On May 27, the Texas House of Representatives voted 121 to 33 to impeach far-right Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton faces over 20 allegations, including bribery and abuse of office. He has faced federal corruption investigations for years.
Democratic lawmakers and some liberal outlets have claimed the vote is apolitical, with the Daily Beast even calling the impeachment “a masterpiece of bipartisan leadership.” Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) stated that, “It is our duty … to restore and protect that trust [in elected officials], for without it, our government cannot fulfill its vital role.” What Martinez leaves out is that the “vital role” that the Texas legislature has played has been an unrelenting assault on labor rights, racial equality, impoverished people and LGBTQ existence.
While Paxton will not be missed, his replacement hardly heralds a new progressive age for Texas politics. What can progressives and socialists make of the charges against Paxton and the future of the office?
Who is Ken Paxton? Bigot, election denier, corrupt servant of the ultra-rich
The allegations against Paxton are truly “apolitical.” All of the articles of impeachment deal with bribery, abuse of office, retaliation against whistleblowers, misapplication of public resources, securing employment for his mistress and other forms of personal corruption. None of his crimes against the working and marginalized people of Texas were factored in.
At the center of the current impeachment is his alleged abuse of power to run political and financial favors for his friend and political donor, Austin-based real estate developer Nate Paul. According to Paxton’s former aides, he engaged in a range of criminal behavior.
Those former aides stated in their lawsuit against the Attorney General: “Some of Paxton’s actions directing the [Office of the Attorney General] to benefit Paul were criminal without regard to motive … others were so egregious and so contrary to appropriate use of his office, that they could only have been prompted by illicit motives such as a desire to repay debts, pay hush money, or reciprocate favors extended by Paul.”
Paxton involved his office in a fraud case that Paul had lost against a charity, despite never showing an interest in charity cases before. In return, the accusations claim, Paul donated to Paxton’s reelection campaign, helped remodel his house and hired his mistress.
What Paxton is not being impeached for is also remarkable.
Paxton is a hero of the far right and close ally of Donald Trump. One of the key supporters in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election — even speaking at the rally just before the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 — Paxton used the power vested in him to attack LGBTQ people, voting rights, immigrants and labor rights.
In 2022, Paxton wrote a legal opinion claiming, based on complete lies and against all medical research, that health care for transgender children constitutes “child abuse.” Gov. Abbott used this opinion as a pretense to send state agents to investigate and rip apart families with trans children. Paxton has also voiced public support for anti-gay “sodomy” laws and has vowed to defend them in court if the Supreme Court gives him the chance. This attack opened the door to the Texas legislature banning gender-affirming care for trans children.
He is notoriously anti-immigrant: from opposing every step of the DACA and DAPA programs and fighting to expel multitudes of migrants residing in Texas, Paxton regularly stokes xenophobia to divide the working class.
In addition, Paxton fought viciously to defend Texas SB 8 in the Supreme Court. SB 8 is the “bounty bill” that has allowed private citizens in Texas to sue anyone involved in obtaining an abortion.
Paxton actively sabotaged the rights of working-class Texans and used his office to protect the private profits of the capitalist class. From launching a lawsuit to render the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional in its entirety, to attempting to strong-arm local governments into forcing people back into work during the pandemic with no masks or vaccines, Paxton has been a force of sheer malice towards working people in this state.
In 2016, he sued the Obama administration over a Department of Labor rule expanding the number of workers that are eligible for overtime pay, and would require employers to report “actions, conduct or communications” that would affect their workers’ decision whether or not to unionize. Basically, when workers unionize, companies often hire large teams of lawyers and consulting firms who coach the bosses in how to bust up the union. Paxton’s challenge successfully destroyed workers’ right to know when their bosses are conspiring against their union campaign.
He even bragged that Trump only won Texas in 2020 because Paxton stopped millions of mail-in ballot applications from being mailed.
Prior to Paxton, the Texas attorney general’s office was held by now-governor Greg Abbott. This is a powerful position, and the most reactionary elements of the U.S. ruling class often use Texas’s highly undemocratic political apparatus to push through the most heinous legal challenges to hard-won rights. In fact, in 2021 and 2022, Paxton’s office tied with the Biden administration’s own representative for the most cases brought to the Supreme Court.
What happens now?
On May 31, Abbott appointed John Scott as new interim attorney general. Scott previously served under then-Attorney General Abbott, represented Donald Trump in his attempt to overturn the election, pushed voter fraud lies, and was working as a lobbyist for anti-abortion groups and for-profit health care companies. As a lobbyist, he was wheeling and dealing on behalf of these clients with the same Texas legislature that was impeaching his predecessor as recently as May 27.
There is still also the chance that Paxton will survive the political attacks. The impeachment process is convoluted and the Texas legislature is no vessel for justice. But whatever happens, Ken Paxton is just one cog in this brutal machine. The problem does not lie solely with Paxton, and the solution does not lie at all with the far-right Republicans of state governments or the collaborator Democrats who have legitimized their agenda: Most Texas Democrat legislators refused to vote against an initial iteration of a bill that banned public drag.
The solution lies with an organized, independent working-class movement willing to unite against this oppressive agenda. Only the power of the people can stop corrupt politicians and their anti-worker agendas once and for all!