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Paxton’s Revenge Plot Now Targets Judges

Attorney General Ken Paxton has celebrated his acquittal in the Texas Senate for impeachment charges related to misuse of office by promising swift and furious political vengeance on anyone that voted to hold him accountable. That promise has three new targets: judges that prevented him from totally controlling voter fraud cases in the state.

Since 2020, Paxton has been one of the nation’s chief voices crying about stolen elections, an issue for which he has never produced a shred of evidence relating to systemic problems. Famously, the attorney general spent more than $2 million trying to prove widespread voter fraud and managed to close only three cases from the 2020 election. None of those cases uncovered major conspiracies, and many of the perpetrators were simply in error rather than actively breaking the law.

Nonetheless, Paxton has positioned himself as an election fraud watchdog, an act some theorize is meant to tempt former President and current Republican candidate frontrunner Donald Trump into a pardon for crimes Paxton is indicted for.

The case involved a Jefferson County district attorney that declined to file charges against Sheriff Zena Stephens over campaign finance irregularities in the 2016 election. Paxton stepped in and took over the case, indicting Stephens on one felony and two misdemeanors. That felony indictment was later thrown out of court.

Paxton continued to pursue the case against Jefferson’s first Black woman sheriff until the appeals court struck the whole matter down in 2021. In an 8-1 ruling, the court said that the state attorney general could not unilaterally insert himself in a voter fraud case. He had to be asked to intervene by the district attorney. The court found that Paxton had overstepped his authority in trying to pursue the case despite the Jefferson County judicial system declining it.

Paxton vowed revenge, and this year he is working on getting it. Three of the judges who voted against him— Sharon Keller, Barbara Hervey and Michelle Slaughter—are all up for reelection in 2024. Paxton and his allies have founded a new political action committee, Texans for Responsible Judges, to draw primary challengers for all three.

“Despite Texas’ reputation for conservative leadership, the Court of Criminal Appeals remains plagued by judges who’ve abandoned their conservative roots,” the PAC’s executive director, Sam Vrana, said in a statement. “Their decision to strip the Texas Attorney General of the power to prosecute voter fraud has left Texas undefended against liberal district attorneys.”

All three judges are Republicans. Paxton has also referred to Jefferson County district attorneys as “Soros-funded,” referring to the liberal political megadonor and preferred conservative bogeyman.

Paxton has not yet openly endorsed any of the challengers who have declared against the three judges, but he has close ties with the PAC. Vrana is an executive at a consulting firm that Paxton is a client of.

Between the appeals court judges and the House members that voted to impeach him, Paxton is creating a long list of enemies that he hopes to crush in the coming Republican primary. If he does so, there would be far fewer checks on his actions in the future.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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