Texas House committee recommends expelling Rep. Bryan Slaton
By Zach Despart and Renzo Downey, The Texas Tribune
“Texas House committee recommends expelling Rep. Bryan Slaton” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Sign up for The Brief, The Texas Tribune’s daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news.
A House committee has recommended the expulsion of Republican state Rep. Bryan Slaton after finding he had engaged in inappropriate sexual conduct with an aide, then acted to thwart an investigation into the matter.
A scathing report by the House General Investigating Committee, distributed to House shortly after noon Saturday, found Slaton did not dispute allegations that he had sex with the 19-year-old woman and provided alcohol to her, nor did he express regret or remorse for his conduct. Instead, the report said, Slaton’s lawyer argued the complaints should be dismissed because the behavior occurred in Slaton’s Austin residence, not the workplace.
The Royse City Republican’s decision to remain in office and not resign compelled the House to force his removal, the report said.
In a speech from the floor, Rep. Andrew Murr, R-Junction, the committee chair, acknowledged that expulsion — a measure not taken by the Legislature in nearly a century — is a “level of punishment we don’t take lightly.”
“[Expulsion] is intended to protect the integrity and dignity of this legislative body and provide accountability to everyone that works and serves in this building,” Murr said.
After Murr’s speech, clerks distributed the committee’s 16-page report, which detailed the panel’s findings and its recommendation of expulsion. What had been a jovial Saturday workday, the first weekend meeting of the session, transformed into uncharacteristic silence as members read about a disturbing pattern of alleged conduct by one of their colleagues. Slaton remained seated at his desk, occasionally peering at his phone.
The report, based principally on complaints from three female legislative employees, painted Slaton, 45, as a man who repeatedly used poor judgment in interactions with young women at the Capitol. This included helping three women, two of whom were under 21, acquire alcohol at a lobbying event early in the legislative session.
The report found Slaton had sex with the 19-year-old staffer in the early hours of April 1 at his apartment in Austin. The aide told the committee Slaton had provided her several drinks of rum and coke and that she consumed “a lot of alcohol” and felt “really dizzy.” The aide declined to answer questions from the committee about sexual activity.
The aide’s friend told the committee that the woman, who had never had sex before, said she had unprotected sex with Slaton and obtained Plan B pregnancy-prevention medication from a drugstore the next day. The committee concluded that because the aide was intoxicated, she “could not effectively consent to intercourse and could not indicate whether [Slaton’s conduct] was welcome or unwelcome.”
In addition to accusing Slaton of violating House rules, the committee report found reason to believe Slaton committed three crimes, all Class A misdemeanors that carry a maximum punishment of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine:
- Providing alcohol to a minor.
- Abuse of official capacity, which occurs when public servants violate a law relating to their office or employment.
- Official oppression, which can occur when a public servant “intentionally subjects another to sexual harassment.”
The committee also found reason to believe that Slaton engaged in “unlawful employment practices” in violation of state labor laws against sexual harassment.
Expulsion vote looming
After members read the report at their desks, Speaker Dade Phelan resumed normal legislative business. The speaker, who typically does not participate in chamber debates as its presiding officer, said in a written statement he would stick to that role.
“I will withhold public comment until my colleagues have the opportunity to deliberate and then vote on the General Investigating Committee’s recommendations,” Phelan said.
The decision to remove Slaton will ultimately be up to the full House; the Texas Constitution allows members to be expelled with a two-thirds vote of the chamber. Murr on Saturday filed House Resolution 1542, the legislation which would expel Slaton.
The Republican Party of Hunt County, which is within Slaton’s district, called on the representative to resign “for the good of the Republican Party and the values we hold dear.”
“The Report is well researched and documents actions inappropriate for an individual holding office,” the party said in a Facebook post.
Several House members expressed eagerness to move forward with expulsion. Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco, said on Twitter that he was disturbed by the report, calling Slaton a predator, and was looking forward to expelling him. Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, noted in a text message that he called for Slaton to resign about a month ago, when news of the allegations against him were first surfacing.
“He had plenty of time to do the right thing,” Cain said. “Now this body must do the right thing and expel him.”
The House last expelled legislators in 1927, when the House removed Reps. F.A. Dale and H. H. Moore on the grounds of “conduct unbecoming any member.”
Witness intimidation alleged
Slaton, the report said, attempted to intimidate other young women who worked in the Capitol and became aware of his relationship with the aide.
In one instance, Slaton showed the aide a supposedly anonymous email he had received from someone saying they knew the representative and the aide had sex but that “nothing would happen as long as her and her friends keep quiet.” The aide told the committee that she understood the email to be a “threat,” but also suspected Slaton may have fabricated the email. She said she believed it was sent from a Slaton Financial Services address, where Slaton works outside the Legislature.
Slaton’s attempts to keep his conduct with the aide secret extended to fellow lawmakers, the report found.
An unnamed representative who had learned of the allegations called Slaton to confront him, the report said. The representative asked if Slaton “invited a young staffer to your condo and you guys had sex,” to which Slaton responded “yes, that’s true,” but declined to answer further questions.
In a later conversation on the House floor, the representative said Slaton asked him to keep the phone conversation “between us.” Instead, that lawmaker reported Slaton to the investigative committee, as did three other House members the report also did not identify.
The Legislature has struggled to shake a long-held reputation that lawmakers tolerate sexual harassment, especially toward women. The House revised its sexual harassment guidelines in 2017 and two years later began directing complaints of inappropriate behavior by members to the investigative committee, which has the power to subpoena witnesses.
In Slaton’s case, the House moved swiftly. The committee’s investigation, led by former state District Judge Catherine Evans, took 27 days.
Still, the investigation faced obstacles. The report noted that Slaton’s lawyer attempted to delay proceedings and that all five men employed by Slaton’s office refused to meet with investigators.
One of the most conservative House members
Slaton took office in 2021 after defeating Rep. Dan Flynn, a longtime Republican state representative whom Slaton had challenged multiple times and considered too moderate.
His political campaign was largely funded by West Texas oil and gas billionaires Tim Dunn and Farris Wilks. The two are among the biggest donors to some of the most socially conservative lawmakers in the Legislature, including far-right opponents to lawmakers who vote against their political interests.
Slaton is known as one of the most conservative members in the chamber, frequently rankling House leaders, and this year fought a losing battle to amend House rules to prohibit Democrats from leading legislative committees. The issue has been a major concern for ultraconservative grassroots Republicans who do not want Democrats leading key legislative debates.
Last year, he called for a blanket ban on minors at drag shows, saying it was necessary to protect children from “perverted adults.” He has also proposed giving property tax cuts to straight, married couples — but not same-sex couples or those who have been divorced — based on the number of children they have.
Earlier this year, Slaton also filed a bill that would allow for a referendum on Texas secession from the United States during the state’s next general election. Most experts agree such a move would be illegal.
James Barragán contributed reporting.
We can’t wait to welcome you Sept. 21-23 to the 2023 Texas Tribune Festival, our multiday celebration of big, bold ideas about politics, public policy and the day’s news — all taking place just steps away from the Texas Capitol. When tickets go on sale in May, Tribune members will save big. Donate to join or renew today.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/05/06/texas-legislature-bryan-slaton-investigation/.
The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.