A feud between two of Texas’ top Republicans has broken down into sordid accusations of drunkenness and corruption.
The state party’s rift between its moderate and conservative wings fueled aspersions cast about two Republicans at the top of state politics. Attorney General Ken Paxton, an outspoken conservative, and House Speaker Dade Phelan, who is friendly with the legislature’s moderates and Democrats, launched into a public feud on Tuesday.
Paxton took aim at Phelan, calling on the speaker to resign after appearing to be “in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication” during a House session on May 19. A video clip of the session circulating online appeared to show Phelan slurring words as he oversaw proceedings.
Paxton also accused the speaker of failing “to pass critical conservative priorities including protecting the integrity of our elections and preventing Chinese spies from controlling Texas land.” Paxton said Phelan “has proven himself unworthy of Texans’ trust and incapable of leading the Texas House.”
Some lawmakers have come out to defend Phelan over the footage from the May 19 session. Democratic lawmaker Jarvis Johnson said he did not notice anything odd about Phelan’s behavior that day, according to The New York Times.
Paxton’s shot at Phelan came the same day that news broke that the House Committee on General Investigating was probing Paxton’s attempt to settle a 2020 lawsuit using an alleged $3.3 million in public money. As part of its investigation, the committee has subpoenaed Paxton’s office for records.
Four former employees of the attorney general’s office brought the suit in 2020, claiming they were retaliated against after accusing Paxton of corruption. The state legislature refused to fund the settlement, so the case continues to work its way through the courts.
Phelan responded to Paxton’s call to resign saying “The motives for and timing behind Paxton’s statement today couldn’t be more evident.”
“The committee is conducting a thorough examination of events tied to the firing of the whistleblowers in addition to Ken Paxton’s alleged illegal conduct,” Phelan said. “Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last-ditch effort to save face.”
Paxton hit Phelan again in a statement on Wednesday, attacking the House speaker’s record on policy while accusing him of attempting to “disenfranchise Texas voters and sabotage my work as Attorney General.”