AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — On the way to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton becoming a rising figure in the GOP, his wife, Angela, used to entertain crowds with a guitar and a song.
“I’m a pistol-packin’ mama, and my husband sues Obama,” she sang at campaign events and Republican clubs in Texas.
When it came time for the high school teacher and guidance counselor to launch her own political career, a $2 million loan from her husband propelled Angela Paxton to a narrow victory for a state Senate seat in the booming Dallas suburbs. Once elected, she filed bills to expand his office’s powers, and approved budgets over his state agency and salary.
Now, Sen. Paxton is a key figure in the next phase of Ken Paxton’s historic impeachment: as a “juror” in a Senate trial that could put her husband back in office or banish him permanently.
It’s a role that raises an ethical cloud over the Senate proceeding. State law compels all senators to attend, but is silent on whether she must participate.
“If it were a trial in the justice system, she would be completely required to (step aside),” said Kenneth Williams, professor of criminal procedure at the South Texas College of Law in Houston. “It’s a clear conflict of interest.”
The trial is to start no later than Aug. 28, and it promises to be quite personal for Angela Paxton.
The 20 articles of impeachment brought against Ken Paxton include sweeping charges of abuse of office and unethical behavior. They include a bribery charge related to an extramarital affair with an aide to a state senator. Another suggested Angela Paxton was involved in the installation of $20,000 countertops at their home, paid for by a political donor.
Angela Paxton hasn’t said if she’ll recuse herself from the trial. She declined comment when approached by The Associated Press outside the Senate chamber on Monday.
State Rep. Andrew Murr, who led the impeachment investigation in the state House, declined to say if he thinks Angela Paxton should step aside. The Senate gets to set the rules, he said.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick tightly controls the Senate and its 19-12 Republican majority. He suggested to a Dallas television state before last week’s House impeachment vote that Angela Paxton will participate in the trial.
“I will be presiding over that case and the senators — all 31 senators — will have a vote,” Patrick said. “We’ll set the rules for that trial as we go forward and we’ll see how that develops.”
Asked Tuesday whether Sen. Paxton would participate in the trial, Patrick declined comment, saying he could not take questions about the impeachment proceedings.
The state constitution requires a two-thirds vote of the chamber to convict. But there is little historic precedent in drafting impeachment trial rules, and nothing with a similar spousal conflict, Williams said.
In nearly 200 years of Texas history, Ken Paxton is just the third official to be impeached and the first statewide official impeached since Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson in 1917.
There’s no legal mechanism to force Angela Paxton out of the trial like there would be a criminal trial, Williams said.
“It’s up to her ethical standards and compass, basically,” Williams said.
The trial comes not only after Paxton was overwhelming reelected in November, but so was his wife, who cruised to a second term backed by wide support among conservative activists. They included Jonathan Saenz, president and attorney of Texas Values, who has worked closely with the senator on legislation, including a bill she carried this year that banned sexual content in public school libraries.
He said Sen. Paxton “has earned the right to decide what she thinks is best in this situation.”
“Senator Paxton is certainly in the highest category of elected officials in how she treats people and her position. I have high confidence in her moral compass in coming down on the side of what she thinks is best,” Saenz said.
The Paxtons come to each other’s aid in politics and legal fights.
Angela pushed Ken to chase his political ambitions in his first run for a House seat in 2002. In 2018, she touted Ken’s political expertise and advice in her first campaign for the Senate. That included the $2 million loan from his reelection campaign in a bruising Republican primary.
One of Angela Paxton’s first moves as a state lawmaker was filing a bill to give the attorney general’s office new powers over licensing exemptions for investment advisers. Ken Paxton was indicted in 2015 for failing to register as an investment adviser while raising money for a technology startup where he was invested and being paid. He has yet to go to trial on the felony charge.
Angela Paxton insisted her bill had nothing to do with his criminal charges, but legal experts said it struck near the heart of his indictment. The bill ultimately failed.
In 2022, Angela was the get-away driver from their house when Ken jumped in the family truck to avoid a process server with a subpoena in a federal abortion lawsuit.
Angela Paxton isn’t the only lawmaker with a potential conflict of interest at trial.
The House impeachment articles accuse Paxton of using state Sen. Bryan Hughes as a “straw requestor” for a legal opinion that protected a political donor from property foreclosure.
Hughes has not addressed whether he expects to be called as a witness or if he will recuse himself. He did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Ken Paxton and his allies, from former President Donald Trump to Texas grassroots organizations, have called the House impeachment process a politically motivated sham, rushed through in the final week of the legislative session.
The suspended attorney general now hopes for a fighting chance in a Senate controlled by Patrick.
When Patrick first endorsed Angela Paxton in that tough 2018 primary, he called her a “dynamic conservative leader and a person of integrity deeply rooted in her Christian faith.”
Patrick this year appointed her vice-chair of the Senate State Affairs committee, and to seats on the powerful finance and education committees.
Mark Phariss, the Democrat who lost to Angela Paxton by 2 percentage points in 2018, noted her sharp political instincts. He predicted she won’t step aside from a trial.
“My assumption is she will not recuse herself. Because she does not seem to distance herself from her husband, either when she ran for office in 2018 initially or at any time subsequently,” Phariss said.