Mark Davis: Will Paxton vote cost GOP House members? Here’s the deciding factor | Opinion

The chief engineer of Attorney General Ken Paxton’s impeachment, state Rep. Andrew Murr, announced recently that he was not seeking re-election. The Junction Republican made clear that he was eminently proud of the failed impeachment and took no stock in the prospect of a political consequence for a crusade that proved universally unpopular among Texas Republicans, including many of his own voters.

“I have every confidence that I could continue to represent our district,” he claimed in a lengthy official statement that dripped with self-congratulation and the eager anticipation of more family time.

Paxton was more succinct on the X platform: “One down, many more to go.”

So, how likely is that? How many of the vindicated attorney general’s House tormentors will pay with their seats in the Legislature? He has taken aim at a number of key Republicans who voted for impeachment, endorsing their primary opponents and probably soon to offer them financial support and campaign appearances.

The answer is, it depends.

It depends on the memory span of voters, who will be asked to keep their indignation stoked until an election on March 5 — or at least until early voting starts Feb. 20.

It depends on the incumbents’ ability to remind aggrieved Paxton fans of conservative accomplishments from recent sessions that might soothe their angst over errant impeachment votes.

And ultimately, it depends, district by district, on whether there is a broad desire to fire the incumbent.

House impeachment manager Rep. Andrew Murr, R - Junction, in September during closing arguments in the trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton.
House impeachment manager Rep. Andrew Murr, R - Junction, in September during closing arguments in the trial of Attorney General Ken Paxton.

Without that, no primary challenge ever succeeds, no matter the attributes of the candidate. Ask Kay Bailey Hutchison, the most popular politician in Texas history in 2010 if measured by total number of votes received during a career. She was positively smoked by Rick Perry in the Republican primary for governor — not because Texans turned on her but because they were sufficiently pleased with his work in Austin that they chose not to expel him.

This is why the Republicans who voted to impeach Paxton will spend the next few months touting achievements conservatives should embrace — constitutional carry, the abortion ban and property tax relief that even Democrats are enjoying.

If the primaries were held today, some members of the GOP impeachment brigade might be packing up their Capitol offices. But let the calendar roll through the holidays and into 2024, with its thick news cycles filled with the presidential race and other events, and the prospects grow more daunting for candidates looking to exact a penalty for seeking Paxton’s political hide.

Even on Paxton’s home turf of Collin County, it is hard to imagine entrenched GOP stalwarts such as Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen getting the boot purely for the sin of crossing the AG. But many in the Paxton-aligned slate of candidates will paint a broader picture, claiming that bolder warriors are needed to break the thrall of House Speaker Dade Phelan. They’ll note that Phelan, a Beaumont Republican, not only sought Paxton’s hide but also denied leadership oxygen to school choice and other items on the grassroots conservative wish list.

When I spoke to Mitch Little, who pivoted from representing Paxton in the impeachment trial to launching his own House candidacy, he dissuaded characterizations of Paxton’s deep involvement in the primaries as a “revenge tour.”

“It’s a reform tour,” he told me, that will seek to appeal to Republican voters weary of a Texas House that seems too often shackled to the Democratic concerns that Phelan needs to coddle to keep the speaker’s gavel.

That number of voters may be at least as large as the number still grousing about impeachment three months from now. Little is challenging Rep. Kronda Thimesch in Denton County, where she cruised to success in her first term with lopsided wins in the primary and general elections. As a freshman, is she more vulnerable than some of the more entrenched Republicans among the whopping 60 (out of 83 voting) who sought impeachment?

The answer is the same as in every district where Paxton’s influence will be tested. Impeachment-fueled passions will not be enough. Primary challengers will have to promise results that differ notably with the incumbents and make voters feel those changes are so necessary that the incumbents deserve to be fired.

At the very least, anti-Paxton Republicans will face voter pushback they would not otherwise taste. But challengers will have to quickly stage a referendum based on a broad range of issues, making the case that previously popular public servants are no longer worthy.

That’s a steep hill.

Mark Davis hosts a morning radio show in Dallas-Fort Worth on 660-AM and at Follow him on Twitter: @markdavis.

Mark Davis hosts a morning radio show on 660-AM and at Follow him on Twitter: @markdavis.
Mark Davis hosts a morning radio show on 660-AM and at Follow him on Twitter: @markdavis.

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