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Two House Republicans repent for voting to impeach Ken Paxton

By Patrick Svitek, The Texas Tribune

Two House Republicans repent for voting to impeach Ken Paxton” 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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As Ken Paxton’s impeachment animates the Texas primary season, most state House Republicans have defended their vote to impeach the attorney general.

But two GOP members have stood out for going in a different direction, publicly expressing regret over their role in the process.

They are Reps. JM Lozano of Kingsville and Gary Gates of Richmond — and Gates has especially reaped the political benefits. After publishing a statement earlier this month denouncing the impeachment, Paxton endorsed him in his contested primary.

But even earlier in the election cycle, Gates was working to smooth over things with Paxton as the attorney general launched a political revenge tour. Gates apologized to Paxton in person and has donated at least $25,000 to his campaign since the end of the impeachment trial.

“He won hands-down, and I have certainly heard from my constituents and the grassroots,” Gates told the Tribune in October. “Why would I not want to patch things up?”

Sixty House Republicans — 71% of the caucus — voted to impeach Paxton in May, alleging he abused his office to help a wealthy friend and donor, Nate Paul. The Senate acquitted him after a trial in September.

The impeachment ratcheted up a GOP civil war that is now unfolding in the March primary, with Paxton backing dozens of challengers to House Republicans who voted to impeach him. Paxton and his allies have made clear they view it as the top — and even only — issue for them in the primary, suggesting they will stand down against any Republican who has opposed impeachment or publicly renounced their vote for it.

Most of those Republicans — from House Speaker Dade Phelan on down — have stood by their votes and even dug in against Paxton.

Rep. Jeff Leach, a Plano Republican who was an impeachment manager and now has a Paxton-backed opponent, recently said he has “no regrets whatsoever.”

“I believed with all of my heart in May when I voted for impeachment that General Paxton was corrupt,” Leach said in a Spectrum News interview last week. “Now, several months later, I believe without question, he’s a sophisticated criminal.”

Gates and Lozano have gone in a different direction.

In late October, Gates showed up to a campaign stop that Paxton was making for Matt Morgan, a primary challenger to Gates’ fellow Republican in Fort Bend County, Rep. Jacey Jetton. But Gates was not there to support Morgan — he wanted to talk to Paxton.

Gates caught Paxton as he left, and they had a “great conversation,” Gates said at the time. Gates said he apologized to Paxton for everything the House put him through and told him he wanted to “let bygones be bygones and … figure out how we can work together for the Republican agenda.” Paxton was appreciative and told Gates he was the first House Republican to apologize in person, according to the lawmaker.

Gates also chalked up the interaction to simple politics.

“I don’t want the dude coming after me if I can avoid it,” Gates said.

Campaign finance records show Gates made a $15,000 campaign contribution to Paxton that day. The next day he gave $5,000 to Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, a McKinney Republican.

Gates previously donated $10,000 to Paxton on Sept. 19, three days after the impeachment trial.

Gates’ reversal on impeachment has fueled even more tension in his primary, where his challenger is Dan Mathews, a real estate broker from Stafford. Mathews said he has long opposed Paxton’s impeachment, and he is running online ads that say, “Never forget the Paxton impeachment.”

Mathews said he also talked with Paxton at the October event and thought he was in the running for a Paxton endorsement.

“He is a lizard. He changes colors,” Mathews said of Gates’ reversal. “He can see the writing on the wall.”

Paxton’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment. [CHECK]

Lozano has handled his disavowal of the impeachment more quietly.

To be sure, he was never entirely comfortable with the House impeachment process. After voting to impeach Paxton, he submitted a statement to the House journal that said the process should have gone slower and Paxton should have been able to testify at the House General Investigating Committee.

Then, in October, Lozano signed on to a resolution apologizing to Paxton that had been filed by one of the attorney general’s top allies in the House, Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington. To date, they are the only two names on the resolution.

Lozano did not publicly comment on his decision to sign the resolution when it happened, but he later opened up during a GOP club event in his district, according to the Port Lavaca Wave.

“I’ve had trouble sleeping, because my gut was telling me to vote no and I didn’t listen,” Lozano said at the early October event, calling the process “horrible” and “rushed.”

Lozano did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Lozano’s posture is especially noteworthy given that he is a Phelan-appointed committee chair, leading the Urban Affairs Committee.

It is unclear what kind of political pressure he may have been facing back home. But by the time candidate filing closed for the primary, Lozano did not draw any opponents.

As for Gates, he made his reversal clearer than ever when he released a statement on Jan. 12 saying he now “firmly believe[s] that both the House impeachment and the Senate trial were actions that should not have occurred.”

“This took a lot of courage to admit,” Paxton said in response. “I’m proud to support you in your re-election.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2024/01/24/paxton-impeachment-apology-house-republicans/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom informing and engaging Texans on state politics and policy. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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