If thou suffer injustice, console thyself; the true unhappiness is in doing it.” - Democritus
On a muggy Saturday in September, in the year 2023, the representative government of the state of Texas sealed its historic destiny as a fraudulent institution. Ken Paxton, the impeached and indicted Texas Attorney General, who committed numerous unlawful acts, was acquitted of his crimes by the Texas Senate. Although the firsthand testimony of witnesses, who had been ordered to take part in his illegalities and self-dealing, was damning in the extreme, he was protected by being a Republican, the party which controls the majority in the senate chamber. Majorities matter in Texas GOP politics, not evidence.
The notion that the trial was ever going to approach a level of judicial legitimacy was ended when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the senate’s presiding officer, accepted $3 million dollars from a pro Ken Paxton group, the Defend Texas Liberty PAC. A million was a donation and $2 million was delivered in a loan to Patrick after the Texas House had impeached Paxton and shortly after the Lt. Governor had set a date for the impeachment trial in the senate. The generosity from the PAC arrived the day after the Lt. Gov. Patrick issued a gag order on all involved in the trial. The far right PAC has long been funded by extremists Farris and Jo Ann Wilks along with Tim Dunn. In their June campaign filing, Dunn dropped off $2 million to the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, and the Wilks forked over $1.5 million. The organization’s prime goal is to keep pushing Texas policies to the right edge of the flat earth.
And it was strictly coincidental the big bag of cash came as Paxton’s trial was approaching.
Texans have come to not expect a fair hearing on issues considered by their government and the idea that Paxton might face justice was improbable from the outset. If PAC campaign cash to the presiding judge didn’t send a message the fix was in, the outcome seemed even more foreordained when Patrick allowed the AG’s mistress, Laura Olson, to skip testifying. She had been given a job by real estate developer Nate Paul, whom Paxton had been showering with favors while deploying his office’s resources to obstruct justice in a federal investigation involving Paul’s business. The AG did not speak to senators, either, nor was he given any incentive. In fact, he probably knew the impending verdict was destined to favor his career and there was no need to add to his litany of lies with further perjury.
Eight of Paxton’s top deputies reported him to the FBI for trying to impede investigations of Nate Paul. The testimony of one of them, a decorated Texas Ranger with more than 50 years in law enforcement, David Maxwell, informed senators he became convinced that Paul was criminal and Paxton’s efforts to use his office’s personnel to intervene in legal scrutiny of Paul amounted to obstruction of justice. Maxwell’s resistance to his employer’s adventurous approach to the law prompted Paxton to fire the lawman and end his career. Paxton had demanded Maxwell start an investigation into the investigators from the federal government, and when the ex-Ranger refused, he was threatened with his job, which he eventually lost.
The fact that the Texas attorney general did all these illegal and immoral acts never seemed to be in dispute during the course of the Senate’s ministrations. Senators just did not seem to care. Breaking the law did not amount to sufficient reason to rid Texas of a man who has served under indictment for securities fraud since 2015, and an FBI investigation since 2020, which may result in federal indictment. Charges from a U.S. attorney appear probable based upon the body of evidence accumulated by Texas House of Representatives impeachment managers, who launched their probe when Paxton asked the state to pay for his $3 million dollar whistleblower settlement with the eight employees unable to stomach his behavior.
Patrick, in post-trial remarks, tended to sound again like an emerging imperious authoritarian. He telegraphed that the verdict had already been decided before the trial with the fact that only moments after it had concluded he was delivering a prepared oratory about the outcome, and berating the lower chamber for even sending the case to the senate. The Lt. Governor said, almost hilariously, that senators had sustained the integrity of their body with what was likely one of the more important votes in Texas history. This seemingly ignores the fact that the vote on every article of impeachment was almost unfailingly along party lines with a few Republicans showing flickers of conscience in the face of disturbing and embarrassing evidence. Patrick, meanwhile, humbly complimented himself by telling members that he, “humbly served as a quiet, fair, and impartial presiding officer on this serious matter.”
Not likely. If we had been able to listen in on his phone calls or private conversations with conservative senators, we might have heard him telling them that the Defending Texas Liberty PAC was determined to spend money to run primary opponents against any senator who voted to impeach Paxton. Hell, that message did not even need to be spoken. Shortly after the trial concluded, Scott Braddock, editor of the Quorum Report, was tweeting on X, (now that is an awkward locution), that there were reports from senators that they were taking calls from the Lt. Governor the night before deliberations concluded, and he was asking them to vote no on the impeachment articles. Patrick responded to Braddock’s post by calling him a “flat out liar,” also on X, though there are far more people in the building likely to believe Scott than the Lt. Governor.
How Patrick called himself an impartial judge is unknown. His neural pathways are different from yours and mine. One does not call themselves fair and impartial and then begin a rant from the state’s most influential podium to criticize leadership of the Texas House that voted overwhelming to convict Paxton on the same body of evidence. He accused the House Speaker Dade Phelan of ramming the impeachment through the lower chamber, though its process was clearly deliberative, and frankly, involved evidentiary rules more closely associated with a court of law than those promulgated behind closed doors by Patrick and his senators.
The level of dysfunction is hard to assess at my remove but Texas taxpayers have a government that serves nothing but ego and lobby money. This is certainly not a new development but what is demonstrably true after this impeachment charade in the Senate is that accountability does not exist. In fact, the Senate chamber and the state of Texas may now be a bit like an elephant graveyard, where all forms of accountability go to die. For instance, there were other articles of impeachment that Patrick did not even bother to consider. They were related to the securities fraud charges that Paxton has been facing for the past eight years. Even though he has fundamentally admitted the behavior that brought about the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation, Patrick clearly did not think the issue of screwing investors out of their life’s savings by the state’s top lawman was an adequate matter to go before the senate.
Any close examination of what just happened leads to as much horror as laughter. Patrick, the presiding judge, is not an attorney, though he had one as an advisor throughout the trial. He is a former sportscaster for a TV station I used to work for in Houston and is famous for painting his face blue and putting on a huge blue foam hat on game day for the old Oilers football team. Even more astounding, he ran his sports bar into bankruptcy in Texas, no mean feat in a sports-obsessed land. Maybe that’s why he has never used his real name in public life, which is Dannie Scott Goeb. His alias as a politician, it turns out, though, has a worse reputation than his sportscaster profile.
And what is it about these family values Republicans? Paxton’s paramour has been divorced four times before slipping into Paxton’s bed while dating a San Antonio city councilman who had been arrested for a drunken hit-and-run incident. The mistress, Laura Olson, had apparently been talking in graphic detail about the AG’s performance as a love lawyer or his naughty bits or something to that effect, while she was sitting at an Austin cafe. Unfortunately, she was at a table next to Paxton’s chief of staff, who let the bossman know she was aware of his foolishness. That ought to provide her with some job security.
I spent 22 years reporting on government and politics in the capitol of Texas. We had an indicted attorney general named Jim Mattox, who was accused of taking money from a South Texas rancher. House Speaker Gib Lewis, famous only for his malapropisms, also went on trial for peddling influence when he failed to report money he received from a chicken producer’s law firm, a man who had brazenly walked onto the Texas Senate floor in 1989 and handed out $10,000 checks to nine lawmakers who knew where their chickens were plucked. This is how the chili gets cooked down here, but there was always an attempt at discretion, to hide the bad behavior because it might have consequences.
Those days are over. Lying is a tactic. Cheating is a strategy. Lawbreaking is a result. Texas politicians and lobbyists barely make any attempt to hide their immorality or self-dealing because there are no consequences for their behavior. Paxton has won elections while under indictment. Their party’s national leader has been indicted four times, impeached twice, and faces 91 counts of illegal activity, and he is leading every presidential candidate trying to defeat him in the primary campaign. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem isn’t really having an affair with Trump advisor Corey Lewandowski, even though both of their staffs and the entire party know about it. Everything is explained away as an attempt by the opposing party to smear the good people of the GOP. That’s all fake news.
And in Texas, we have become a fake democracy.