AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is taking steps to get political revenge after his impeachment acquittal in the Senate. He’s now seeking to push out Republican state representatives who voted to impeach him earlier this year. However, he may not be the only state leader trying to shake up who wins the GOP primary elections in less than five months.
Since the Senate reinstated Paxton to his office, he rolled endorsements of at least a dozen people to take down House Republicans who voted for his impeachment. Brian Smith, a political science professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin, said Paxton is carrying out an earlier promise to support and fund primary challengers against opponents in his own party. He also recently announced he would file criminal complaints against the 12 state representatives who led his impeachment trial, accusing them of violating a new anti-doxing law.
“His problem, of course, is he’s still facing a litany of legal challenges that could bring him down at any moment, but right now he’s at the height of his popularity,” Smith said. “He’s using that to try to shape the races going forward.”
Paxton targeting lawmakers in his home county
Paxton, who lives in McKinney, is setting his sights close to home in Collin County. One of the four targets he named there is Rep. Matt Shaheen, the Plano Republican who began serving House District 66 in 2015. He voted for Paxton’s impeachment in May and still stands by that vote despite the pushback from some in his party.
“Paxton is not really relevant. He doesn’t really represent our values. I mean, we almost had to listen to his mistress during his trial,” Shaheen said during an interview with KXAN. “I’m ranked one of the most conservative members of the legislature. I’m a conservative fighter that’s been getting the job done. We’re getting a lot of conservative wins across the goal line. Really, in the state of Texas, we’re winning the culture wars because of fighters like me.”
Shaheen will face businessman Wayne Richard, who Paxton endorsed at an Oct. 10 meeting of the Collin County Republican Party. Richard, who sought this same seat 10 years ago, said how the House handled the attorney general’s impeachment ultimately put him “over the top” to enter the primary.
“I know that the reps here in Collin County are hoping that the impeachment issue goes away by March for the primary,” Richard said, “but the people here in Collin County, my district specifically, are very annoyed with what took place.”
Both men are promising to make border security a top priority during their respective primary campaigns. Shaheen said the Republican voters he’s meeting are more concerned about things like the economy and education rather than intraparty fights happening at the Texas Capitol. Richard intends to campaign on setting a four-term limit on state lawmakers as well as pushing for an end to the practice of letting Democratic House members serve as committee chairs.
One of Paxton’s defense lawyers during the impeachment trial, Mitch Little, officially announced his primary challenge Friday against a Republican incumbent. He’d like to unseat Rep. Kronda Thimesch of Carrolton, who voted for impeachment. Little previously served as her campaign treasurer when she first ran for office.
Paxton reposted a message on X, formerly Twitter, featuring Little’s campaign announcement that read, “Very excited that @realmitchlittle is running! He be a true conservative fighter for the Texas House!!”
Regarding Paxton’s efforts to back primary challengers, Smith said he’ll watch to see whether these candidates will be able to unseat incumbents and how they’ll do once they’re past the primary.
“Paxton said he was going to go after those people who tried to impeach and remove him. He said there was going to be political consequences and retribution, so he’s following through with what he said. It means going and finding candidates who match his ideology,” Smith said. “The problem with some of these candidates is they are so ideologically pure that in a general election, unless it’s heavily gerrymandered, they aren’t going to be very strong candidates because they’re not going to be able to attract moderate Republicans or independents. So he has to be very careful that in attracting candidates who match his ideology, you’re talking about people that are effective in the primary elections, but maybe not as much in the general.”
Gov. Abbott’s primary influence
Gov. Greg Abbott may also inject some influence into certain Republican primaries if House members continue to oppose the creation of education savings account, which is the main focus of the third special legislative session that’s underway. During a recent call, he told reporters, “I think it’s time to send this to the voters themselves to vote in the primaries.”
Additionally, at a parent empowerment rally at the Texas Capitol on Oct. 16, Abbott told the crowd, “[Voters] expect the House member they will be voting for in the primary to support school choice.”
Republican voters will ultimately decide if these endorsements make a difference when they head to the polls on March 5, 2024.