Captivated by the historic trial, Texans respond to Paxton acquittal with delight, disappointment

Members of the public exit the gallery on the tenth day of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial at the Texas Capitol in Austin on Sept. 16, 2023.
Members of the public exit the gallery on the tenth day of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial at the Texas Capitol in Austin on Sept. 16, 2023. Credit: Julius Shieh/The Texas Tribune

A road trip to Austin to attend an Arctic Monkeys concert became a rare chance for Texas A&M political science majors Sophia Lopez and Allison Dominguez to watch a live historic moment on Saturday: the impeachment vote of suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton at the Texas Capitol.

[Ken Paxton was acquitted. See how each Senator voted.]

By the time they reached the Capitol, the senators in attendance had already voted to acquit Paxton on 16 articles of impeachment, clearing Paxton of accusations that he had engaged in official misconduct including taking bribes from real estate developer and campaign donor, Nate Paul.

Paxton’s wife, state Sen. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, attended the trial but did not cast a vote.

But the two Aggies made it in time to watch lawmakers hold press conferences and discuss the two week trial proceedings and the resulting verdict to acquit, which now allows Paxton to return to work.

Lopez, 18, and Dominguez, 19, thought the decision to acquit Paxton could hurt the Texas government’s reputation across the country.

“He obviously did something wrong. The evidence was there,” Lopez said. Dominguez agreed.

“The fact that they just decided to let it go is really sad,” she said.

Capitol visitor Marshal Atwater, 35, had come Saturday to hear a concert outside the Texas Senate chamber in the rotunda. He said the acquittal was not surprising to him because he thinks the members in the Republican-majority Senate are “dug into ideological positions,” and “it speaks to the polarized world that we’ve been living in.”

Louis DeAngelis, 29, was visiting the Texas Capitol with a friend from Massachusetts when the Paxton verdict came down. DeAngelis, who works in video production in Austin, said the verdict showed that “people in power are not generally held to the same standard as everyone else.”

Matthew McCoy, a 22-year-old University of Texas government major watched the vote in the gallery above the Texas Senate floor. McCoy, who is also the communications director of the University of Texas Democrats, said he was “disappointed but not surprised” as he watched the vote on Paxton’s fate.

Miles away from Austin, Texans across the state reacted with either disappointment or relief that the trial was over and Paxton would be returning as attorney general, a post he has held since 2015.

In Houston, 59-year-old Tracy Chargois said she had been following the trial closely after getting more involved in politics after the 2016 election. The acquittal was not surprising to her. “This is about politics, not the truth,” she said. “It’s all about party affiliation and power. [The Senate] didn’t do what they needed to do. They aren’t doing their job.”

Sheryl Johnson, also in Houston said she had been watching the trial closely with her family. The 59-year-old was frustrated with the result and described Texas politics as “garbage” because it's “the good old buddy system. And they don’t want change.”

In West Texas, 57-year-old Maurice Torano of Odessa was “ecstatic” to hear that Paxton was cleared of the charges. Torano said the prosecution team had no real evidence and considered them an embarrassment to the Legislature. “It's a sham,” Torano said.

Another Odessa resident, who would only identify herself as “Traci S.” said she was glad Paxton had been cleared and would be able to return to his job. The 61-year old woman compared the trial against Paxton to the various criminal charges brought against former President Donald Trump: “They’re doing what they’re doing to Trump — and by they, I mean Democrats. [Ken Paxton] was doing a fine job.”

Rico Chávez, 43, of Odessa, disagreed. He thought Paxton was guilty and was disappointed by the verdict. “These people in high places get privileges that we don’t. It seems like the government overlooks criminal activity. That’s why it is so corrupt.”

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