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No, the Texas Senate is not likely to restart impeachment proceedings against Paxton

Attorney General Ken Paxton sitting in court in between his lawyers during his Impeachment trail on Sept.15, 2023. Patricia Lim/KUT
Patricia Lim
/
KUT News
Attorney General Ken Paxton sits between his lawyers during his impeachment trial last September.

State Sen. Drew Springer, R-Muenster, made a big splash last week when he made public a letter asking his colleagues to consider restarting impeachment proceedings against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Springer, who voted to acquit Paxton of all impeachment charges in September, said his request is in response to Paxton’s recent decision to not contest the lawsuit that initially sparked his impeachment.

In an interview with CBS Texas, Springer said Paxton is misleading the public.

“You can’t say you are guilty to try to get rid of it and then try to say you are innocent in the eyes of the public,” he said.

Springer, who is retiring, said senators should consider reopening the impeachment.

But could something like this even happen?

Experts say reopening an already-concluded impeachment trial probably isn't possible

“It just seems to me people always want these do-overs,” Gloria Cox, an assistant professor of political science at the University of North Texas, told The Texas Newsroom. “But once it's done, it’s done, and I think an impeachment never has a do-over.”

How did we get here?

At the center of the issue is Paxton’s decision to not continue fighting a lawsuit brought forward by a group of former employees who were fired after reporting Paxton to the FBI in 2020.

They accused Paxton of bribery and misuse of his office to help a political donor.

Last year, Paxton agreed to settle the lawsuit. The conditions included a public apology to the whistleblowers for calling them “rogue employees,” and $3.3 million.

But the Texas Legislature refused to fund the settlement. Instead, the Texas House launched an investigation that resulted in Paxton’s impeachment in May.

However, in September, the Texas Senate acquitted Paxton of all impeachment charges.

Still, the whistleblowers have continued to push for Paxton to be deposed in their case, something the attorney general has fought all the way to the Texas Supreme Court.

That deposition could happen as soon as this week, unless the Texas Supreme Court sides with Paxton.

But on Jan. 18 Paxton said his team was going to stop contesting the lawsuit.

“I will not allow these former employees to deter me from doing the job that voters elected me to do,” Paxton said in a statement. “For these reasons, we have moved to end this litigation and eliminate the distractions associated with it.”

Springer, the state senator, told CBS Texas this is the reason the Senate should restart the impeachment proceedings. He said he’s talked to other senators who feel the same way.

“They had the same reactions,” Springer said. “I’ve also heard from House members that didn’t even vote to convict Ken Paxton that they feel that now with this admission, that he’s admitting that he’s guilty.”

An uphill, unlikely battle

Cox, the professor at UNT, said she’s not surprised to see Springer change his mind.

However, she said his wishes are unlikely to become reality.

First, there hasn’t been an impeachment in the state that has been reopened after it has concluded.

“I actually, Saturday, found myself in the company of three other political scientists and I actually asked them what they thought,” Cox said. “And no one thought that there was any precedent for reopening an impeachment when it’s already been decided.”

The House could decide to reconvene to impeach Paxton again, but that is also unlikely.

First, the Texas Legislature is not in session. Under the Texas Constitution, for an impeachment to occur during the off-season, it would need the blessing of Gov. Greg Abbott or House Speaker Dade Phelan, or the majority of House members.

Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University, said impeachments are political processes.

He said Texas Republicans will not go through the process of impeaching again even if they feel Paxton’s not reflecting well on the party.

Jillson called Paxton an “albatross” around the neck of the Republican Party of Texas.

“They could have rid themselves of him — they chose not to do that for political reasons, campaign contribution reasons, and others,” Jillson said. “And I think now some of them are beginning to wish they had, and they will do everything they can to try and let this cup pass away to not have it come before them again.”

Sergio Martínez-Beltrán is the former Texas Capitol reporter for The Texas Newsroom.
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