Today may be Memorial Day 2023, but for the brave souls fighting some of the most extreme policies in the nation at the Texas capitol, it also serves as something of a holiday in its own right: Sine Die, the final day of the legislative session at which point there is usually no scheduled date to return.
This Sine Die hits differently for a number of reasons, not least among them the weekend impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, who despite being immediately suspended from office has still been using his official government accounts to tweet and communicate with Texans while he awaits his trial in the Texas Senate.
And what a trial we’re all in for. Rumors over the weekend indicated that Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick was considering setting a trial date six to eight weeks in the future, but the latest scuttlebutt is that Governor Greg Abbott will likely be calling an immediate special session to address legislation he and his Republican allies failed to pass during the regular session, and a trail could begin as early as this week.
It’s a confounding situation for statewide Republicans like Abbott and Patrick and the group of Senators who will serve as jurors during Paxton’s trial. The entire thing is an HBO miniseries waiting to happen, with Paxton’s wife Angela currently serving in the Texas Senate herself, and offering no indication if she’ll voluntarily recuse herself as a juror in her husband’s trial.
That the embattled attorney general finds himself in this situation at the hands of his own party is remarkable enough, but his Republican colleagues in the Senate now have to weigh the potential political consequences of voting to acquit Paxton and keep him in office until at least the 2026 election.
Paxton is accused of a series of troubling misdeeds and outright illegality, including using his office and influence to benefit a friend and political donor who remodeled Paxton’s house and provided a job to Paxton’s alleged mistress, who Paxton wished to be employed in Austin rather than San Antonio so he wouldn’t have to travel to see her.
And that tidbit about Paxton’s affair is just the tip of the iceberg. Paxton’s alleged mistress was working for a different member of the Texas Senate when the affair began, and Paxton maneuvered to find her a new job after she left that office.
Either way, it’s a highly volatile situation for Paxton and Republicans in the Senate, and the entire ordeal has laid bare how deep the fractures in the Texas GOP truly are, with Paxton and his allies attacking House Speaker Dade Phelan and accusing him of presiding over the House while intoxicated and failing to advance a slew of conservative priorities that the Texas Senate passed only to see languish in the Texas House.
Among those priorities included pet causes for Abbott and Patrick like passing a package of “school choice” bills that would create a voucher system and long-hyped property tax cuts that Abbott and Patrick both covet.
That’s why Abbott is expected to call at least one special session, which could serve to only exacerbate the tensions between the House and Senate.
The Texas House is populated with 150 members (121 of whom voted to impeach Paxton), and a great many of them represent rural areas that face frequent challenges funding their public schools, and lack access to the charter and private schools that Abbott and Patrick want to divert state funding to.
Rural Republicans have frequently been the line of last defense against voucher policies, and with fewer moving pieces on the agenda during a special session, they’ll have ample time to poke holes in the proposals, a potential nightmare for Abbott, Patrick, and their allies.
And what shape will the impeachment trial take in the Senate, and how will it contribute to the tensions between the upper and lower chamber? It’s difficult to say, but 60 Republicans in the House were willing to vote to impeach Paxton, including Phelan, who almost always abstains from votes in his role as Speaker.
It’s still unclear who will serve as impeachment managers from the Texas House, but you could probably safely bet dollars to donuts that they will be heavily represented by Republicans from the committee that investigated Paxton. Can conservative Republicans in the Texas Senate turn a blind eye to the decade of illegality Paxton has indulged in?
And what legal traps await Paxton in the Senate trial? If extensive evidence is read into the record in the Texas Senate, Paxton may put himself in more hot water with the federal authorities investigating him, and leave a paper trail of admissible evidence for a potential trial.
While Sine Die usually means things are winding down in Austin for the summer, this year things are only beginning to heat up.
Joe brings over a decade of experience as a political operative and creative strategist to Texas Signal, where he serves as our Senior Advisor and does everything from writing a regular column, Musings, to mentoring our staff and freelancers. Joe was campaign manager for Lina Hidalgo's historic 2018 victory for Harris County Judge and is a passionate sneakerhead.