AUSTIN – As one of only two Republican state senators who voted to support the unsuccessful impeachment effort to oust Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Tarrant County’s Kelly Hancock is under attack by those seeking retaliation for the historic weeks-long political drama that rocked the state capitol.
“I received no less than 36 text messages asking me how to get Kelly out of office — and who we could run against him,” said Tarrant County activist Julie McCarty of Grapevine, CEO of True Texas Project, which was spawned by the tea party and claims legions of followers across North Texas.
Paxton is returning to his position as a firebrand state attorney general who is often at war with the Biden Administration after the Texas Senate voted to acquit him of 16 articles of impeachment alleging corruption and abuse of office. It ended the state’s third impeachment in more than a century and the only one in which the targeted official wasn’t convicted.
“It was my constitutional obligation to seek the truth based on the facts made available through witness testimony and documents admitted into evidence, then vote accordingly,” Sen. Hancock said in a statement issued after his vote. “My vote on each article reflects that responsibility, and none was taken lightly.”
Hancock was unavailable for comment on Monday.
Hancock, of North Richland Hills, and Robert Nichols, of Jacksonville, broke with the rest of their party in the Senate as each voted for a total of 13 House-passed impeachment articles aimed at permanently removing the suspended attorney general, including dereliction of duty, abuse of public trust and unfitness for office, according to the Texas Tribune.
They joined with most of the other senators to dismiss four other articles facing Paxton that largely dealt with his eight-year-old criminal securities fraud case that he is still facing under a 2015 indictment.
The three other Republicans in the Tarrant County delegation – Sens. Phil King of Weatherford, Brian Birdwell of Granbury and Tan Parker of Flower Mound – voted with the Republican-led majority in refusing to convict Paxton on any of the 16 impeachment articles. The fifth Tarrant County member, Democrat Sen. Royce West of Dallas, voted in favor of conviction and removal.
King, in a cell-phone interview Monday, said he effectively tuned out thousands of calls pouring into his office before Saturday’s final day of the Senate trial and relied on the evidence and testimony to make up his mind.
“I made my decision based purely on the oath I took, which was the evidence that was provided during the trial,” he said. “Nothing else.”
Ultimately, he said, the prosecution charged with presenting the impeachment articles passed by the House of Representatives in May failed to make the case.
“I acquitted him because they did not meet their burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt on any article,” said King, who, like the rest of the Senate, was free to talk openly for the first time in weeks after the removal of a gag order when the trial ended on Saturday. “There were some things that they proved up in part, but those things didn’t rise to the level of forcibly removing somebody from office.”
King didn’t fault Hancock and Nichols for voting in a different direction.
“They’re both very good men and good senators,” he said. “And I guess they just came to a different conclusion.”
Sen. West, interviewed in his Senate office on Saturday just after the vote, said he was convinced that “there was more than enough” evidence to prove the body of charges largely stemming from Paxton’s relationship with Austin real estate investor Nate Paul, including allegations that Paul financed repairs for Paxton’s home and provided a job for a woman with whom Paxton was allegedly involved in an extramarital relationship.
“I’m disappointed,” said West, a Senate Democratic leader who represents part of eastern Tarrant County. “I think what’s going to happen is that it’s going to lower the bar as it relates to the expectation for fitness for office.”
The political impact from the impeachment votes by Hancock and Nichols is hard to forecast since both senators aren’t up for re-election until 2026 and two to three years can be a lifetime in politics.
But Paxton supporters vowed future repercussions against those who tried to bring him down and the two senators were facing threatening criticism across the social media landscape in the aftermath of Saturday’s vote. House Republicans who voted overwhelmingly to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate are also on the political hit list.
The head of one of the state’s leading fundraising organizations aligned with Paxton forces told the Fort Worth Report that Hancock and Nichols were “voting against the will of their Republican voters” in casting their votes on Saturday.
“Voters in their districts will be very disappointed and frustrated,” Luke Macias, director of the Defend Texas Liberty PAC, said in a telephone interview on Monday. “Sen. Hancock made his decision and aligned himself with the Democrat Party and their agenda and the liberals in the Texas House. And I think that he lost a lot of support from people who have supported him for a long time.”