This is a good and balanced article about one of the people who will sit in judgment of Ken Paxton in the Texas Senate: his wife, Angela Paxton.
When it came time for the high school teacher and guidance counselor to launch her own political career, a $2 million loan from her husband propelled Angela Paxton to a narrow victory for a state Senate seat in the booming Dallas suburbs. Once elected, she filed bills to expand his office’s powers, and approved budgets over his state agency and salary.
Now, Sen. Paxton is a key figure in the next phase of Ken Paxton’s historic impeachment: as a “juror” in a Senate trial that could put her husband back in office or banish him permanently.
It’s a role that raises an ethical cloud over the Senate proceeding. State law compels all senators to attend, but is silent on whether she must participate.
“If it were a trial in the justice system, she would be completely required to (step aside),” said Kenneth Williams, professor of criminal procedure at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. “It’s a clear conflict of interest.”
The trial is to start no later than Aug. 28, and it promises to be quite personal for Angela Paxton.
The 20 articles of impeachment brought against Ken Paxton include sweeping charges of abuse of office and unethical behavior. They include a bribery charge related to an extramarital affair with an aide to a state senator. Another suggested Angela Paxton was involved in the installation of $20,000 countertops at their home, paid for by a political donor.
Angela Paxton hasn’t said if she’ll recuse herself from the trial. She declined comment when approached by The Associated Press outside the Senate chamber on Monday.
State Rep. Andrew Murr, who led the impeachment investigation in the state House, declined to say if he thinks Angela Paxton should step aside. The Senate gets to set the rules, he said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tightly controls the Senate and its 19-12 Republican majority. He suggested to a Dallas television state before last week’s House impeachment vote that Angela Paxton will participate in the trial.
“I will be presiding over that case and the senators — all 31 senators — will have a vote,” Patrick told WFAA-TV. “We’ll set the rules for that trial as we go forward and we’ll see how that develops.”
The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the chamber to convict. But there is little historic precedent in drafting impeachment trial rules, and nothing with a similar spousal conflict, Williams said.
In nearly 200 years of Texas history, Ken Paxton is just the third official to be impeached and the first statewide official impeached since Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917.
There’s no legal mechanism to force Angela Paxton out of the trial like there would be a criminal trial, Williams said.
“It’s up to her ethical standards and compass, basically,” Williams said.
Mark Phariss, the Democrat who lost to Angela Paxton by 2 percentage points in 2018, noted her sharp political instincts. He predicted she won’t step aside from a trial.
“My assumption is she will not recuse herself. Because she does not seem to distance herself from her husband, either when she ran for office in 2018 initially or at any time subsequently,” Phariss said.
We’ve discussed Sen. Paxton before, and my opinion matches Mark Phariss’. Maybe – a very big maybe – Dan Patrick could gently persuade her to recuse, for the optics of it if nothing else. But first you’d have to believe that Dan Patrick would do that, and then you’d have to believe she’d listen to anyone else. I think this comment by Ted Wood, that she will ultimately not recuse but go “present, not voting”, which still leave the “convict” threshold at 21, is highly plausible. The bottom line is that there’s just no evidence to suggest that she has any inclination to do the right thing.
Which, as noted, is fine by me. Perhaps the rules team will box her out, but that remains on par with Dan Patrick trying to talk sense into her. I’ll believe it when I see it.
To be fair, she’s not the only potentially conflicted Senate juror.
The House impeachment articles accuse Paxton of using state Sen. Bryan Hughes as a “straw requestor” for a legal opinion that protected a political donor from property foreclosure.
Hughes has not addressed whether he expects to be called as a witness or if he will recuse himself. He did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
I think Sen. Hughes – who, it must be noted, is also a terrible person – has a fairly easy out here. If he’s called as a witness, he absolutely must recuse, for all the obvious reasons. It’s so obvious that I think the rules people will cover it in their work. But if not, I don’t think he’s required to step down, at least not based on what we know now. It’s credible to me that he did Paxton a favor without knowing the motive behind it. If there’s anything to suggest otherwise, then absolutely he must go, too. But until then, I think Hughes can defer the decision until his status as a potential witness is resolved.