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Ken Paxton targets Republicans who backed impeachment. What North Texas candidates say

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial looms large in the Republican primaries, but will his influence affect the outcomes?

The impeachment and subsequent trial in the Senate highlighted divides within the Republican Party — fractions that have remained on display in the months leading up to primary election. Early voting starts Tuesday and runs through March 1.

The Texas House in May voted 121-23 to send articles of impeachment against Paxton to the Senate for trial. Paxton was accused of abusing his office to benefit real estate investor Nate Paul and retaliating against former employees who reported him to law enforcement. After a two week trial in September, senators voted to acquit Paxton.

As Election Day nears, Paxton has endorsed 35 challengers to Republican state House incumbents who supported impeachment, including David Lowe, who is running against Fort Worth Rep. Stephanie Klick in the Republican primary, and Jack Reynolds, who is running against Rep. Charlie Geren, a Fort Worth Republican who was one of the House impeachment managers.

In House District 65, Mitch Little, one of Paxton’s attorneys during the Senate trial, is challenging Rep. Kronda Thimesch, a Lewisville Republican. Also in North Texas, Jace Yarbrough is running for Senate District 30, an open seat. He was general counsel to Sen. Angela Paxton, Paxton’s wife, during the Senate trial. Paxton has endorsed Yarbrough’s opponent Carrie de Moor.

A poll from the University of Houston found that 56% of Republican primary voters familiar with Paxton’s impeachment trial say they would have voted to acquit Paxton if they were jurors. Twenty-six percent said they would have convicted and 18% said they don’t know.

The poll found that 46% of Republican primary voters say they’re less likely to vote for a House incumbent who supported the articles of impeachment.

While he was cleared in the Texas Senate, Paxton’s criminal securities fraud case is still playing out in court, as is a civil lawsuit filed by former employees who said they were retaliated against after they raised concerns related to Paxton’s dealings with Paul.

Paxton in January said he wouldn’t contest the facts of the whistleblower lawsuit. That prompted Sen. Drew Springer, who isn’t seeking reelection to Senate District 30, to ask Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Senate if there’s a mechanism to reopen the impeachment proceedings.

“He can’t accept the whistleblowers’ claims against him while touting that he’s innocent against those very claims,” Springer wrote in a Jan. 25 letter.

Paxton’s attorneys in a court document said they are not admitting that Paxton and his office or employees violated any law.

The office in a Jan. 18 news release called the proceedings an “unjustifiable waste of taxpayer resources and an intolerable distraction that risks compromising critical state business.”

“I will not allow my office to be distracted by these disgruntled former employees and their self-serving sideshow,” Paxton said in a statement at the time.

North Texas candidates running for the Texas Legislature vary on whether Paxton should have been convicted in the Senate trial.

Rep. Lynn Stucky, a Denton Republican, took a position similar to Springer’s in his response to the Star-Telegram’s candidate questionnaire. Paxton has endorsed Stucky’s opponent, software engineer Andy Hopper.

Given the Attorney General’s recent admission of guilt in a public court document, I believe the impeachment should be reconsidered,” Stucky said. “He wants to escape the punishment and leave taxpayers on the hook for his self-professed violation of state law as Attorney General. Taxpayers are being punished for his actions, not the Attorney General.”

North Texas candidates weigh in

The Star-Telegram asked North Texas legislative candidates in contested races about their thoughts on Paxton’s impeachment in its candidate questionnaire. Here’s what they said when asked, “Should Attorney General Ken Paxton have been convicted during his Senate impeachment trial? Why/Why not?”

State Senate District 30

  • Cody Clark (R): “The most straightforward answer is that the goods were not brought during the trial, so Ken was not convicted.”

  • Carrie De Moor (R): “No. There was not evidence to suggest that he should be convicted.”

  • Brent Hagenbuch (R): Did not respond.

  • Jace Yarbrough (R): “I served as general counsel to Sen. Angela Paxton during the impeachment trial of the Attorney General. I am on record as opposing the House’s Impeachment Process for the reasons laid out on the House floor by Representatives John Smithee, Matt Schaefer, and others. The House failed to develop a record of evidence, without which no serious trial could be held.”

  • Michael Braxton (D): “Yes, He broke the law, he is not above the law.”

  • Dale Frey (D): “Yes. Paxton was sued by his own staff, and then tried to make us tax-payers pay for his fines. His actions alone are what led to this.He was given ample opportunity to testify to the State House before his impeachment, and he turned the invitation down. He is clearly a disgraced politician.”

  • Matthew McGhee (D): ”If they ran the trial honestly, let evidence actually be shown, and Dan Patrick wasn’t bought and paid for, he would have been, no question. There’s enough sketchiness you’d think Paxton would have resigned by now.”

House District 60

  • Mike Olcott (R): Did not respond

  • Glenn Rogers (R, Incumbent): “Just recently in the ongoing whistleblower lawsuit, Mr. Paxton dropped all pretense of innocence. His actions speak for themselves.”

House District 64

  • Elaine Hays (R): Did not respond

  • Andy Hopper (R): “Absolutely not, there was no proof or evidence provided before a vote to impeach the voters chosen Attorney General was taken.”

  • Lynn Stucky (R, Incumbent): “Given the Attorney General’s recent admission of guilt in a public court document, I believe the impeachment should be reconsidered. He wants to escape the punishment and leave taxpayers on the hook for his self-professed violation of state law as Attorney General. Taxpayers are being punished for his actions, not the Attorney General.”

House District 65

  • Kronda Thimesch (R, Incumbent): “My opponent apparently was paid close to a quarter of a million dollars to speak for Ken Paxton during the Senate impeachment (since the attorney general refuses to speak for himself under oath). Still, by Ken Paxton’s own admission on January 18, the allegations of House impeachment articles 6, 7, 8 and 15 are true. This clearly proves that the Texas House of Representatives was vindicated in its decision to send impeachment articles to the Senate, and I stand by my vote.”

  • Mitch Little (R): “No. As our team showed you during the trial, there was a total lack of supporting evidence to substantiate the claims rushed through the house in an illegal manner, denying the accused the right to due process. Every single Texan in both parties should be disturbed by that.”

House District 91

  • Stephanie Klick (R, Incumbent): “As a member of the House my role was to determine if there was sufficient evidence to merit a trial in the Senate. I believe there was sufficient evidence to proceed to a trial, and, on the first day of the trial, the members of the Senate agreed to continue the trial. No one is above the law.”

  • David Lowe (R): Did not respond

  • Teresa Ramirez (R): “Attorney General Ken Paxton’s constitutional rights were violated when the Senate denied him a fair trial and due process. This underscores the fundamental principle that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

House District 97

  • Cheryl Bean (R): “The senate heard all the evidence and overwhelmingly voted in favor of his innocence. The evidence presented clearly did not meet the burden of proof to convict. They did the right thing. The real question is should the house have brought forth such a hasty impeachment with no evidence, and the answer to that is absolutely not. They wasted time and taxpayer dollars for a political vendetta.”

  • Leslie Robnett (R): “I was not an elected official during the Senate impeachment trial, nor am I running for an elected position that would have even allowed me to convict the Attorney General. The Texas House of Representatives has the power to impeach someone, while the Texas Senate is who decides on a conviction. Regardless of the responsibilities, though, I am interested in one thing: moving forward. We cannot and should not spend precious taxpayer money allowing political infighting to prevent our legislators from passing critical legislation that we need to keep Texas economically strong.”

  • John McQueeney (R): “I was not in the legislature during these events. I was not a juror in the trial. It would be irresponsible of me to decide on the merits of the evidence and the deliberations that I was not privy to.”

  • Diane Symons (D): “Yes. He was guilty. When republicans were threatened by losing donations or their campaigns for reelection if they voted to impeach, that should be considered jury tampering.”

  • Carlos Walker (D): Did not respond.

  • William W. Thorburn (D): “121 representatives voted to impeach in the House, including 61 of his fellow Republicans. According to Texas Monthly, on the eve of the trial, Dan Patrick “took money in the form of a $1million campaign contribution and $2 million in campaign loans” from “the [PAC] Defend Texas Liberty, funded by Paxton’s most generous backers, Farris Wilks and Tim Dunn..” This seems to be the most rhetorical of rhetorical questions and what is wrong with Texas politics. The system runs on money and money corrupts most politicians.

House District 98

  • Brad Schofield (R): “No matter where you stand on the impeachment of Attorney General Ken Paxton, we can all agree on the following. 1) it was a total waste of time, 2) It was a big waste of money, and 3) it made Texas Republicans look like idiots to the rest of the country. I was not in favor of the impeachment and opposed how the process was conducted.”

  • Giovanni Capriglione (R, Incumbent): Did not respond.

House District 99

  • Jack Reynolds (R): “No. Unless I am mistaken, there was not a single piece of evidence presented in the house that was provided under the pains and penalties of perjury. Once the evidence was subjected to a thorough review and witnesses were placed under oath, it fell well short of any reasonable standard of evidence that would justify an impeachment.”

  • Charlie Geren (R, Incumbent): Did not respond.