When the Texas House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton in the waning days of a regular legislative session, some Texans were shocked that the 121 “yes” votes included every representative from Collin County, where voters and local leaders have long rallied behind the now-suspended official’s vocal brand of conservatism.
The booming, largely suburban county north of Dallas has been Paxton’s base of power as he climbed the state’s political ranks, from his first race for the Texas House to becoming the state’s top lawyer. And while changing demographics and some erosion in Republican voting power there have coincided with allegations and scandals that piled up for Paxton, Collin County has still swung for him election after election.
But a unanimous vote to impeach Paxton by the five Republican representatives from Collin County — Frederick Frazier of McKinney, Jeff Leach of Plano, Matt Shaheen of Plano, Justin Holland of Rockwall and Candy Noble of Lucas — exposed a statewide rift within the GOP that’s apparently also been playing out in Paxton’s backyard.
“It has been true that Paxton had the support of Collin County, but that support has been decreasing over the years, and when the crunch came, it was simply no longer there,” said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University who lives in Collin County.
A Texas attorney general has never been impeached. For years, though, a laundry list of accusations against Paxton has grown. He’s been under criminal indictment for the vast majority of his tenure in statewide office. The allegations detailed in 20 articles of impeachment accuse him of abusing the powers of his office and firing staff members who reported his alleged misconduct.
In a joint statement after the historic House impeachment vote, the Collin County legislative delegation noted Paxton’s established political credentials but also stood by their decision to impeach and suspend one of their own.
“This was an incredibly difficult vote as, for most of us, Ken has been a long time friend,” they said. “And without question, Ken has been an aggressive and effective warrior defending Texans against federal overreach. Because of that, this was a vote we wish we didn’t have to make and a vote we did not take lightly.”
The former chair of the Collin County Democratic Party, Mike Rawlins, said the county GOP has helped to insulate Ken Paxton from the fallout of his various scandals.
“The Republican leadership in [Collin] County, from the county courthouse, the judges, the commissioners, state representatives, senators and district attorney, have been a close-knit, closed little fraternity,” he said. “They tend to watch out for each other.”
Jillson, the SMU professor, said as long as Ken Paxton has majority support within the Republican primary electorate, he will continue to win elections. But Jillson noted that the suspended attorney general has struggled to keep support as questions “swirled” around his political and business dealings.
“At some point, the questions about your style, your conduct, your ethical sense, accumulate and become perhaps a drag on your Republican Party and your state,” Jillson said. “And that’s where Ken Paxton is today, with other Republicans recalculating the costs and benefits of standing with him.”
Since the 1970s, the county has voted Republican in the majority of presidential, state and local races.
But in recent years, the changing population has made Collin County a political battleground.
Since Paxton won his first election in Collin County, it’s been transformed through an influx of younger, more diverse residents, growing by more than 36% from 2000 to 2020, according to census data. The county’s Hispanic, Black and Asian populations have collectively grown from 15% in 2000 to 26% in 2020, while the white population has shrunk from 76% to 50% over the same period.
Paxton’s support has decreased in Collin County over his past three elections for attorney general. In 2014, he won with 66% of the county’s vote. In 2018, that decreased to about 53%, and in his last election in 2022, 52% of Collin County voters cast their ballots for him, according to secretary of state records.
I noted the unanimous Collin County vote against Paxton on Impeachment Day. It’s still one of my favorite things about this saga. I definitely think the change of Collin from a bright red county to a lightly reddish purple county is a big driver of this. In addition to the Paxton numbers noted above, the Presidential numbers went from 65% Romney in 2012 to 56% for Trump in 2016 to 51% for Trump in 2020. And despite the Collin County State House districts being redrawn to fortify the Republican incumbents, none of them are particularly safe:
HD61 – Trump 53.0%, Biden 45.2% — Paxton 54.2%, Garza 42.4%
HD66 – Trump 53.1%, Biden 45.2% — Paxton 55.4%, Garza 42.2%
HD67 – Trump 53.5%, Biden 44.6% — Paxton 54.9%, Garza 42.5%
HD89 – Trump 54.5%, Biden 43.5% — Paxton 55.7%, Garza 40.7%
Those are 2020 and 2022 numbers. It’s not at all crazy to think that Joe Biden could carry Collin County in a 2024 rematch, and if so, that could put any or all of those incumbents in danger. Given that, it seems like a perfectly rational decision to separate themselves from the deeply compromised Ken Paxton, for the small amount of bipartisan sheen they’ll get from doing so.
And given that, as the story briefly notes, Paxton’s years-long fight to have his state securities fraud trial in Collin County might end up being one of the great self-owns of our time. The jury pool in Collin County that he might draw 2024 or 2025 would likely be at best neutral towards him. I’m too lazy to look up when the trial was first moved to Harris County, but the Harris County of 2016-2017 was still considered purple and probably wouldn’t have been all that much more hostile to him than that. In either place, a lot more people now think he’s a crook than did years ago, when he could have had a speedy trial. There’s a lesson in there somewhere, I’m sure of it.