The impeachment of longtime Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (pictured above) is a sham perpetrated by political opponents, says Matt Rinaldi, chair of the Republican Party of Texas. But the casual willingness to share power with Democrats in the state's House of Representatives has helped make this day possible, he added.
The House voted 121-23 on Saturday to suspend Ken Paxton and refer him to the state Senate for a trial later this summer on charges of bribery, abuse of office and obstruction. It's the state's first such impeachment since 1975. An appeal on behalf of Paxton from former President Donald Trump didn't sway the majority of state representatives.
Rinaldi told American Family Radio on Tuesday the Paxton impeachment is possible due in part to odd Texas traditions of governance in which Republicans, with a majority in the state's House of Representatives, voluntarily appoint opposition members to key positions.
Republicans currently hold 86 of the 150 seats in the House; but 40% percent of committee chairmanships were held by Democrats last session, Rinaldi noted.
"We tried to alert everybody in the first week of the session to the fact that in today's political climate we can no longer give Democrats power like we have in the Texas House traditionally," Rinaldi told show host Jenna Ellis. "Texas is the only state in the country, which I'm aware of, where Republicans control a chamber and then voluntarily appoint Democrats to positions of power."
With those appointments, of course, come leadership positions and concessions gained for the minority party. "And one of the concessions this session, obviously, was to offer up the head of the Republican Attorney General to Democrats," Rinaldi argues.
Much of the push to remove Paxton, according to the state GOP head, can be linked to Rep. Dade Phelan (R) from Texas' 21st district from Beaumont in the southeast corner of the state. Phelan was elected House Speaker by a 145-3 vote in January.
"This sham impeachment is the result of the Phelan leadership team empowering Democrats, allowing them to hold leadership positions and letting them control the agenda," Rinaldi said in a statement after the impeachment vote. "It is based on allegations already litigated by voters, led by a liberal speaker trying to undermine his conservative adversaries and investigated by lawyers connected to a Democrat on the House General Investigations Committee."
Enemies within the GOP
Conservative broadcaster and political analyst Chris Salcedo – whose program is heard on Dallas and Houston stations – told Ellis that certain members of Paxton's own party have been out to get him for a long time.
"[They're] the Bush/Rove/Ann Richards establishment Republican Party. I know [former Texas Governor] Ann Richards was a Democrat, but a lot of those Democrats flipped to become Republicans when the winds changed here in Texas so they could continue to win elected office and ruin our lives," says Salcedo. "What you've got to know is they've had the long knives out for Ken Paxton since he won the attorney general job against their wishes."
Salcedo said Paxton, a nonconformist, had Republican enemies.
"He didn't genuflect, didn't ask for their support. He didn't lay off Democrats the way he was supposed to. He has been suing Obama. He's been suing Biden to protect Texans – and the establishment Republicans who are really Democrats in this state can't handle that. They just don't like it. Republicans don't behave like that. It is up to the Democrats to behave like that; and that's why you see the long knives out for Paxton," Salcedo said.
Rinaldi called the impeachment an effort by the Texas House to undermine election results. Paxton has won the attorney general seat three times.
"It seems Texas Republicans will have to rely yet again on the principled leadership of the Texas Senate to restore sanity and reason for our state," Rinaldi said.
Rinaldi said the House violated Section 652 of the Texas Government Code that says an impeachment vote cannot consider events that occurred prior to the election of the official in question. The code is based on a state supreme court ruling from 1925.
"There's a long line of precedent spanning almost a hundred years, which interprets it in all the same way; and when the Texas House impeachment team got up, or the General Investigative Committee, they basically just ignored all of that precedent," Rinaldi pointed out.
The impeachment vote came at the close of a Texas legislative session that saw Republicans pass laws that ban gender-affirming care and offices of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) at state universities. Lawmakers were unable to cut property taxes or provide vouchers for public school students.
"There are certainly battle lines that exist within the Republican Party," Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston, told The Associated Press. "I don't think they're ideological. I think you could read into this that the House is tired of being pressured by far-right Republicans, and this is their way of putting in some barriers."
No public comments from Greg Abbott
While Rinaldi has turned up the volume to slam the House vote, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been silent. Former President Donald Trump took to Truth Social, his social media platform, to call out Abbott over the weekend.
"MISSING IN ACTION! Where is the Governor of Texas on his Attorney General's impeachment?" Trump tweeted.
Abbott, himself a former state attorney general, has not announced an interim to serve in Paxton's absence. Paxton's top deputy AG, Brent Webster, sent an email to staff on Saturday saying that he will lead the department while Paxton is away.
Rinaldi said there's no clear answer to why Texas House Republicans are so generous with power other than because sharing is the way it's always been done. He contends the modern political climate demands new methods.
"Democrats have gone so far to the left, it's absolutely impossible to include them in a leadership team with Republicans," Rinaldi said, adding that's why more of the Republican agenda wasn't passed this session.
"And what you get is something like happened this session, right? You appoint Democrats to high-ranking leadership positions in the House. The House ends up attacking the Republican Party of Texas all session. They battled our conservative lieutenant governor, they killed Governor Abbott's top priorities, and now they end up impeaching the Republican attorney general. It's an absolute disgrace," Rinaldi said.