How will we miss Ken Paxton if he doesn’t go away?

Despite his arrest and indictment, Ken paxton might stick around for awhile.

Best mugshot ever

Using Texas history as a measure, Ken Paxton’s indictment on securities fraud charges may mean he will have to navigate rough political waters if he stays in office pending his day in court.

And even if he should be convicted on the charges unsealed Monday in Collin County, experts say there may be no way to officially force him from office – thanks to a 22-year-old law that prohibits the removal of state officials for acts they committed before they took office.

“The real issue here is whether the attorney general can be effective as the state’s chief legal and law enforcement officer,” said Mark Jones, chairman of Rice University’s political science department and a longtime observer of Texas politics.


But should Paxton be convicted of the charges, most observers agree, the politics of him remaining in office become much more dicey. Even though conviction of a felony might not otherwise officially disqualify him from holding office, officials said, Paxton would likely face intense pressure to resign from fellow Republicans seeking to avoid any ill-effects on GOP control of state politics.

But impeachment – an official, if seldom-used, route for housecleaning – might not even be available. The reason, officials said Monday, is a 1993 state law that says “an officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer’s election to office.”

Exactly what prompted that change in 1993, at a time when ethics reform was an issue after a legislative influence-peddling scandal, remained unclear Monday. Legislative reference files show only that it was part of an update in state government code, including many housekeeping revisions, that was billed as “non-substantive” at the time. Legislative aides said they did not remember any details about the bill that was passed into law.

The acts for which Paxton is charged took place before he became attorney general, officials said.

“That raises an interesting question, because impeachment is the only ability the state has to take someone out of office who doesn’t resign,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a University of Houston political scientist who recently published a book on executive-branch scandals. “I think that statute would certainly complicate things if it ever came to that.”

For a point of comparison, consider the Tom DeLay case. DeLay was (re)indicted in October of 2005, then went through a long process of trying to get his indictments thrown out, taking his appeal of that all the way to the Court of Criminal Appeals. After all those avenues were finally traveled, he went to trial and was convicted in November of 2010, more than five years later. He then appealed the conviction, and was rewarded when the 3rd Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in September of 2013. The state then appealed that, and the CCA upheld the reversal in October of 2014, finally putting an end to the saga more than nine years after it officially began.

Given that, if Paxton is sufficiently pigheaded (early signs point to Yes, though that may just be standard-issue bravado) and has the money to keep his lawyers busy (more on that in a second), we could have two more statewide elections before this thing wraps up. Paxton could theoretically be in his third term before there’s a final resolution, in which he goes free or goes to jail. The process could take less time if he doesn’t challenge the indictments like DeLay did, if he gets acquitted, or if he (improbably) takes a plea deal. But if we go balls to the wall the whole way, we could be looking at nine years. Pace yourselves on the popcorn, is what I’m saying.

And despite the speculation I’ve seen in various reports that Tea Party types may help force Paxton out because they’re “fed up” with “business as usual” or whatever, please remember that it was the Tea Party that got Paxton elected in the first place, and so far they are standing by their man against those evil liberals in Collin County and the Texas Rangers. Yeah, there’s that one TP dude who expressed some concern about how all this looks. Wake me up when there’s more than one like him.

As for the money issue, as I understand it Paxton can only use his campaign treasury (which has some $2.5 million in it right now) to defend himself against charges for things he did while in office. These charges, of course, long predate his time in office. That should mean Paxton is on his own for the lawyer bills – he can fundraise to help pay them, of course, as anyone else could – but I have a feeling he won’t accept that without some kind of pushback. It’s the TEC that would rule on what he can do with his campaign funds, and who’s afraid of the TEC? For that matter, even if he claims to abide by them, who’s to say Paxton will be scrupulous about it, and not try to funnel some money out of his campaign account without anyone noticing? He doesn’t exactly have a record of honesty here. Keep an eye on the money is my advice. If there is a limiting factor in how long this all might take, it’s Paxton’s ability to keep his lawyers paid.

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One Response to How will we miss Ken Paxton if he doesn’t go away?

  1. Michael says:

    Not even disbarring him will keep him from being eligible to hold office, although it will keep him from performing his duties personally…

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