Ahead of Ken Paxton’s impeachment, some Republicans on his home turf remain loyal
But Paxton's most die-hard supporters in Collin County, where he rose to prominence in Texas politics, see his impeachment as an unfair political move by a GOP-led House they claim don’t represent conservative Republican values.
Now, they’re focusing their attention on Republican senators who will decide Paxton’s fate.
“We are expecting the Senate to have a much cleaner, thought-out process,” said Abraham George, the chairman of the Collin County Republican Party. “We don’t believe the House did that.”
Collin County, just north of Democratic-leaning Dallas, is home to 1.1 million Texans and has consistently voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1968.
Now, Paxton has become a polarizing figure that has showcased a divide in the Republican Party.
It’s likely some GOP senators will vote for conviction, in part because of the thousands of pages of evidence released by House impeachment managers in the days ahead of the trial.
But Paxton still has allies on his home turf, with many local GOP officials standing by him amid the accusations. On Saturday, the Collin County GOP will host a Labor Day picnic in Plano in which Paxton is scheduled to appear alongside County Judge Chris Hill, Sheriff Jim Skinner, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller and Congressman Keith Self.
“People feel like it was a rushed process and, because of that, it really leaves major questions in people’s minds,” said John Myers, vice chair of the Collin County GOP. “Why is this taking place now? What are the underlying reasons? Is there, perhaps, some sinister plot behind getting rid of the attorney general?”
The 20 articles of impeachment approved by the Texas House in May contain accusations including constitutional bribery, abuse of official capacity and misuse of official information. Paxton has denied the allegations.
House impeachment managers have accused Paxton of illegal acts in order to shield an Austin businessman and Paxton campaign donor named Nate Paul from an FBI investigation.
“Should that be ignored? Well, no,” Myers said. “The voters knew about that, there were no new charges. And despite all the innuendos and all of the charges against the attorney general the people chose to reelect him.”
But David Lethe, a GOP precinct chair in Plano, said he didn’t know about all the charges against Paxton.
“I was absolutely shocked, I had no idea that he was accused of doing these things in the articles,” Lethe said. “What bothered me the most was [Paxton’s team] said it was public knowledge — there’s no way in heck that people knew.”
As soon as he learned about the impeachment articles in late May, Lethe said he called his state representative and asked him to vote for impeachment.
Lethe said Paxton should resign – and that it could serve him in the long term by giving him future opportunities.
“If the state can’t prove he did what they accuse him of — and he takes the high road, takes one for the team, steps back, not only does it stop the impeachment but he's going to be set up,” Myers said.
In Collin County, Lethe may be in the minority in thinking Paxton should resign. But, like most Republicans in his home county, he’s a fan.
“Texans love him, I love him,” Lethe said. “He’s done some fantastic things and I hate to say this but, damn, I’d vote for him in a heartbeat for governor or to replace John Cornyn.”
He and most Republicans are asking the Texas Senate to hold a fair trial.
George, the Collin GOP chair, agrees the party shouldn’t completely absolve Paxton yet. But he added he has issues with how the Texas House managed Paxton’s impeachment, and wants a fair trial trial.
“The House did the whole thing in 48 hours … they got the entire packet about 48 hours prior to the impeachment,” George said. “It was done in the last three days of this session, on a Saturday afternoon, where most of the House members wanted to go home and be with their families after five months in Austin.”
Both George and Myers said — whatever happens in this trial — the Republican Party of Texas will come out stronger.
They see any Republican infighting around Paxton as proof party members are holding each other accountable.
“The party is not taking a position on his innocence or guilt,” George said. “The party is taking a stance against a lot of the Republican representatives, our people, saying ‘you should do better.’”