The impeachment of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton by a majority of fellow Republicans has revealed an undercurrent of division and resentment roiling the GOP in the most populous state where it still enjoys near-total political control.
While Saturday’s House vote suddenly tore at the heart of Texas politics, latent discontent has been building for months, if not years, not over individual figures but over how Republicans use their power and shape the party. Must take in the future.
The fight over Mr. Paxton’s trial, which has drawn national Republican figures including former President Donald J. Trump, provided stark evidence of two increasingly warring currents in Republican politics.
Although the eruption was unexpected—as of a week ago, there were few public signs that impeachment could be imminent—it was the culmination of a session of the Texas legislature, in which Republicans dominate both chambers, which was determined by a surge Acrimony within the party increased steadily.
“It’s the battle between the version of the Republican Party under Trump and the version of the traditional Republican Party,” said Geronimo Cortina, a professor of political science at the University of Houston. He added that the fight is particularly urgent in Texas, as increasing urbanization and demographic changes threaten the party’s dominance over the Democrats.
“The question for Republicans is, do you want to stay in government for two years” by catering to a dwindling group of aging voters? Mr Cortina said, describing the party’s most conservative members. “Or do you want to invest in a Republican party that will have a future in Texas?”
During the impeachment proceedings, some of the more conservative members of the legislature found themselves criticizing power politics for their moderate leadership in the House.
“Don’t end our session this way,” Rep. Tony Tenderholt said as he pleaded with fellow Republicans to vote against impeachment of Mr. Paxton, a conservative who made a national reputation fighting Democrats on immigration, healthcare, voting and other issues. “Don’t discredit this institution.”
In the end, 60 of the 85 Republicans in the Texas House opposed and voted to impeach Mr. Paxton on charges of corruption, bribery, and abuse of office, temporarily removing him from office pending his next trial in the state Senate.
By the end of the session, which officially ends Monday, the conservative juggernaut that swept through a wave of legislation during lawmakers’ last session two years ago faced significant opposition, not only from Democrats but also from fellow Texas Republicans willing to draw a line in the sand on some issues.
A special session to address some of the lingering divisions — over education funding, property taxes, border security and renewable energy regulation, not to mention the fate of Mr. Paxton — all seemed uncertain.
Anger among conservative activists and far-right lawmakers has been building for months as they watched many of their priorities move through the state Senate only to stumble into the Texas House.
The two chambers have often been at odds in recent legislative sessions, with the House serving as a more moderate check of the hard-right leadership of Lt. John Patrick, who presides over the Senate.
But this year the discontent seemed greater than usual.
Most of the eye-catching conservative proposals came from the Senate, which quickly passed a series of hawkish bills, including termination of state universities, creation of new restrictions on teaching about sex and gender modeled after a controversial law in Florida, and the addition of sweeping new voting restrictions. in Houston and placed the Ten Commandments in every Texas public school classroom.
But tensions rose as the weeks went by and deadlines approached. Many of the Senate’s priorities fizzled out and then formally dissolved in the House of Representatives, to dismay some of its more conservative members.
A disagreement over how best to cut property taxes for Texans — what appears to be an easy lift in a tax averse that had a budget surplus of more than $30 billion — led Patrick to start calling Dade Phelan, the Speaker of the House, who had a plan. different, by one of the most offensive nicknames one could think of in Texas politics: “California-Dade.”
Mr. Patrick even enlisted Mr. Trump to intervene. The former president adopted the title and endorsed Mr. Patrick’s property tax plan.
This tactic did not lead to a breakthrough in negotiations, although it did highlight Mr. Phelan, a Beaumont Republican. The House and Senate on Saturday approved a spending plan that earmarked more than $17 billion in tax cuts, but they still can’t come to terms on how it will actually work.
California’s nickname was replaced last week in some conservative activist circles with “Drunk Dade,” after Paxton accused Phelan of being intoxicated during a recent late-night House session. Mr. Phelan denied the charge once it became clear that the House had been secretly investigating Mr. Paxton.
Mr. Trump again condemned Mr. Phelan on Saturday before and after the impeachment vote, vowing to “fight” any Republican who votes for impeachment.
The Texas Republican Party, which has positioned itself to the right of many of the state’s elected officials, has been attacking Mr. Phelan from the start of the session, launching radio ads against him in February for continuing a long-standing practice of allowing Democrats to chair some committees.
But the conservatives’ discontent runs deeper.
“I think of it as part of an evolution rather than anything specifically focused on Phelan,” said Cal Gilson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. “There is a growing aggravation among social conservatives that they don’t have the kind of control in the Texas House that Patrick does in the Senate to move the social conservatism agenda.”
The divisions came out into the open Saturday in a display rarely seen in the current atmosphere of hyper-partisanship: a formal measure, governed by Republicans, that holds a popular but scandal-plagued politician from within their ranks accountable. His speed was remarkable: a few days after the inquest with Mr. Paxton had been discussed publicly for the first time, he was impeached.
“I’ve been watching this stuff for a long time,” said Mr. Gilson, “and I’ve never actually seen such a major development explode so unexpectedly.”
While lawmakers debated in Austin, Gov. Greg Abbott — who has not commented on the impeachment — toured the state in an effort to drum up Republican support for his top policy goal: a program to use public funds to pay for private schools.
Lobbying for what are variously known as school vouchers or school choice, Mr. Abbott visited schools and Christian churches across Texas and appeared with the influential Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative nonprofit backed by important Republican donors.
The conservative, who has tried to stick the needle among the party’s factions, won support from the Senate, which passed a bill to enact school choice using so-called educational savings accounts, or ESAs, but the effort met resistance from many rural Republicans, especially in the Texas House.
In a fit of rage this month, the ruler He threatened to use his power To force legislators to return to another legislative session after the end of this session.
Hours after the impeachment vote on Saturday, it’s becoming clear he’ll have to if he wants to save his school’s funding plan: In an 11-hour bid, Senate Republicans fail to force the school voucher plan it introduced on a House bill that would increase school funding. and teachers’ wages.
“Teacher promotions hostage to support the ESA plan!” said Rep. Ken King, a rural Republican from the Texas Panhandle and sponsor of the bill In a statement on Saturday. “What the governor and the Senate have done is unforgivable.”
Despite the divisions, some contentious pieces of legislation made it through both houses. A bill has been approved to ban hormonal treatments, surgeries, and other medical treatments for transgender children. So did the measure—derided by Democrats as the “Death Star Bill”—which would prevent local governments, including Democratic-run major cities, from passing their own local laws on certain issues, such as worker protections. Lawmakers approved a bill to allow school districts to appoint religious chaplains as counselors.
Even if Mr. Abbott doesn’t call them back, lawmakers will return to the Capitol for a unique kind of special session likely to further test Republican ties: the Senate trial of Mr. Paxton.
The date has not yet been set for what will be the first statewide impeachment trial in Texas in more than a century, and the dividing lines in the GOP are likely to be front and center. Representatives of the House of Representatives present the case. Mr. Paxton will have a chance to defend himself. And the senators—including Mr. Paxton’s wife, Angela, and his old friend, Brian Hughes, unless they recuse themselves—will serve as juries.
Mr. Patrick, who will preside over the trial and set its rules, is a troubling and ex-conservative radio broadcaster, whose supporters and donors come from the same wing of the party as Mr. Paxton. But on the subject matter of the trial, Mr. Patrick has maintained a neutral stance so far. “The senators, all 31 of them, will vote,” he said in an interview with the Y’all-itics podcast. “We will all be as responsible as any juror.”