Advertisement

Fort Worth-area Republican explains his vote to sustain AG Ken Paxton’s impeachment

Aaron E. Martinez/American-Statesman/USA TODAY NETWORK

Senators never made it to the point in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial where they had to consider whether to bar him from holding future office. That question would have come after an article was sustained and Paxton was removed from office.

But if they had gotten to that point, Sen. Kelly Hancock says he would have voted to bar Paxton from holding office in the future.

“Based on where I was and what I felt like, based on my votes, I would not have allowed him to serve the state of Texas,” Hancock said. “A big part of that for me is as a Christian, I certainly believe in grace and mercy, but I’ve not seen any remorse or repentance for anything, which was kind of the difference-maker in determining whether he should be serving again or not.”

Hancock was among two Republicans who voted to sustain articles of impeachment against Paxton.

In a Friday interview, Hancock, a Republican from North Richland Hills, said the evidence presented and testimony provided ultimately guided his votes to sustain most of the articles of impeachment.

Paxton was accused of misusing his office to benefit political donor and Austin Real Estate Developer Nate Paul. House impeachment managers argued that Paxton gave Paul special access and attention from the attorney general’s office while accepting home renovations and a job for a woman with whom he was having an extramarital affair.

Paxton denied wrongdoings and has maintained the proceedings were politically motivated.

The House investigation came after a $3.3 million settlement was reached in a lawsuit between the attorney general’s office and some of the whistleblowers who reported Paxton to law enforcement. House lawmakers voted 121-23 in late May to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial.

Hancock found the whistleblowers to be believable witnesses — they appeared honest and to have integrity, he said. They were seeking what was best for Paxton, he said. When their warnings were ignored, they recognized “as opposed to the defense witnesses, that their duty was to the state, not to Ken Paxton.”

Paxton’s trial lasted 10 days, including about eight hours of deliberations. None of the 16 articles got close to the 21 votes needed to remove Paxton from office. Paxton still faces legal troubles related to the whistleblowers’ report to the FBI and a separate securities fraud case that hasn’t gone to trial.

Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville was the only other Republican to vote to sustain the majority of the articles of impeachment.

Nichols attributed his votes to “thousands of pages of evidence” and “credible testimony,” including from former staff members in the Office of the Attorney General who reported Paxton to law enforcement.

“I believe these individuals displayed tremendous courage by reporting what they witnessed as violations of law,” Nichols said in a Sept. 18 statement. “Their testimony, combined with the totality of all the other evidence presented by the House Board of Managers, proved to me beyond a reasonable doubt that the Attorney General’s actions violated Texas law and his oath of office. The oath I swore, to render a true verdict based on the evidence presented, did not leave room for politics or second guessing. I have — and always will — vote for what I believe is right.”

Nine Republicans would have had to vote with the chamber’s 12 Democrats to sustain an article of impeachment and remove Paxton from office. The closest any article got to being sustained was 14 votes.

There have been multiple reports that the margin was closer at times during the deliberations, but the other Republicans ultimately decided to acquit Paxton.

“In think it got very close at one time or another,” Hancock said.

At the end of deliberations, Hancock said he had a sense that he’d be in the minority of Republicans. The senators didn’t announce their votes, no straw poll was taken, but they know each other well, Hancock said. You could see who was continuing to look for evidence, each other’s posture, senators grouping together.

“Really not until the very end did I know that I would be in the position that I was in, that Sen. Nichols and I were in,” Hancock said.

Being in the minority didn’t matter.

“I had an obligation, as everybody did there, and I had to vote according to my beliefs and where I was, in order to represent my constituents honestly,” Hancock said.

Hancock anticipated he’d be anxious as he went to cast his first vote, but when the time actually came, he was at peace.

“I was very comfortable with where I was and the decision I had made,” Hancock said, noting later in the interview that he’s gotten numerous text messages, emails and calls thanking him for his leadership and courage.

Paxton was just the third state official to be impeached in Texas, and the first remain in office after the trial.

“As someone who loves Texas and Texas history, being a part of it was really kind of unique and special, although it was a miserable thing to go through for the state,” Hancock said. “That we were here, that we were having to address corruption here in the state of Texas. And so, I know it’s a historic moment, and because my constituents placed me in office, I’m honored that they’ve trusted me with being in this position.”

Which articles did Hancock vote for?

Hancock voted to sustain all but three of 16 the articles of impeachment before senators. The articles he did not vote for involved allegations that Paxton gave Paul access to information that wasn’t public, concealed information from voters by settling the whistleblower lawsuit and engaged in bribery when Paul employed a woman with whom Paxton was having an affair.

He voted to dismiss four others related to Paxton’s pending securities fraud case, joining all other Republican senators and one Democrat.

Most of Tarrant County’s House lawmakers voted to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for trial, including five Republicans. Two Republicans, Rep. Nate Schatzline of Fort Worth and Rep. Tony Tinderholt of Arlington, voted against impeaching Paxton.

Four Republicans and one Democrat represent Tarrant County in the Senate. Sen. Royce West, a Dallas Democrat, voted to sustain some of the articles of impeachment against Paxton.

“In my estimation, as a state senator representing over a million people, I think … Ken Paxton should have been impeached, and it’s not because of political affiliation but because of the evidence,” West said in an interview in the hours following the Sept. 16 vote.

The county’s three other senators, Republicans Tan Parker of Flower Mound, Brian Birdwell of Granbury and Phil King of Weatherford, voted against sustaining the 16 articles.

In separate comments, each attributed their votes to a lack of evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.

“The witnesses — under direct and cross examination from both sides of counsel — provided sufficient reasonable doubt concerning the charges laid out in the Articles of Impeachment, and did not meet the standard required to remove Mr. Paxton from office,” Birdwell said in a Sept. 20 statement.

The deliberations weren’t like typical jury deliberations in a civil or criminal trial in which a group of people try to reach a consensus, King said in a Monday interview.

Instead the deliberations were more individual — a chance for senators to review evidence presented during the trial.

“That doesn’t mean we weren’t talking and discussing some,” King said. “And for me what I did, I spent most of my time, I went back and went through all the articles of impeachment again and charted them out, and mapped them out, and wrote my thoughts and comments on each point based on the evidence. For me, it just helped me reaffirm that decision I had already come to.”

King is confident Hancock’s differing vote won’t affect the working relationship of the Tarrant County delegation. Lawmakers are expected to be called back for a special session on school choice in October.

“Kelly is a good man and a very thoughtful senator,” King said. “And you probably just ought to talk to him about why he came to those conclusions. Robert Nichols did the same thing, and Robert’s also just a very thoughtful and principled senator, and they just came to a different conclusion.”

Hancock also doesn’t worry about his relationship with other senators. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has assured senators the impeachment proceedings wouldn’t affect chairmanships and committee assignments, Hancock said.

“My colleagues know me,” Hancock said. “They know that first and foremost that I seek to serve with integrity and ethics and a high moral character. ... Frankly, I think that’s where we need to go again, is make those a priority and with our elected officials. And, they know that’s my desire, and I think they accept my position even though it may be different than their own.”

Hancock wants to see the bar raised on elected officials, and officials held to a higher lever of accountability, he said.

The next election cycle

Ahead of the trial, there was political pressure for GOP lawmakers to acquit Paxton. Hancock said there were commercials and mailers in his district, telling him how to vote before any evidence was presented.

“Was there an enormous amount of effort to make me vote politically? Oh certainly,” Hancock said. “Was there money trying to get me to vote politically? Was I ever going to vote politically rather than my conscience and according to the obligation ahead constitutionally? No. I would never let my constituents down that way.”

Paxton has said he’ll actively campaign against those who voted in favor of impeachment.

Paxton said he’ll be spending a lot of time in Beaumont (where House Speaker Dade Phelan is from), Kerrville (which is in House impeachment manager chair Andrew Murr’s district) and Collin County (the home county of Rep. Jeff Leach, another House impeachment manager who Paxton singled out by name.)

“Jeff Leach, get ready,” Paxton said in an interview on “The Mark Davis Show” on KSKY 660-AM in Dallas.

Unlike the House members noted by Paxton, Hancock isn’t up for reelection until 2026. Asked if the time before his next election gave him some breathing room in his vote, given the separation between now and 2026, Hancock said that wasn’t a consideration.

Hancock was first elected to the chamber in 2012. He hasn’t said whether he’ll seek reelection. Hancock, who had a kidney transplant last year after years with a chronic kidney disease, said he takes things a day at a time.

“So we’ll take it a day at a time, but I can assure you that I won’t be run out of politics,” Hancock said.