AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — On Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s path to becoming a rising GOP figure, his wife, Angela, used to entertain crowds with a guitar and a song.
“I’m a gun mom and my husband is suing Obama,” she sang at campaign events and Republican clubs in Texas.
When it came time for the high school teacher and guidance counselor to launch her own political career, a $2 million loan from her husband propelled Angela Paxton to a narrow victory for a state Senate seat. in the booming suburb of Dallas. Once elected, she introduced bills to expand the powers of her office and approved budgets on her state agency and salary.
Today, Senator Paxton is a key figure in the next phase of Ken Paxton’s historic impeachment: as a “juror” in a Senate trial that could return her husband to power or banish him permanently.
It is a role that raises an ethical cloud over the work of the Senate. State law requires all senators to attend, but does not say whether she must participate.
“If this was a trial in the court system, she would be completely obligated to (stand down),” said Kenneth Williams, a professor of criminal procedure at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. “It’s a clear conflict of interest.”
The trial is due to begin no later than August 28 and it promises to be quite personal for Angela Paxton.
The 20 articles of impeachment against Ken Paxton include sweeping charges of abuse of power and unethical behavior. They include a bribery charge related to an extramarital affair. Another suggested Angela Paxton was involved in setting up $20,000 counters at their home, paid for by a political donor.
Angela Paxton did not say whether she would recuse herself from the trial. She declined to comment when approached by The Associated Press outside the Senate chamber on Monday.
State Representative Andrew Murr, who led the impeachment inquiry at the State House, declined to say whether he thinks Angela Paxton should step down. The Senate must set the rules, he said.
Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick tightly controls the Senate and its 19-12 Republican majority. He suggested on a Dallas state television before the House impeachment vote last week that Angela Paxton would appear in the trial.
“I will preside over this matter and the senators – all 31 senators – will have a vote,” Patrick told WFAA-TV. “We’ll set the rules for this trial as we move forward and see how it develops.”
The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the house to convict. But there are few historical precedents in the writing of impeachment trial rules, and nothing with similar marital conflict, Williams said.
In nearly 200 years of Texas history, Ken Paxton is only the third official to be impeached. He is the first statewide official impeached since Governor James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917.
There is no legal mechanism to force Angela Paxton out of the trial like there would be a criminal trial, Williams said.
“It basically comes down to his ethical standards and his compass,” Williams said.
The trial comes not only after Paxton’s landslide re-election in November, but also his wife, who won a second term behind broad support among Tory activists. Among them is Jonathan Saenz, president and attorney for Texas Values, who has worked closely with the senator on legislation, including a bill she passed this year that banned sexual content in public school libraries. .
He said Senator Paxton “has earned the right to decide what she thinks is best in this situation.”
“Senator Paxton is certainly in the highest category of elected officials in the way she treats people and her position. I have great faith in her moral compass to side with what she thinks is best,” Saenz said.
The Paxtons help each other in political and legal battles.
Angela pushed Ken to pursue his political ambitions when he first ran for a House seat in 2002. In 2018, she touted Ken’s political expertise and advice during his first campaign for the Senate. This included loaning $2 million from his re-election campaign during a deadly Republican primary.
One of Angela Paxton’s first steps as a state legislator was to introduce a bill to give the attorney general’s office new powers over license exemptions for investment advisers. Ken Paxton was indicted in 2015 for failing to register as an investment adviser while raising money for a tech startup where he was invested and paid. He has not yet been tried for a crime.
Angela Paxton insisted her bill had nothing to do with her criminal charges, but legal experts said it got to the heart of her indictment. The bill ultimately failed.
In 2022, Angela was the driver escaping from their home when Ken jumped into the family truck to avoid a bailiff with subpoena in a federal abortion trial.
Angela Paxton isn’t the only lawmaker with a potential conflict of interest during the trial.
The House impeachment papers accuse Paxton of using state Sen. Bryan Hughes as a “straw plaintiff” for a legal opinion used to shield a political donor from asset seizure.
Hughes did not say whether he expects to be called as a witness or whether he will recuse himself. He did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.
Ken Paxton and his allies, from former President Donald Trump to grassroots organizations in Texas, have called the House impeachment process a politically motivated deception, rushed in the last week of the legislative session.
The suspended attorney general is now hoping for a fighting chance in a Patrick-controlled Senate.
When Patrick first endorsed Angela Paxton in that tough 2018 primary, he called her “a dynamic conservative leader and a person of integrity deeply rooted in her Christian faith.”
This year, Patrick named her Vice Chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee and served on the powerful Finance and Education Committees.
Mark Phariss, the Democrat who lost to Angela Paxton by 2 percentage points in 2018, noted his keen political instincts. He predicted that she would not withdraw from a trial.
“My guess is that she won’t recuse herself. Because she doesn’t seem to distance herself from her husband, either when she ran for office in 2018 initially or at any time thereafter,” Phariss said.
Associated Press reporter Acacia Coronado contributed.