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Opinion: State Corruption Made Clear Through Paxton’s Acquittal

Attorney General Ken Paxton acquitted of charges of bribery and conspiracy.
Graphic by Zoie Carlile and Will Gaffey

Ladies and gentlemen, here we are again, hearing cries of impeachment. But in a surprising plot twist, this trial is not – I repeat, not- about former President Donald Trump.

Instead, our new imploding star is Republican Texas attorney general Ken Paxton, who was called to answer in front of the Texas senate for 20 accusations of bribery, abuse of office, and the all-time classic, conspiracy. Despite initial appearances, our politicians have shown once again they cannot be trusted to act out of anything other than fear and partisan self-preservation.

Paxton, an avid Trump-supporter and election denier, was formally impeached and suspended without pay by the state House in a shocking 121-23 vote on May 27. The current Texas house is made up of 85 Republicans and 64 Democrats. Far from the expected divergence on party lines, even GOP lawmakers were angered by the attorney general’s behavior. Nevertheless, Paxton was acquitted 16-14 in the Texas Senate on Sept. 16, failing to reach the ⅔ majority of 21 that was required.

Suspicion first arose around Paxton after four whistleblowers came forward from his office and filed suit against the attorney general for his improper aid of a friend and political donor. In the process, Paxton hit a roadblock since his preferred method of payment for the $3.3 million settlement was neither cash nor card, but rather taxpayer money.

Articles of impeachment were slammed down on Paxton’s head as a response to discoveries about the attorney general’s dealings with campaign donor and real estate broker Natin Paul. The whistleblowers’ lawsuit alleged that Paxton abused his position to benefit himself and Paul. Paxton was accused of using his position to keep Paul’s properties from being foreclosed on, sharing confidential files and hindering investigations against Paul. In return, Paul allegedly hired Paxton’s suspected mistress.
The senate vote was based on close to 4,000 pages of interviews, travel records and documents, witness testimonies, and the logic that anytime a burner phone is involved, something shady is about to go down.

At first look, a bipartisan opposition to Paxton seemed to be forming. But, after the Senate vote we can see that the hopeful dove many Texans let soar was nothing more than a red herring.
Rather than further dividing along party lines, the initial fissure formed due to the impeachment seems to be primarily within the Republican party. Far right actors and allies of Paxton in the Christian nationalist movement pressured and threatened Republican senators to vote to throw out the charges.

Chairman of the Republican Party and former Texas House Representative Matt Rinaldi called the internal divergence a “civil war.” Rinaldo then went on to issue the age-old threat of a primary to any Republican who voted to convict.
As a continuation on the same note, Right wing activist and head of the million dollar Defend Texas Liberty PAC Jonathan Stickman threatened to fund a primary contender against any Republican voting to convict.
Many steadfast conservatives still chose to proceed with the charges, often putting themselves squarely between the rock of the far right and the hard place known as ethical behavior.

Namely, Austin Rep. Terry Wilson, who lost support in his district after voting for impeachment – all while being ranked by the Texas Tribune as the 8th most right wing representative of the 85 Republicans in the house.

Naturally, one of the most interested and outspoken parties in the impeachment was none other than Ken Paxton himself, who stuck to a steady diet of calling witch hunt, denial and blaming liberals. In a statement, Paxton announced that the House was fulfilling Joe Biden’s dreams to “sabotage our work, my work, as attorney general of Texas.”

Seemingly taking a page out of The Art of the Deal, Paxton repeatedly called the charges against him a liberal plot to undermine elected democracy, and rebuked any

Vilified or not, praised or not, Senate Republicans still voted to keep Ken Paxton in office. Yet again, partisan politics laugh in the face of facts and leave a bitter taste in the mouths of any who are invested in the morality of their government. Perhaps the first sign of imminent disappointment was when politicians were expected to stand up to threats against their power. Ken Paxton will soon be returning to his job, proving once and for all that the corruption we should be worried about lies far from burner phones and real estate moguls.

About the Contributor
Elaine Engel
Elaine Engel, Reporter
What are you looking forward to on the staff this year? I'm looking forward to the incredible community of people and the constant opportunities to work on projects I’m passionate about What are your favorite TV shows/movies? West Wing, The Trail of the Chicago Seven, and Top Gun: Maverick Where’s the next place on your travel bucket list and why? I would love to travel to Machu Picchu because of the combination of a beautiful view and interesting history