal ties to Paxton (Paxton’s wife is a senator).
Paxton has been Attorney General of Texas since 2014, after having been re-elected twice more, in 2018 and 2022. Over the years he has taken particularly radical positions especially on immigration, becoming very popular among the more conservative Republican voters and earning the esteem and the support of former US President Donald Trump and well-known Senator Ted Cruz. In the 2015 It is in the 2018 he sued – leading a broad coalition of states with a conservative majority – the federal government, helping to block some programs of the Biden and Obama administrations for the benefit of certain irregular immigrants, for example those with children. Paxton also tried to get the Affordable Care Act (also known as “Obamacare,” Obama’s famed health care reform) abolished by suing the federal government again, unsuccessfully, and to ease some restrictions on gun ownership.
It is not yet clear whether the Paxton affair could anticipate nationwide political trends within the Republican Party. Most local political commentators argue that, by deposing Paxton as soon as possible, the party wants above all to dump him to avoid facing the major media and political scandal that would inevitably arise from further dissemination of news of his allegations, considering his position very fragile. The more extremist, identitarian component, and less tied to the party’s “historical” themes (such as market deregulation and free enterprise), to which Paxton belongs, is currently very influential in much of the United States: it is possible that a prosecutor’s removal remains a material fact but with repercussions limited to Texas only.