Political scandals are not uncommon in Texas. Here’s what makes the Paxton saga unique.

AUSTIN — The legal jeopardy that has followed Attorney General Ken Paxton like a tenacious stray dog almost from the day he took office in 2015 put the three-term Republican on a well-worn path forged by countless Texas politicians at every level of service.

Like Paxton, three other attorneys general or former ones faced indictment. One was sent to federal prison; the others were acquitted. Like Paxton, one governor was impeached. He was booted out and barred from ever serving in office again. But the governor in question, James Ferguson, tried to say it didn’t count because he resigned before the Senate conviction was official.

And there were the sundry lawmakers and ex-lawmakers whose careers ended in shame. Among the misdeeds: skimming money from the Public Safety Officers Association; staging a phony assassination attempt  — that included getting himself being winged by buckshot; and soliciting a prostitute a couple miles south of the Capitol. One state official, though not an elected one, even ran a call-girl ring from his state office in north Austin.

But the saga of Warren Kenneth Paxton Jr., which is how the now-suspended attorney general is referred to in the articles of impeachment that will be laid out when his Senate trial begins Tuesday, could end up rewriting the standard for what passes as political scandal in Texas for the foreseeable future.

More: Here’s why AG Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial will gain attention well beyond Texas

For starters, there’s the sheer scope of allegations, 20 in all, that include bribery, marital infidelity and clandestine rendezvous, using the state’s top legal office to help a friend in legal trouble and obstructing justice.

Four of the 20 counts will be set aside since they included allegations of wrongdoing by Paxton already covered in criminal indictments that are pending regardless of what happens in the trial.

Then there are the sometimes lurid narratives that unfold in a 4,000-page document last month by the House impeachment managers that include reports that Paxton’s friend and political contributor helped set up a rideshare account under an alias so the attorney general could meet undetected with the woman he was said to have been seeing on the side.

And there’s the intrigue that comes when trusted top aides become, essentially, FBI and other law enforcement informants against their own boss, who holds the second-most powerful executive branch office in state government.

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s pause to reiterate that these are just allegations that Paxton denies, and that his attorneys are promising to methodically dismantle once the trial begins in the Senate chamber on the eastside of the Capitol’s second floor.

More: Impeachment is rare in Texas, but this governor and judge were kicked out of office

But before any effort at dismantling the allegations can be made, assuming the effort to have them dismissed at the outset is unsuccessful, they must first be aired. And not only will they be aired in what is expected to be a packed entry-by-ticket-only audience in the Senate gallery, but in a gavel-to-gavel livestream of the proceedings and perhaps even in a telecast or two.

And that’s a big part of what sets this political drama apart from any that came before in Texas.

Texas governor James Ferguson

Texas governor James Ferguson

Ferguson was impeached in a trial that began Aug. 31, 1917, one day before his 46th birthday. It was no doubt big news in Texas at the time, but any news back then traveled slowly. The first static-addled commercial radio broadcast was more than three years away, and any newspaper reporters from New York or Washington dispatched to cover the trial would have found themselves spending the final weeks of a Texas summer inside a Capitol building without modern air conditioning.

Same went for their hotel accommodations.

The next Texas impeachment would come in 1975. But the central figure was a comparatively obscure judge from South Texas. He, too, got the boot. But the question of whether O.P. Carrillo should stay or go was of no real consequence to all but a tiny handful of Texans.

Whoever happens to be attorney general and how that person behaves, on the other hand, is a matter of importance to everyone in Texas, regardless of where they live, how old they are, if have legal status to be in the state or whether they are holding a job or rotting in prison. Here’s the official job description:

“The main responsibilities of the Office of the Attorney General are defending the State of Texas and its duly elected laws by providing legal representation to the State, serving the children of Texas through the enforcement of the state’s child support laws, securing justice for Texans, protecting Texans from waste, fraud, and abuse, and safeguarding the freedoms of Texans as guaranteed by the United States and Texas constitutions.”

Those words certainly sound noble, and living up to them requires the virtues that most Texans like to think they see in themselves when they’re deciding who to vote for. Perhaps the trial will show that Paxton meets that high bar of virtue and this all becomes a footnote in Texas history.

But if the facts, evidence and verdict show otherwise, all this will be required reading in the Texas history books for generations to come.

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @JohnnieMo.

This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Why the Ken Paxton saga could rewrite the book on Texas political scandal

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