AUSTIN — As they both prepare for a dramatic impeachment trial that will put their marriage under a spotlight, Sen. Angela Paxton on Saturday announced she’s running for re-election and then seemed to choke up as she introduced her husband to a GOP crowd in Plano.
Attorney General Ken Paxton never hesitates to “fight for us as a couple and you can be very sure that he’s going to fight for you,” the senator said.
Ken Paxton’s impeachment trial on accusations of bribery, corruption and other wrongdoings may gravely threaten both of their political futures. But it’s not their first political ordeal, Angela Paxton said. No one, she noted, has more “experience in successfully overcoming having a target on their back” than the suspended attorney general.
The McKinney legislator then beckoned to the stage “the love of my life, my best friend, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.” They kissed and held hands, in a display of unity just days before a historic drama unfolds at the Capitol, starting Tuesday.
While some may be surprised by the senator’s dedication to her husband, she detailed in 2019 that it was by the grace of God that they’ve made it through more than three decades together.
“The secret to a successful marriage is two sinners who are good at forgiving,” Angela Paxton told a political show host.
Paxton did not respond to multiple requests to be interviewed. More than a dozen Collin County Republican activists were asked to speak about her but declined or did not respond.
Once an educator and later a stay-at-home mom, Angela Paxton has been a state senator for five years with a reputation of having a “broader perspective” of how legislation affects people.
She represents nearly 1 million North Texas residents and heads the Senate Republican Caucus. She’s on the chamber’s budget-writing committee. A former Christian school counselor, she’s helped write education policy for three sessions. In July, the child advocate group Children at Risk praised her legislation that gives parenting students registration priority at state universities.
As her husband faces the threat of being barred from state office forever and she prepares for a grueling Senate trial, sympathizers say she is a trouper. And battle-tested.
“She’s prepared to endure whatever comes up and has made her peace with it,” said Austin superlobbyist Bill Miller.
“Anyone who thinks that this trial will shake her or otherwise bring her to tears or make her emotional doesn’t really understand her,” he said. “She’s going to sit through that, she’s going to soldier through it.”
Under the Texas Constitution, all senators must attend the trial. However, under rules her colleagues adopted in June – and which she voted against saying they disenfranchised her constituents – Angela Paxton can’t cast votes during the proceedings.
Nor will she be able to participate in deliberations behind closed doors as the chamber decides her husband’s fate.
Her predicament may seem agonizing, even cruel. By her own telling, though, the senator has survived in her marriage both good times and “devastatingly difficult times.”
When she said that in a 2019 interview with Republican lobbyist Trey Blocker, it was more than a year before the political earthquake that threatens to bring down her husband first rocked Austin.
In 2020, whistleblowers at the attorney general’s office went to the FBI alleging, among other things, that Ken Paxton had a secret affair with a woman. That woman allegedly was given a job and other perks by Nate Paul, an Austin developer who was Ken Paxton’s campaign donor, they said.
Adopted – by divine placement?
Growing up in Fort Worth, Angela Suzanne Allen’s adoptive parents told her that all the stores that were decorated for Valentine’s Day actually were celebrating her birthday.
She was born on Valentine’s in 1963, to an unwed co-ed at Texas Christian University.
“My life began as an unexpected pregnancy,” she told McKinney-based conservative Christian commentator Angela Lusk recently.
The senator, a staunch opponent of abortion rights, frequently tells political audiences her origin story. It’s the tale of a student who, along with her parents, decided to carry an unintended pregnancy to term and give the baby up for adoption.
Her parents not only adopted her and a younger brother but also became foster parents for about 20 infants, “in succession,” Paxton recalled to Lusk.
Just when each had begun sleeping through the night, not disrupting the household, her adoptive mother had to give them up. It was “brutal” to have to let go after becoming attached to a child, Paxton’s mother admitted to her.
“But it was worth it, Angela,” she recounted her mother’s saying. “Because I know what it’s like to get a baby.”
“I knew God had manually placed me with this wonderful couple,” Angela Paxton said.
A political helpmate
Growing up, Paxton loved to sing in church and considered being a music minister. But at Baylor University, she majored in math and was president of Delta Gamma sorority. There she met student politician Ken Paxton.
The two married in November 1986 and moved to Houston, where he used his Baylor M.B.A. to get a job with Arthur Anderson. She earned a master’s degree in education from the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
They then bounced from Houston to Virginia, where Ken went to law school, to the Dallas area, where he practiced business law and she taught school.
Tucker Paxton, the first of their four children, was born in 1993. Angela Paxton didn’t resume teaching until the youngest, Katie, was in second grade, she told Lusk.
The couple now has three grandchildren under three years of age.
Through her husband’s 10 years in the Texas House and his two years after that in the state Senate, “people always assumed I must be a real political person,” Angela Paxton said to Lusk.
Some Collin County activists recalled that Angela Paxton, though supportive, was not immersed in the day-to-day management of her husband’s political career.
For example, in late 2010, when Ken Paxton was trying to line up the votes to topple then-Republican Speaker Joe Straus, she was not a participant in the secretive conference calls and meetings, one said. (Paxton withdrew, and Straus easily won the speaker’s gavel for a second session.)
Keeping the Senate seat in Collin County
The big political plunge for Angela Paxton came in 2017, almost three years into her husband’s first term as attorney general.
That summer, state Sen. Van Taylor of Plano, who’d succeeded Ken Paxton in the Senate, announced his candidacy for Congress.
Multimillionaire Phillip Huffines, who lived in the Park Cities and was chairman of the Dallas County Republican Party, moved to Richardson and announced for the soon-to-be open state Senate seat. Phillip Huffines’ twin brother, Donald, R-Dallas, already was in the state Senate.
State Reps. Jeff Leach and Matt Shaheen, both Plano Republicans, sought to build support to be the Collin County resident who’d fend off the well-funded Huffines. However, Leach bowed out. Then Shaheen did, too.
Grass roots activists complained the district, which at the time included only two small chunks of Dallas County, should remain under Collin County’s control.
Into the void jumped Angela Paxton, with her husband’s encouragement. Only a few years earlier, she had begun to make a name for herself at GOP events in North Texas and around the state.
“I’m a pistol-packin’ mama, and my husband sues Obama,” she was known to sing at her husband’s events, as she strummed a guitar.
Her decision to run for office surprised many.
Before 2017, former McKinney GOP Rep. Scott Sanford doesn’t remember any signs that Angela Paxton had political aspirations.
“I’ve never noticed anything but pure motives and a heart of service,” said Sanford, pastor for stewardship and operations at Cottonwood Creek Church in Allen.
Former Irving GOP Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, who entered the House with Ken Paxton in 2002, also said Angela’s decision to run for office surprised her.
Angela Paxton is a “real person” who enjoys a “broader perspective” of how legislation might affect people, Harper-Brown said.
“She’s not so tunnel visioned,” Harper-Brown said. “She really does think about all aspects of her district.”
The Paxton with ‘a sharper edge’
Paxton’s battle with Phillip Huffines was an ugly, high-dollar affair.
It remains notable, not just because she survived a Huffines ad blitz that accused her of being “a political insider profiting off ‘public service,’” nor because she held the seat for Collin County.
Two and a half weeks before the Senate District 8 GOP primary, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick endorsed her in a video and gave her $50,000 cash, according to finance reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
“When I saw the personal attacks launched against Angela Paxton, I couldn’t remain on the sidelines any longer,” explained Patrick, who also made in-kind contributions to her of $38,750 worth of polling, ads, a get-out-the-vote venue rental and catering fees.
As the Senate’s leader, Patrick will preside over the impeachment trial.
The depth of the Paxtons’ bond with the lieutenant governor remains a mystery, however.
Though all three enjoy strong backing from diehard conservative activists in Texas, Patrick never has made Angela the chair of a standing committee. As last year’s primary battles began, political websites reported that tensions existed between Patrick and Ken Paxton, though the lieutenant governor denied it.
Political pros give Angela Paxton high marks for affability and civility, though some disagree about her savvy.
Plano lawyer and Democrat Mark Phariss, who came within 2.4 percentage points of beating her for the seat in 2018, said he saw Angela Paxton at a recent Plano Chamber of Commerce event.
“She walked over, and I stood up and we hugged,” he recalled. “She said she missed me. She’s a very likable person. I get along with her … but I was unimpressed with her knowledge of issues.”
Miller, the Austin lobbyist, said both Paxtons know how to win people over. Angela, though, “has got a sharper edge than Ken does,” he said.
Asked to elaborate, he continued, “I don’t want to call it temperament. But you can feel it. He’s a good guy all day long, and she’s a good person – but not quite as long-lasting.”
A secure seat, but for how long?
In a fall 2021 special legislative session, GOP map drawers in the Legislature made Senate districts safer for at least three suburban Republican incumbents, including Angela Paxton.
Now, her district is redder as it includes Hunt and Rains counties but not the small pieces of Dallas County it once claimed.
Though seemingly secure, she now faces delicacies of timing and uncertainties about how Ken Paxton’s various difficulties will affect her.
Earlier this year, in a once-a-decade drawing after redistricting, she was among 15 of the 31 senators who drew a two-year term. Sixteen others are in for four years.
Some traditional, business-oriented Republicans worry that if Ken Paxton is convicted at his impeachment trial and removed from statewide office, the party might lose her Senate seat next year.
Shaheen, a five-term Republican House member who in May voted for the articles of impeachment against Ken Paxton, is said to be weighing a run against Angela Paxton if the attorney general is ousted.
“No comment,” Shaheen said, when asked to confirm he’s mulling such a run for Senate.
Charlie Kolean, a strategist for conservative GOP candidates in North Texas, though, said Angela Paxton’s reelection seems a safe bet.
“Realistically, I do not think there are any challengers to her,” Kolean said.
In recent weeks, the House impeachment managers began revealing evidence that they say confirms Paul assisted Paxton in his extramarital affair.
Paul hired the woman for a job at one of his companies in Austin, so Paxton would not have to drive to San Antonio, the managers allege. Paul also helped Paxton by creating a fake Uber account he could use to visit the woman at her Austin condo, House managers say.
It’s unclear when the alleged affair may have begun or if Angela Paxton caught wind of the reported concern of the attorney general’s aides.
In March 2019, just weeks into her first session as a freshman senator, Angela Paxton was asked by Blocker what the secret was to success in marriage.
“We’ve gone through really great times,” she said. “We’ve gone through devastatingly difficult times together that no one would really even know. When we said ‘I do,’ that was a forever commitment.”
Staff writer Michael Williams in Plano contributed to this report.