Let’s start with the obvious, which is the “Why now?” question. A lot of people seem to be mystified. Why, after nearly a decade of Ken Paxton’s criming, did the House General Investigations Committee decide to go all scorched earth on him now? I’ve seen some theories about it having to do with the federal investigation into Paxton and Nate Paul being taken up by the Justice Department instead of the local US Attorney, with a Twitter thread that I forgot to bookmark speculating that the House signing off on the $3.3 million settlement would somehow make House members complicit in a coverup of Paxton’s activities, since now nothing would or could come out in court. I don’t buy that – it’s not clear to me that the change of venue for the investigation means anything about its ultimate resolution, and I cannot see how any House member could be criminally liable for voting to approve that settlement and payout. If anything, it would be the whistleblowers, who are still pushing for that settlement to be ratified, who would be in danger of obstructing the feds. None of that makes any sense to me.
My best guess, as an amateur Democratic pundit who has spent zero time at the Capitol talking to people, is that it comes down to two things. I was struck by the comment made by Rep. Brian Harrison – who by the way voted against impeaching Paxton – in which he opined that “there are a large number of my colleagues who do not hold the current attorney general in very high regard”. That’s just a background condition, but it sets the stage for everything else. Once the settlement was announced and it was clear that Paxton expected the Lege to pick up the tab for his criming, I think that allowed for the investigation to begin. There was some resistance up front, but it wasn’t too much. Honestly, given the more-than-occasionally petty nature of the Legislature, I think it was when Paxton didn’t bother to address the budget committee himself about the payment that got enough people into a foul mood about the whole thing for the ball to really start rolling.
What I’m saying is this: A lot of Republicans didn’t like Ken Paxton all that much to begin with. I’m sure there are many reasons for that, but let’s accept that as fact and go from there. Those same Republicans probably don’t much care for the big-money interests that support Paxton and tend to be a threat to your typical Republican legislators, who have to deal with the possibility or actuality of those fat cats bankrolling a primary challenger to them and riling up the rubes to harass them and their staff. Taking a shot at Paxton also means sticking it to those people, and I don’t doubt for a minute that was a catalyst. Throw in that request for the $3.3 million, a penny-ante but still annoying and arrogant shit sandwich that they’re being told they need to eat, and now you have a reason for the committee to decide to take a closer look at the Nate Paul situation. Finish it off with a committee made up of people who clearly took the assignment seriously, and here we are. (*)
Am I certain of this explanation? Of course not. I have no way of knowing. But this makes sense to me, and is consistent with what we know. I am open to alternate ideas, and of course any insider information from people who do have real insight. Send me an email with whatever off-the-record dirt you want to share, I’ll be delighted to read it.
The second point I want to discuss is “What is the best possible outcome for the Democrats?” The best possible outcome for society at large is for Paxton to be convicted by the Senate, then arrested by the feds, and eventually convicted in both state and federal court before spending some number of years in jail. You know, being held accountable for his actions and all that. I’m rooting for that, but I’m also rooting for Democrats to maximize their chances of winning elections next year, because the best way to deal with the bigger picture of why the likes of Ken Paxton was able to flourish for so long begins with Democrats winning a lot more political power in this state. What needs to happen to give them that chance next year?
The short answer to that question is for Republicans to be maximally divided amongst themselves, and focusing their anger and rage and money and resources on each other. You may recall that Donald Trump, as well as the slimy insect who chairs the state GOP, are firmly on Team Paxton and have been attacking every Republican who isn’t also in that camp. Trump is attacking Greg Abbott for his silence. This is what we want.
I don’t know if a near future date for a Senate trial or one that is farther out is better for this, but I do prefer there to be a definite time frame, so everyone can get more mad as the date draws near. I can make a case for either a conviction or an acquittal in terms of the political fallout, but either way I want the vote in the Senate to be as close as possible, either 21-10 (or 20-10, if Angela Paxton is recused) for conviction, or a 20-11 failure to convict with Angela Paxton casting the saving vote. Oh, and I want the question of whether or not Angela Paxton casts a vote to be divisive as well, with Dan Patrick trying to get her to recuse and she defiantly rejects him. (Remember, Angela Paxton will be on the ballot in 2024, too.)
If we get that knife’s edge conviction – really, 20-10 with Angela Paxton seething on the sidelines is best – then we not only have Trump and the state GOP and a bunch of its big moneymen mad, with a defenestrated Ken Paxton free to vent his rage at his partymates from the cheap seats, we also have a Greg Abbott-selected AG on the ballot nest year, too. It won’t matter if he selects someone who would be objectively formidable under other circumstances, because now a significant portion of the Republican base hates that person and can focus their sense of aggrievement and betrayal on them. There would surely be a nasty primary, and who knows, maybe an effort to put an independent wingnut on the ballot as well.
Add all this up, and remember that Ted Cruz is also all in on Team Paxton, and maybe that share of Republican voters who don’t want to vote for certain specific Republicans gets a little bigger, while a portion of the hardcore dead-end Trump contingent decides they’ve been stabbed in the back one time too many and they stay home. It wouldn’t take that big a shift to put Joe Biden, Colin Allred/Roland Gutierrez, whoever runs for AG, and perhaps some number of Congressional and Legislative candidates in a winning position next year. It’s a perfect storm.
Now again, am I certain of this? Of course not. Am I maybe wishcasting just a little too hard here? For sure. But is any of this implausible? I don’t think so. A few rolls of the dice have to go well, and of course we need the overall national conditions to be reasonable and for no other earthquakes to strike. It’s also well more than a year away, and as we know that may as well be a million years in political time. I’m just saying, much of this could happen, and if it does I think it works in Democrats’ favor. Just something to think about. Let me know what you think.
(*) Yes, I know, these same legislators are responsible for these conditions that they don’t like, from the moneyed interests to the frothing-at-the-mouth primary voters who are the only ones that count to them. That doesn’t mean that they can’t find a way forward when those conditions work against them for a change.
UPDATE: We have dates now. So that’s good.