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Texas House expels Bryan Slaton, first member ousted since 1927

By Robert Downen, The Texas Tribune

Texas House expels Bryan Slaton, first member ousted since 1927” 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.

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The Texas House unanimously voted to expel Bryan Slaton on Tuesday, one day after the Royse City Republican submitted his resignation after an internal investigation determined that he had sex with a 19-year-old aide after getting her drunk.

After a solemn, sometimes angry and tearful recounting of Slaton’s “graphic” and “offensive” behavior, the House voted 147-0 for expulsion, making Slaton the first member of the Texas Legislature to be removed from office since 1927.

Support of two-thirds of the House was needed for expulsion.

Slaton’s nameplate was immediately removed from his desk and from the vote tally board at the front of the House chamber.

Slaton’s expulsion followed an almost monthlong examination by the House General Investigating Committee after receiving complaints of Slaton’s behavior from three Capitol employees and four representatives. On Saturday, the committee released a 16-page report detailing actions taken by Slaton, 45, in furnishing the young woman with large amounts of alcohol before the April 1 encounter and recommending that Slaton be expelled from the House.

The Sergeant at Arms of the Texas House removes state Rep. Brian Slaton's name card from the House voting board after the House voted to expel Slaton at the state Capitol in Austin on May 9, 2023.
Bryan Slaton’s name is removed from the Texas House voting board shortly after the Royse City Republican was expelled in a unanimous vote Tuesday. Credit: Evan L’Roy/The Texas Tribune

Ahead of the vote, members of the committee told the House that Slaton had not disputed the allegations and still had not expressed remorse or regret. They also said Slaton likely committed multiple crimes, including providing alcohol to a minor.

“This Texas House is not going to hear from multiple complainants about serious and alarming facts and then turn the other cheek or simply slap a member on the wrist,” Rep. Andrew Murr, a Junction Republican who leads the investigating committee, told the House.

“My heart breaks,” Murr said, his voice growing thick. “I suspect that yours does too.”

In a heartfelt speech, Rep. Ann Johnson, D-Houston, said Slaton had exhibited a “systematic pattern of manipulation” and questioned whether the aide was able to consent at the time of the encounter after Slaton supplied her with several large mixed drinks. And she excoriated Slaton, calling him the “type of man who steals innocence” and who was “not worthy of a position of trust.”

Aside from the three Republicans and two Democrats on the investigative committee who presented their findings and condemned Slaton’s actions, no other House members spoke before Speaker Dade Phelan called for a vote on House Resolution 1542. After the vote Phelan, who had resisted commenting on the matter as the investigation continued, said expulsion was a rare, but necessary, action.

“Predatory behavior merits such a consequence,” Phelan said. “I hope the action we’ve taken here today sends a message that sexual harassment and inappropriate activities in the workplace will not be condoned and they are unacceptable.”

Although Slaton resigned Monday, unless expelled he was entitled to his House salary and per diem, Murr said. Until voters elect a replacement, Slaton also would have continued to sit on assigned committees and count toward establishing a working quorum of the House.

Slaton, a prominent anti-LGBTQ lawmaker who has described drag performers as “perverted adults,” allegedly invited the woman to his Austin apartment and gave her a large cup of rum and coke, then refilled it twice. The committee said she was rendered unable to “effectively consent to intercourse and could not indicate whether it was welcome or unwelcome.”

The bipartisan committee also said Slaton tried to obstruct their investigation, including by what they described as intimidation tactics against the aide and other witnesses. Five members of Slaton’s staff also refused to be interviewed by the committee.

Slaton, a married father who portrayed himself as a “family values” conservative, submitted his written resignation to Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday. In the letter, Slaton said he planned to spend more time with his family but did not address the inappropriate conduct.

Earlier Tuesday, Murr distributed a memorandum to House members that outlined why expulsion was appropriate despite Slaton’s resignation. The memo said the House had a duty to proceed with the vote because Slaton would otherwise be considered a “holdover” member who “still receives benefits of office, until a successor is qualified.”

“Accordingly, expulsion is the only method to immediately end a member’s service in the Legislature,” the memo said.

Abbott must call a special election to fill the vacancy for House District 2, but that election cannot happen before the legislative session ends on Memorial Day.

Slaton was previously a youth pastor at several Southern Baptist churches and ran for the Texas House in 2021 on a family-values campaign that was financed heavily by Defend Texas Liberty PAC, which is mostly funded by ultra-right West Texas oil and gas tycoons. In the House, he gained a reputation as an anti-LGBTQ bomb-thrower who was unafraid to needle those in his own party from the right.

Last year, Slaton called for a blanket ban on minors at drag shows, saying they needed to be protected from “perverted adults,” and proposed giving per-child tax credits to married, heterosexual couples — while excluding LGBTQ or divorced people. Slaton, who is previously divorced, also called this year for a referendum on Texas’ secession from the United States, despite legal experts overwhelmingly saying such a move would be illegal.

Calls for Slaton’s resignation had grown since the report’s release Saturday. Over the weekend, two of the three Republican parties for the counties he represents asked him to step down, and more than half of the 62-member State Republican Executive Committee had done the same by Sunday night.

Other Slaton allies also abandoned him, including Texas Right to Life, the anti-abortion group that revoked its endorsement, saying it was a “Christian organization” that held its staff, board members, scholarship recipients and political endorsees to high moral standards. The Young Conservatives of Texas also called for Slaton’s resignation.

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