© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPAC 88.3 FM and KSTX 89.1 FM in San Antonio are currently off air due to studio-transmitter signal loss. Internet audio streams are unaffected.

Ken Paxton’s road from Collin County ‘consensus builder’ to polarizer to possible impeachment

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during a rally featuring former President Donald Trump on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Robstown, Texas. (AP Photo/Nick Wagner)
Nick Wagner/AP
/
FR171892 AP
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks during a rally featuring former President Donald Trump on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022, in Robstown, Texas. (AP Photo/Nick Wagner)

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s political rise began in Collin County. It may end in Austin with impeachment.

And almost from the start, controversy was his companion.

The latest Ken Paxton scandal centers on allegations of corruption detailed in a Texas House committee hearing on Wednesday, an investigation that may lead to his impeachment. Paxton denies the allegations.

The Texas attorney general previously gained national attention during the 2020 election with his (unsuccessful) lawsuit challenging results in four swing states.

A North Texas launch

North Texans, however, first knew Paxton from his rise to prominence representing Collin County in the state Legislature. Paxton currently lives in McKinney and his wife, Angela, is a state senator representing McKinney, Allen, Plano and Greenville.

Paxton moved around as a kid. He settled in Collin County after studying at Baylor University and the University of Virginia. He opened his own law business in 2002, the same year he won a seat in the Texas House. Paxton previously worked as in-house counsel for J.C. Penney and at the law firm Strasburger & Price, LLP.

During his 2004 reelection campaign, The Dallas Morning News Editorial board called him an “easygoing consensus builder” mostly focused on school finance and transportation.

He gained statewide attention with his run for House Speaker ahead of the 2011 session. The “Tea Party” wave that came after the election of President Barack Obama had strengthened Republican control in Texas.

The panel's decision comes as part of a months-long investigation into Paxton's settlement of a lawsuit brought by four whistleblowers who were fired in 2020 after making accusations about the Republican's misdeeds.


"The tea party is becoming a significant force in the political world," Paxton told the Plano Star Courier. "They are all about transparency and accountability and less government intrusion, spending and lower taxes — all the things I believe in."

Then, as now, far-right lawmakers were angry that a more moderate House speaker allowed Democrats to hold committee chairmanships. But Paxton eventually pulled out of the speaker’s race after a GOP caucus meeting.

“[Ken Paxton] was the first to really articulate a clear, conservative message, especially one that was religious in origin, to voters in Collin County,” University of Houston professor Brandon Rottinghaus told KERA in 2018. “He was really the vanguard of how Republican conservatives were able to solidify their support and their power in suburban Texas.”

Paxton easily won an open seat in the Texas State Senate in 2012.

Business concerns

As he ran for attorney general in 2014, the Dallas Morning Newsreported that Paxton had either started or joined 28 businesses as co-owner since he entered elected office. These businesses were often joint ventures with other politicians in Collin County or the Legislature.

In one deal, a company Paxton co-owned in McKinney secured a zoning change for property it sold to a Dallas firm. That firm then developed the land into the new headquarters of the Collin Central Appraisal District, which eventually purchased the site.

Paxton’s campaign told the News that he "did not know in advance that county officials were considering the property as a site for the appraisal district headquarters.”

Also that spring, Paxton admitted he had solicited clients for a financial firm without registering with the Texas State Securities Board.

Only two other state government officers have been impeached: a governor in 1917 and a district judge in 1975.


The securities case — including criminal allegations that Paxton drummed up business for the company Servergy Inc. despite not disclosing to clients he was being compensated — has followed Paxton ever since.

A Collin County grand jury indicted him in 2015. Special prosecutors were appointed because District Attorney Greg Willis was a Paxton friend and business partner.

A tick tock of the case, which is still ongoing, was published by the Texas Tribune.

Despite these early indications of trouble, Paxton won both the primary and general elections by wide margins and became attorney general in early 2015.

Donors to the rescue

A Paxton donor, Jeff Blackard, filed a lawsuit that said the county was paying too much to the special prosecutors in the securities case. This led to years of litigation over that issue alone.

The securities case is still pending; prosecutors are trying to prevent it from being moved back to Collin County.

Paxton has also received tens of thousands of dollars for his legal defense from people he identifies as “family friends” on financial disclosure statements.

Far right megadonors Tim Dunn and Farris and JoAnn Wilks have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to Ken Paxton over the years, according to Transparency USA, as have business groups like Texans for Lawsuit Reform.

As attorney general, he has embarked on a crusade against LGBTQ and immigrant rights. Famously, in 2015 after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage, Paxton told county clerks they didn’t have to issue marriage licenses if they had religious objections.

His office has churned out lawsuit after lawsuit, many of them pursuing far right ideological goals. The 2020 suit attempting to nullify swing state results — plus his support of Trump on January 6th, 2021 — have helped Paxton maintain the former president’s support.

Texas voters have rewarded him as well. The attorney general won reelection in 2018 and 2022. Angela Paxton won her seat in 2018 and was reelected in 2022.

But it’s allegations that he used his office to help donor and Austin developer Nate Paul – accusations Paxton has denied — that have him at risk of being the first attorney general in Texas history to be impeached.

Got a tip? Email Bret Jaspers at bjaspers@kera.org.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.
Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.