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All eyes on Sen. Angela Paxton as Texas Senate takes up her husband’s removal


All eyes on Sen. Angela Paxton as Texas Senate takes up her husband’s removal

May 28, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Eleanor Klibanoff
All eyes on Sen. Angela Paxton as Texas Senate takes up her husband’s removal
Texas state Sen. Angela Paxton speaks during a press conference outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 1, 2021. (Eric Lee for The Texas Tribune)

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For Angela Paxton, June 1 will always be “I love you day,” the anniversary of the first time a baby-faced Baylor undergrad named Ken told her he loved her.

This year, “I love you day” will have a dark cloud looming over it, as that young man, now the attorney general of Texas, faces removal from office by the state Senate — of which Angela Paxton is a member.

On Saturday, the Texas House voted 121-23 to impeach 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. Ken Paxton is suspended while the Senate decides whether he should be removed from office.

As Ken Paxton’s scandals have mounted, Angela Paxton has stood by his side, and over two terms in the Senate seat he once held, she has done little to disentangle her political legacy from her husband’s. He funded her first run with a $2 million loan from his campaign; once elected, she tried to pass legislation that would have benefited him and his office. She travels with him, campaigns with him, drives his getaway car and, despite his rumored dalliances, makes their marriage a central theme of her story.

On the campaign trail, she’s known for performing a version of an Al Dexter song, singing, “I’m a pistol-packin’ mama, and my husband sues Obama, I’m a pistol-packin’ mama, yes I am.”

Now that pistol-packin’ mama is one of 31 senators who hold her husband’s fate in their hands. It’s unclear what her role should or would be in the trial; while the Texas 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.

Angela Paxton did not respond to a request for comment. All eyes are now on her, to see how she handles this awkward moment with her colleagues.

Ken Paxton helped propel her into office. But Angela Paxton is the one who now holds their political dynasty in her hands. How she handles this moment may determine her political fate as much as his: whether she is remembered as the wife of a disgraced politician or a political force in her own right.

Angela the political wife

Angela Suzanne Allen was born on Valentine’s Day, 1963, to a college student in New Braunfels, who put her up for adoption. She was adopted by a couple who couldn’t have children, sparking a lifelong commitment to the anti-abortion cause.

“I’m blessed to be an adoptive child and to be here,” she said in a 2016 speech. “I have been very aware my whole life that that might not have been the case … but this young woman chose life for me.”

Angela Allen was the first in her family to attend college, enrolling in Baylor University, where she studied math. It was there she met student body president Ken Paxton. On one of their early dates, the Houston Chronicle reports, they talked about what they would do with their lives if money was no object.

She wanted to sing. He wanted to go into politics.

Ken went on to law school at the University of Virginia, and she got her master’s in education at the University of Houston. The couple settled in Collin County, where they quickly became involved in the evangelical Christian community.

The couple now attends Prestonwood Baptist Church, but in the 1990s, they helped found Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, led by Pastor Chuck Swindoll.

Swindoll, the founder of Insight for Living Ministries, a national evangelical radio syndicate, is a leading figure in conservative Christian circles. He was the lead plaintiff in one of the challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, represented by First Liberty, a Plano religious liberty firm that later became closely connected with Attorney General Paxton’s office.

Angela Paxton taught math in public schools for about five years before leaving to home-school her four children, according to her LinkedIn page. She later went to work at Legacy Christian Academy in Frisco, teaching math and working as a guidance counselor, providing “Biblical counsel for students, faculty and parents.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, she was the one who decided it was time for her husband to run for office. He served a decade in the House before joining the Senate for District 8, covering Collin County. In 2014, he decided to run for attorney general.

By the time Ken Paxton became Texas’ top attorney, he was already mired in legal troubles, which only grew over the course of his first term. Through it all, Angela Paxton was his top defender, often sharing flattering articles from Breitbart and other right-wing media sites.

“There is much wisdom in saying ‘consider the source,’” she posted on Facebook in July 2015, a month before he was indicted on state securities fraud charges. “Ken’s integrity and honor are time and battle-tested. It’s an honor to be your wife and I stand proudly with you, Ken Paxton.”

Despite his legal troubles, Paxton ran for reelection in 2018. This time, he was joined on the ballot by a familiar name — Angela Paxton, running for his former seat in Senate District 8.

Angela the candidate

When Van Taylor left Senate District 8 to run for Congress, the race to fill the seat quickly became a family feud. Dallas business owner Phillip Huffines entered the race first, pitching himself as a carbon copy of his ultraconservative twin brother, who represented the district next door.

Huffines cleared the field of several potential other contenders, including state Reps. Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen. But in September 2017, a new Republican rival entered the fray: Angela Paxton.

Like Huffines, she was a political novice running on name recognition more than her record.

“Honestly, I can tell you, I never would have considered running if I didn’t have the full support of my husband,” she told a Republican group in Collin County in 2018. He was a trusted political adviser, she said in a TV interview, saying she had a “tremendous amount of respect for Ken and the way he’s conducted himself in office, the way he’s run his campaigns.”

The race quickly became the most expensive Senate primary in Texas history, with the candidates spending more than $10 million combined. Angela Paxton attracted donations from mainstream Republican power players, but also more right-wing groups that helped elect her husband. Empower Texans, a far-right political action committee, donated $100,000.

Angela Paxton also got the key endorsement of Senate kingmaker Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

“Angela Paxton has been a friend for years,” he said in 2018. “I can tell you this: Everyone who knows her agrees that she’s a dynamic conservative leader and a person of integrity deeply rooted in her Christian faith.”

Her campaign’s biggest assist came from Ken Paxton, whose reelection campaign guaranteed a $2 million loan. Huffines’ campaign criticized this move, saying “good people” who donated to the attorney general’s race were “now on the hook for their gamble, and the conservative movement is the loser.”

In attacking Angela Paxton, Huffines tried to carefully raise the specter of her husband’s improprieties. He ran an ad showing two bottles of champagne pouring into one glass.

“Public service pays surprisingly well for Ken and Angela Paxton,” the ad said, alluding to the couple’s increased financial stature since they first entered politics.

But that tactic ran afoul of the current party line, which treated the allegations against Ken Paxton as meritless.

“This became an issue because Ken Paxton was so loved in the area that running against Ken Paxton was a liability for Huffines,” said University of Houston political scientist Brandon Rottinghaus. “Then Angela Paxton runs ads saying, you know, you can’t attack him like this … and accusing Huffines of not being conservative enough.”

Angela Paxton won the primary and went into the general election very confident. Collin County was seen as a bastion of conservatism, voting for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton by almost 9 points. But her Democratic opponent wasn’t so sure.

“Huffines was incredibly helpful to me,” former candidate Mark Phariss told The Texas Tribune this week. “I wasn’t going to raise millions of dollars, but millions had already been spent bashing her, talking about their corruption, how they’d made all that money while he was in office.”

Phariss was a name in his own right — he and his husband sued the state of Texas after being denied a marriage license. He says Angela Paxton told a Republican group, early in the campaign, that they shouldn’t send a sinner to the Senate.

“So, of course, throughout the rest of the campaign, I’d say, ‘She can have all the non-sinner votes, I’ll take the sinners, and we’ll see who ends up in Austin,’” he said. “She didn’t try that again.”

Despite their diametrically opposed political views, Phariss said Angela Paxton is hard not to like. She’s warm and personable, always taking the time to say hello and give him a hug when they run into each other.

“I absolutely think she’s sincerely against gay marriage and nondiscrimination laws, but I don’t think she thinks of it as attacking me, even though it is,” he said. “I don’t think she connects the dots. … They don’t realize they’re talking about real people with real lives and real consequences of what they’re proposing.”

In the end, Phariss lost by a hair, narrowing the gap to less than 2 points. He credits his campaign and message, but also the “benefit and the curse” of his opponent’s last name.

“The Paxton name, obviously in some corners in Collin County, has great influence,” he said. “But in other corners, it’s a huge negative.”

Angela the senator

When Angela Paxton was elected, there were questions about how she might navigate the ethical minefields of serving in a role with certain power over her husband’s office.

In the last five years, though, the Paxtons have treated those minefields like molehills. Angela Paxton has not recused herself from voting on the budget, which sets her husband’s salary, and even introduced legislation that would directly benefit him and his office.

She has dismissed the potential for conflicts with mild marriage humor, saying if they disagree, one of them might be sleeping on the couch.

“I think Ken and I are pretty like-minded people, but we’re certainly not clones of each other,” she said in a TV interview after she was elected. “All you have to do is watch us around the thermostat to see that we have our own opinions about some things.”

Since joining the Senate, Angela Paxton has marched in ideological lockstep with the two political leaders who helped put her in office — her husband and Patrick. She has pushed bills that would limit abortion, stop trans teens from getting gender-affirming care, make it easier to ban books and allow taxpayer dollars to be used for education savings accounts, a voucher-like program that would allow parents to use taxpayer dollars to pay for their children’s private school.

Meanwhile, accusations against her husband continued to mount. In 2020, senior officials in the attorney general’s office asked federal law enforcement to investigate Ken Paxton over allegations of improper influence, abuse of power, bribery and other crimes. They were later fired and filed a whistleblower lawsuit, claiming they were retaliated against for speaking out.

The employees’ accusations center on the attorney general’s relationship with Austin real estate investor Nate Paul. The attorney general allegedly used his office to benefit Paul, and in one exchange, Paul helped extensively remodel the Paxtons’ Austin home.

According to the investigation commissioned by the House General Investigating Committee, an employee with the attorney general’s office was present for a conversation about the house’s granite countertops.

“General Paxton relays that now Senator Angela Paxton did not like the counters and wanted to change them,” the investigators recounted in a public hearing last week. “The contractor advises that that upgrade will cost $20,000. General Paxton indicates that he’d like to proceed, and the contractor ... response was, ‘I’ll have to check with Nate.’”

Paul also hired a woman who was allegedly having an affair with Ken Paxton, according to the committee report. In a House hearing Saturday, state Rep. Ann Johnson said Ken Paxton wanted the woman to have a job in Austin so he would not have to drive back and forth to San Antonio to see her.

“Sen. Angela Paxton learned of the affair in 2019,” the investigators said. “The affair ended briefly, but then it resumed and was underway again by 2020.”

Angela Paxton’s name has often gotten dragged into her husband’s more minor scandals as well. When the couple traveled to Utah to meet with the attorney general there during the devastating 2021 winter storm that killed hundreds of Texans, Angela Paxton had to defend her presence on the trip, saying it “benefit[ed] her efforts to promote human dignity and support law enforcement.” In September 2022, when Ken Paxton was facing a subpoena in an abortion-related lawsuit, Angela Paxton drove the getaway car to help him avoid being served.

But in the public eye, at least, these incidents didn’t weaken the Paxton power couple. When they were both up for reelection, they campaigned together and celebrated another year of marriage at the polls.

“Nothing says romance like voting for each other on your anniversary!” Angela Paxton tweeted, tagging her husband. “It’s an honor to serve the State of Texas with you, but most importantly to follow Christ together.”

They both won reelection with wide margins, seemingly securing the Paxton political dynasty for another term. But then, just a few months later, Ken Paxton asked the Legislature to pay the $3.3 million settlement he owed the whistleblowers, and a Texas House committee opened a secret investigation into his alleged malfeasances.

Angela the juror? 

On Saturday, just two days before the Legislature was set to adjourn, the House voted to impeach Ken Paxton. The case now goes to the Senate for a full trial to decide whether he will be removed from office permanently.

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 more conservative than the House, but the small, tight-knit chamber is ruled with an iron fist by Patrick, a key ally of both Paxtons.

But Patrick has not yet stepped up to defend Ken Paxton, instead saying he intends to call a trial.

“We will all be responsible as any juror would be, if that turns out to be, and I think the members will do their duty,” Patrick told WFAA-TV. “I will be presiding over that case and the senators — all 31 senators — will have a vote. We’ll set the rules for that trial as we go forward and we’ll see how that develops.”

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 in this procedural drama.

Public Citizen, a progressive government watchdog, has called for her to recuse herself. She has not yet said how she plans to handle her role.

“My guess is she will have to step aside in the course of this,” Rottinghaus said. “There’s no ethical way she can be a juror in this case.”

But even if she recuses, it’s difficult to eliminate her influence from the proceedings, as a colleague of the jurors, an ally of Patrick’s and a surrogate for her husband. On Saturday, while the House considered the impeachment articles, she was on the floor of the Senate, socializing with her colleagues.

“In the Senate, particularly, loyalties matter,” Rottinghaus said. “Many of the senators have loyalties to their fellow senators, to the lieutenant governor, but also a lot of these members have [loyalty] to the network of conservative Republicans who put a lot of these members in office.”

As Angela Paxton’s race against Phillip Huffines showed, standing against Ken Paxton can have consequences for Republicans, Rottinghaus said, and they have a physical reminder of his power in the chamber every day with them.

Angela Paxton has a lot of power in this moment, but to use it, she’ll have to find a way to stand with her husband, demonstrate her loyalty to Patrick, act ethically in the eyes of voters and keep her name out of the proceedings.

If she can manage this difficult dance, she has an opportunity to make a name for herself in her own right. If not, it’s not just her husband’s career that’s on the line, but the entire Paxton political brand that put her in office in the first place.

Disclosure: Baylor University, Facebook and the University of Houston have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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