The Houston area’s Republican state senators largely rallied behind Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday, as the Texas Senate voted to acquit on all 16 articles of impeachment filed against him.
In a vote that largely hewed to party lines, five of Greater Houston’s six Republican state senators opposed convictions on all articles of impeachment, which stemmed from allegations of corruption and bribery. They were Paul Bettencourt and Joan Huffman of Houston; Brandon Creighton of Conroe; Lois Kolkhorst of Brenham; and Mayes Middleton of Galveston.
State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, who represents Liberty County, was one of two Republicans to break from his colleagues, voting to convict Paxton on 13 of the 16 counts. Nichols has bucked the GOP multiple times in the past year, such as when he cast the lone Republican vote in the Senate against a bill that curtailed the authority of local governments.
Paxton, who was suspended after the Texas House voted to impeach him in May, has been immediately restored to his position as attorney general following Saturday’s acquittal.
Nineteen Republican senators acquitted Paxton on all counts. All 12 Senate Democrats — including Houston’s Carol Alvarado, Borris Miles and John Whitmire — joined with the two Republicans in voting to convict on nearly all counts, falling short of the 21 needed to convict Paxton.
Texas House impeachment managers accused Paxton of bribery and misusing the power of his office in support of Nate Paul, an Austin real estate investor and Paxton’s friend and campaign donor. Investigators said Paxton helped Paul avoid legal trouble tied to his real estate dealings. In exchange, Paul assisted in covering up Paxton’s extramarital affair and paid for renovations to the attorney general’s home, investigators said.
The articles of impeachment included multiple counts of disregard of official duty, two counts of constitutional bribery and one count of conspiracy, among other charges.
House impeachment managers and House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, argued that the evidence conclusively proved Paxton’s misconduct. The House voted 121-23 in May to impeach the attorney general, with nearly three-quarters of Republicans supporting the move. Ten of the Houston area’s 19 GOP representatives who voted in May backed impeachment.
But Paxton found a friendlier crowd in the Senate, which heard two weeks of testimony and arguments.
“Impeachment is the penultimate constitutional process that should be reserved for (matters) that pose a direct threat to the integrity of our democracy,” Bettencourt posted Saturday on X, formerly known as Twitter. “After listening to witness testimony, it was clear this case did not meet the standard of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’”
Kolkhorst echoed Bettencourt’s conclusion following the vote, writing in a statement that her decision “was reached after careful consideration and review of all evidence and testimony.”
Bettencourt also voiced his support for a state constitutional amendment that would overhaul Texas’ impeachment process. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican, pitched the amendment after Saturday’s vote, arguing that the House rushed the impeachment investigation and didn’t give Paxton enough due process protections.
Nichols had not released a statement about his votes on social media as of Saturday mid-afternoon.
In a statement following Saturday’s vote, Paxton blamed “mudslinging” political opponents for the impeachment. In recent weeks, some Republicans turned the vote into a referendum on Paxton’s political career, arguing that the party shouldn’t jettison an attorney general who has vociferously fought President Joe Biden’s administration and garnered strong support from former President Donald Trump.
“The weaponization of the impeachment process to settle political differences is not only wrong, it is immoral and corrupt,” Paxton said in his statement. Paxton did not attend Saturday’s vote, though he was present on Friday for closing arguments.
Phelan shot back at his critics following the vote, declaring the verdict “extremely unfortunate” and accusing Patrick of running an unfair impeachment trial.
Alvarado described the verdict as “politically convenient justice” and called the acquittal “disheartening.”
“As elected officials, we are entrusted with the responsibility of upholding the highest ethical standards and it is our duty to hold one another accountable when those standards are breached,” Alvarado said in a statement.