AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The impeachment trial for suspended Attorney General Ken Paxton starts in just over a week. Right now, at the Capitol, the Senate chamber is closed to the public as they transform the chamber to a courtroom.
The usual legislative layout is being reconfigured for trial including a witness stand and desks for the lawyers prosecuting and defending Paxton.
Proceedings are scheduled to begin on September 5. This week, The Dallas Morning News obtained confidential lists of witnesses expected to be called to testify. Topping the list, Paxton himself.
Paxton’s lawyers have previously said that he will not testify. But according to the leaked list, House managers plan to call him to testify, as well as the woman he allegedly had an affair with. Also on the list of witnesses, Nate Paul, the real estate investor at the center of many of the impeachment allegations.
Earlier this month, former GOP appellate judge Marc Brown declined a prestigious appointment by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick to assist in presiding over Paxton’s impeachment trial. He had a history of political donations that could harm the public’s trust, he said, after donating $250 to Eva Guzman — one of Paxton’s 2022 primary opponents who campaigned on assertions that the now-suspended Attorney General was unfit for office.
“The proceedings…are far too important to the State of Texas for there to be any distractions involving allegations of favoritism or personal bias on my part,” he said.
Patrick accepted his declination. Yet former campaign contributions have not impacted the ability of others to decide Paxton’s fate.
Some state senators have contributed money to political campaigns both for and against Paxton. They will now decide whether to permanently remove him from office.
Mayes Middleton (R-Galveston)
According to Texas Ethics Commission records, Galveston-area state senator Mayes Middleton donated $300,000 to Louie Gohmert, the East Texas Congressman who ran to unseat Paxton in 2022. The donation came on Nov. 26, 2021 — just four days after Gohmert announced his campaign. Gohmert based his campaign on Paxton’s “improprieties,” often citing the Attorney General’s fraud and bribery accusations.
Middleton was a state representative at the time of the donation. He won his senate seat in the 2022 election.
José Menéndez (D-San Antonio)
In September 2022, San Antonio state senator José Menéndez donated $1,000 to Rochelle Garza, the Democratic candidate for Attorney General in 2022. That donation was made just two weeks before the general election.
Kevin Sparks (R-Midland)
In June 2021, Midland state senator Kevin Sparks donated $2,500 to Ken Paxton. Sparks was not an elected official at the time of the donation. He won his senate seat in the 2022 election cycle.
The donations have some watchdog groups calling for stricter standards on the possible influence of money over these quasi-judicial proceedings.
“They shouldn’t participate in this process because, by virtue of having made that donation, they’re no longer impartial,” Public Citizen’s Texas Director Adrian Shelley said. “If money has changed hands between you and somebody who’s involved in the impeachment process, it would be a good idea to recuse yourself from the process if you really did want to remove even the appearance of any kind of bias.”
Public Citizen is advocating for new state laws that prohibit campaign donations to state senators during impeachment proceedings, similar to the existing ban during legislative sessions.
“Everything that’s happening right now, although it doesn’t look good, it’s legal. What we need long-term is a legislature that says, ‘enough is enough. We need to keep the money away from these important decisions,'” Shelley said. “We don’t have great ethics controls in Texas. This would be one thing that we could do to help remove that appearance of bias in the process.”
In June, Patrick accepted a $3 million donation from Defend Texas Liberty, a political action committee that has been campaigning against the impeachment of Ken Paxton.
The organization’s leaders have implied the donation was to curry favor from the trial’s presiding officer.
“This is just the beginning, wait till you see the next report,” Defending Texas Liberty founder Jonathan Stickland wrote on social media in July. “We will never stop. Ever. Grassroots conservatives will be heard.”
Patrick has maintained senators will weigh the evidence impartially.
“The citizens of Texas can count on the Senate of Texas to have a fair and just trial,” he said.
“Go do your job”: Roy calls for using ‘power of the purse’ to force border policy changes
The fight over border policy could lead to a budget battle. A group of Texas Republicans in Congress is pushing to block funding for the Department of Homeland Security unless the Biden Administration makes significant changes.
Texas Republican congressman Chip Roy outlined key demands earlier this month in a letter to House colleagues. The letter was signed by Roy and 14 Texas Republicans in Congress.
“The question is whether or not we’re going to fund a government that’s going to actually do its dang job,” said Roy during an interview with NewsNation.
Atop the list of demands, enacting H.R. 2 – Republican-led legislation dubbed the Secure Borders Act. It calls for resuming construction of the border wall and increasing the number of Border Patrol agents among other things.
Roy also called for providing more tools for law enforcement and the military to target cartels. Another demand is for the federal government to pay Texas $10 billion to reimburse border security costs.
The letter also called for the removal of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. Roy and other Republicans accuse Mayorkas of lying while testifying under oath about the administration’s efforts to address immigration and border security.
Mayorkas has called on members of both parties in Congress to work together with his department on long-term solutions to flaws in the immigration system. Roy believes part of the solution is new leadership and a new approach.
“If you want funding, do your damn job,” Roy said. “Our job is to use the power of the purse to force change.”
Battle over border buoys lands in a Texas courtroom
The State of Texas could be forced to remove its barrier of buoys along the Rio Grande River near Eagle Pass if a federal judge agrees with the U.S. Department of Justice that Texas overstepped its constitutional authority by installing the floating devices.
The Biden administration filed suit against Gov. Greg Abbott in late July over the state’s floatation barrier, arguing it violates international and federal law. In the lawsuit, the DOJ said Texas’ construction of buoys in the river violates the Rivers and Harbor Act, as it obstructs the “navigable capacity” of U.S. water. The filing also notes Texas did not obtain a prior permit from the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, as required by the act.
Federal attorneys are asking the courts to stop Texas from putting any more barriers in the water and to remove the current 1,000-foot stretch of buoys at its own expense. U.S. District Judge David Ezra heard arguments in the case Tuesday.
Regardless of his ruling, the case is almost certain to progress further in the judicial system with either side likely to appeal. Additionally, Abbott has vowed to take the lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
Abbott held a joint press conference in Eagle Pass on Monday with governors from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Oklahoma where the Republican leaders fired back against criticism about the buoys.
“If you look at the treaty between the United States and Mexico, that treaty specifically references buoys, as a device that can be allowed in these waters between the United States and Mexico,” Abbott said. “It’s highly recognized that buoys were acceptable and not a deterrent to navigable waters.”
Judge Ezra did not allow cameras in the courtroom for Tuesday’s hearing. But a coalition of activists and Eagle Pass residents against the buoys had plenty to say about the case during a news conference outside the federal courthouse in Austin before the hearing started.
“It made me sick to my stomach to learn that other governors are standing for this cruelty and support this violence against our communities,” Flores said. “Eagle Pass is a loving and peaceful community, Operation Lone Star has deeply harmed us and the cruelty has to stop.”
The judge asked for counsel to submit written closing arguments by 4 p.m. Friday, rather than give them at the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing. Ezra made a point to remind the courtroom that his decision will be based on the facts of the case and he does not intend to answer any political questions in his ruling.
Lawyers for the state brought up the importance of stopping people from crossing into Texas, but the judge made it clear that was not the issue in this case.
“The state wants to talk about the number of migrants come across the border, they want to talk about the cartels on the other side, and the judge was like, ‘No, that’s not what we’re talking about here.’ We’re talking about did you comply with the Rivers and Harbors Act,” said Jeremy Wallace, a Houston Chronicle politics reporter who was in the courtroom covering the hearing.
Abbott argues that the state is under an “invasion” from people crossing the border, and he believes that he has additional emergency powers to take action to protect the state. That argument could play a more prominent role as the case moves forward.
“You didn’t really hear that developed very well in the case you know, on Monday, but it’s one of those things that kind of simmering in the background that could be very important on the appeal you know, when this goes to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Wallace explained.
Pilot program focuses on treating opioid, other substance use in pregnancy
As Meagan Shealy settles in at home after an overnight shift, her baby can be heard cooing in the background.
“He’s going to be 10 months old,” said Shealy proudly during a Zoom interview.
She’s a mom to seven but explained this is the first time she’s been able to truly experience those early milestones.
“I’ve gotten to be a mother to my son for the first time,” she said. “I had a lot of pain and guilt and shame around losing my other kids to the system.”
Shealy has been in long-term recovery for substance use and opiates.
She recently shared her story with maternal health leaders in Houston at a summit focused on treating substance use during pregnancy. She recalled the moments leading up to her first child’s birth.
“My first experience was going into the hospital and having the doctors and nurses look at me like I was a monster — them calling CPS on me — me asking how can I get help and them telling me, ‘well, you got to figure it out on your own,'” Shealy said to the crowd.
Shealy eventually discovered Santa Maria Hostel and entered treatment.
Santa Maria is one of the largest substance use treatment centers in Houston for women, including those pregnant or parenting in the state.
“We’re one of the only places in the state where a mother may bring her children with her while she accesses substance use treatment,” explained Nadine Scamp, CEO of Santa Maria Hostel.
The non-profit is now expanding to Austin after seeing more women needing help. Scamp said she hopes to have a facility up and running by next year.
“We have always accepted referrals from across the state. But what we noticed during the pandemic was that we were seeing an increased number of referrals from the greater Austin area,” Scamp explained. “And what we found out is that the local provider of treatment services for women with children had shut down during the pandemic. And so currently there are no services in Austin — in the Travis County area — for women who want to bring their children with them while they access substance use treatment disorder services.”
Data from the Texas Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Review Committee released in December shows substance use is one of the leading factors in pregnancy-related deaths, contributing to 8% of deaths.
That’s why the Department of State Health Services is focusing on opioids and other substance use. Nine participating hospitals are working together with community organizations, including Santa Maria, which provide treatment and support for pregnant women affected by substance use.
“It may be policies that a hospital puts in place, it could be working with specific community organizations or state programs to really help support these women, both not only in the hospital, but within the community as well,” said Dr. Manda Hall, DSHS Associate Commissioner for Community Health Improvement. “It may be helping them if they have transportation issues, to get them to appointments, getting them into care, ensuring that if they have other children, do they have support for those other children — child care. So it’s all of those things that can kind of help them along in their journey and getting the care that they need.”
Hall explained another key component includes respectful care which ensures the voices of women are heard. The message is now part of DSHS’s Hear Her Texas campaign which encourages women to speak up when they have concerns and to recognize the signs of pregnancy complications. The campaign includes real stories from Texas mothers.
“We know that if we listen to women, and we act, we can prevent some of these outcomes from happening,” Hall said.
The Houston summit was part of TexasAIM, one of the DSHS’s key programs to reduce maternal mortality and morbidity in Texas by working with hospitals to implement specific improvements to care during and after pregnancy.
Shealy said with the state now working with organizations like Santa Maria to improve outcomes, it will save lives.
“I believe if this would have been there for me years ago, my story might have turned out different,” she said.
Shealy is now a recovery coach and mental health peer specialist at a treatment center. She said she shares her story in hopes of helping other moms.
“My life is great today because of the people who are putting in the effort to change the way things are and take the stigma out of you know, women with addiction who are pregnant, that they can be helped,” she said. “Every woman, no matter what her circumstance is, deserves a chance at recovery and to be a mother.”