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Collin County is Ken Paxton's political stronghold — but there's cracks in the wall

The state Senate will meet next week to set the rules for Ken Paxton's impeachment trial
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
KUT News
The state Senate will meet next week to set the rules for Ken Paxton's impeachment trial

Ken Paxton owes his political career to Collin County — which is known for being a conservative stronghold. But cracks are forming in that resolve.

Collin County elected Paxton for the first time back in 2002. He represented House District 70 in the Texas statehouse for a decade. The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board called him an ‘easygoing consensus builder’ when he ran for re-election in 2004.

Then Paxton became known for being a member of the Tea Party conservative movement — and that conservativism found a home in Collin County. Professor Brandon Rottinghaus from the University of Houston told KERA in 2018 that Paxton was the first to run on a conservative, religious message in the suburban county.

“He was really the vanguard of how Republican conservatives were able to solidify their support and their power in suburban Texas,” Rottinghaus said.

Now, the region is home to several megachurches — including Prestonwood Baptist in Plano where the Paxtons are members.

Those conservative values continued to guide Paxton while he served in the state senate and grew stronger during his time as attorney general. He told county clerks after same sex marriage was legalized in 2015 they didn’t have to issue marriage licenses if they had religious objections.

He has also pursued multiple far right ideological lawsuits, including a 2020 suit attempting to nullify swing state election results, all with a lot of Collin County’s support. He won reelection with more than half of the county’s vote last year.

Shifting Dynamics

A lot of the Collin County Republican Party still supports Paxton. He history with a lot of the key players, including district attorney Greg Willis. There was a rally for Paxton after the impeachment in Plano. And the county judge, sheriff and local Congressman Keith Self — all Republicans — were scheduled to be with Paxton and his wife at a Labor Day picnic that was hosted by the county’s Republican Party.

But there has been some tension. All five of the Texas House Republicans from Collin County voted to impeach Paxton. They released a joint statement that said they felt there was enough evidence to do that, calling it a tough decision.

“This was an incredibly difficult vote as, for most of us, Ken has been a longtime friend,” the statement said.

The Collin County Republican party chair, Abraham George, condemned those votes, calling the impeachment a circus that lacked due process in a social media statement.

“Real corruption is when you won’t allow fair and due process,” the statement said.

Most of the county’s elected officials — from city council members to national representatives — lean conservative. The far right definitely has a strong presence in the county. The all-Republican commissioners court has spent the past two years listening to speakers — including precinct chairs from the party that got them elected — urge them to get rid of the county’s voting machines because of false 2020 election fraud claims.

Trump won Collin County that year — and so did every other Republican.

Several Republican precinct chairs and members of Collin County Citizens Defending Freedom spoke for two hours about false election integrity concerns during a recent commissioners court meeting.

“We don’t trust computer voting,” Roger Wheelock said.

“As a precinct chair, I hear it all the time that people do not have faith in their vote being counted accurately,” Amy Haynes said.

Collin County Judge Chris Hill put election integrity on the agenda after years of public comments urging him to do so. Hill said he appreciated the attendees passion for the topic and would take some of their recommendations into consideration.

“This is not the end of the conversation,” he said. “This is the next step.”

But Hill said the main demand, eliminating the voting machines, would require action from the state legislature.

Democrats say the divide amongst Collin County Republicans is to their advantage. In 2022, voters elected the county’s first Democratic state representative in three decades. On the cusp of that victory, Caleb Milne from the county’s Democratic party predicted that it’s only a matter of time until the county flips blue.

“There's no way to stop this progression,” Milne said. “It's not only a demographic problem, but a shifting attitudes problem.”

No Democrats won Collin County in 2020 — but there were three in 2022. That included State Representative Mihaela Plesa.

Her race was close — she won by less than a thousand votes. But Democratic momentum is growing as the county diversifies. Plesa told Collin County residents at a rally after the Allen shooting need to build on that.

“We can continue putting more people at the table,” she said.

Still, there’s still a long way to go before the historically red county has a chance of flipping blue. After all, the rest of the Collin County delegation — including state senator Angela Paxton — are Republican.

Family politics

Before she ran for her husband’s old state senate seat, Angela Paxton was a math teacher and school counselor for twenty years before she ran for her husband’s old state senate seat in 2018. Van Taylor held the seat before her — he ended up serving in Congress before ending his reelection campaign after his extramarital affair was publicized.

The Dallas Morning News reported that Paxton’s husband loaned her $2 million from his campaign to help fund her first race.

The Texas Tribune has reported multiple instances where Angela Paxton has stood by her husband despite his controversies, including his alleged extramarital affair. She introduced legislation during her first term that would’ve legalized her husband’s securities fraud actions. The Tribune also reported she was driving the car when Paxton ducked a subpoena for an abortion case last year in McKinney.

Angela Paxton will be at the impeachment trial – but thanks to a senate vote, she can’t participate or have any say in the trial’s outcome. There was no indication that she had plans to recuse herself before the senate vote on the impeachment trial’s rules made that decision for her.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at clove@kera.org.

Caroline Love is a Report For Americacorps member for KERA News.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Copyright 2023 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Caroline Love