Terry H. Schwadron
June 1, 2023
Once again, it’s just bad that writers remain hung up in an ugly, extended contract fight with film and television producers.
As a fan of hypocrisy, ethics, and politics, this one is set up to be an episode waiting for television drama treatment:
We find ourselves in Texas, where Republican legislators have turned on a leader in their own party with allegations of wrongdoing. The Texas House voted 121–23 last week to impeach Attorney General Ken Paxton on a range of charges, at least one of which involved his wife, and at least one of which related to an alleged extramarital affair. Paxton remains suspended while the state senate decides whether he should be removed from office.
One of the senators: Sen. Angela Paxton — the wife of the attorney general.
The issue: According to the state Constitution, she is bound to recuse herself. But she has not said whether she will withdraw from a vote on her husband’s impeachment trial.
We used to think of government ethics as living in some dark corner, peeking out only occasionally when the facts of a major no-no became so great as to become unavoidable fare for public review.
Whatever surprise or shock emanated when Bill Clinton found himself in trouble with trying to squeeze legal sanity from a sexual relationship with a then White House intern is long gone in the Donald Trump era. Trump was brought up short on so many ethics — and now criminal matters — that we’ve lost our ability to keep up with them all.
And the problem of ethical behavior in office has spread to Congress in cases like those of Rep. George Santos, R-NY, and Anna Luna, R-Fla., both facing allegations about fabricating their pasts, and to the U.S. Supreme Court where Justice Clarence Thomas is still silent about explaining huge payments from a right-wing-donating billionaire who happens to be his friend. Morals-spouting Republicans in Congress are frantic about seeking ethics charges to investigate against Joe Biden’s family, and there is open speculation about whether Trump was trying to hawk the classified documents he grabbed on the way out of the White House to those sharing in his overseas business interests.
It’s open season for ethics — however complicated the individual circumstances.
The Ethics Question
So, it feels nice to have a good, clean fight over a simple right and wrong case.
Angela Paxton became senator two terms ago to replace her husband, who was elected attorney general. As the Texas Tribune tells us, Angela Paxton has stood by her husband through several would-be conflicts and scandals, “doing little to disentangle her political legacy from her husband’s.”
The Tribune noted that he financed her first run, and once in office, she sought legislation that would have benefitted her husband and his office. She travels with him, campaigns with him, drives him and makes their marriage a central theme in her own story.
Now she is one of 31 senators to decide hubby’s fate. The state Constitution says legislators should recuse themselves from matters in which they have a personal stake, it also says all senators shall be present for an impeachment trial.
Thus, the ethics-based made-for tv drama centered on whether she goes on as the wife of a disgraced politician or a political force in her own right.
An adoptee herself, Angela Paxton adheres to strict anti-abortion causes, anti-transgender bills and legislation making it easier to ban books. The first in her family to go to college, she met student body president Ken Paxton at Baylor University and chose him over following either math or singing. Ken went on to law and she got her master’s in education, and she taught math and offered “Biblical counseling” before leaving to home-school four children. Both Paxtons became involved in evangelical churches whose leaders eventually were involved in challenged legal abortion and contraception.
Her race for Senate was among the state’s most expensive and drew involvement of other statewide Republicans. Among the issues were various financial entanglements of her husband’s while in office that never led to charged.
In office, Angela Paxton has not recused herself from voting on budget or other issues affecting her husband. The Tribune noted that “she has dismissed the potential for conflicts with mild marriage humor, saying if they disagree, one of them might be sleeping on the couch.”
The attorney general, meanwhile, has ended up in trouble after investigators working for his own party found that he improperly used influence, abused power, accepted payments, and bribed others in helping a campaign donor through the thickets of state law enforcement.
Paxton, a big Trump supporter, has been named as allegedly using his office to benefit real estate investor Nate Paul, who, among other things, helped extensively remodel the Paxtons’ Austin home. Paul also hired a woman who was allegedly having an affair with Ken Paxton, according to the investigators. Along the way whistleblowers were illegally fired.
Ken Paxton has said he thinks he will get a “quick resolution” in the Senate, “where I have full confidence the process will be fair and just.” The Senate is not only considered more conservative than the House, but the small, tight-knit chamber is ruled with an iron fist by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a key ally of the Paxtons. Patrick so far has been silent.
The Tribune said that because Texas has not impeached anyone in almost 50 years, Patrick has a lot of power to design the process to suit his goals. One of the central, unanswered questions is Angela Paxton’s role.