AG Paxton calls for Texas Speaker Dade Phelan to resign, accuses him of being drunk on House floor
AUSTIN, Texas - Attorney General Ken Paxton is calling on Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan to resign, saying the Republican from Beaumont was "in an obviously intoxicated state" while presiding over the House.
But Paxton's call for Phelan's resignation comes as a House committee revealed it's investigating Paxton and his office over a push to use taxpayer money to pay off his settlement with a group of whistleblowers.
So far, the attorney general is the highest state official calling for Phelan to resign.
Phelan's office fired back, saying a committee is investigating Paxton's office, and they said his comments were an attempt to "save face."
Video from the House floor at the end of a 14-hour session on Friday night showed Phelan appearing to slur his words on the House floor while debating an amendment to a Senate bill. The video quickly went viral online over the weekend.
Paxton, who is also a Republican, issued a statement on Tuesday about the incident:
"After much consideration, it is with profound disappointment that I call on Speaker Dade Phelan to resign at the end of this legislative session. Texans were dismayed to witness his performance presiding over the Texas House in a state of apparent debilitating intoxication. His conduct has negatively impacted the legislative process and constitutes a failure to live up to his duty to the public," the statement said in part.
"While I hope Speaker Phelan will get the help he needs, he has proven himself unworthy of Texans' trust and incapable of leading the Texas House," he continued.
FOX 4 obtained a letter from Paxton to the General Investigations Committee Chairman Andrew Murr calling for an investigation into Speaker Phelan for "violation of House rules, state law and for conduct unbecoming his position."
Paxton did not present any evidence to support his claims.
"The House should thoroughly investigate all appearances of impropriety and apply the rules fairly and evenly. We will withhold further comment until the factual record is more fully developed," said GOP chairman Matt Rinaldi in a statement to FOX 4.
SMU political scientist Matthew Wilson says it’s known that some lawmakers have a drink or two when they go off the floor during session. He says the video puts the speaker in a bad light.
"The issue is whether and official of the House shows up in an obviously intoxicated state to carry out state business. That is where the criticism will come," he said. "Not whether he was drinking. Lots of people do that. It’s was his ability to conduct state business seriously impaired, and that video makes it look as if he was well over that line."
FOX 4 showed the video to SMU political science professor Cal Jillson.
"I'd need to see a lot more about this before I drew the conclusion that Attorney General Paxton drew. I've watched a lot of videos of the Texas House. Very poor quality, oftentimes. It's very garbled. So that video made Phelan look bad, but I would need to know a lot more because he has been a steady guy in the last two sessions as Speaker and most of this session. So the idea that he showed up dead drunk and slurring his words simply is implausible to me," he said.
While there are valid concerns about whether Phelan was intoxicated, Wilson says there is a political angle to this.
Phelan is not popular with some conservative Republicans and has faced recent criticism from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick for opposing views in the House to Patrick's priority bills like property tax relief and school vouchers.
Phelan also opposed Paxton's request for the legislature to approve a $3.3 million payment to settle a lawsuit against Paxton.
"There’s also bad blood between Phelan and the attorney general because there was a very public incident a few months where Phelan made the statement the state government should not pay the settlement amount for the settlement the attorney general reached with disgruntled staffers who accused him of misconduct."
Hours after Paxton's statement, the House investigative committee revealed it has been investigating the attorney general's office since March.
The committee sent a preservation notice to the AG's office so that possible evidence would not be destroyed.
"The committee will hold a public hearing at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning to hear a presentation in ‘matter A,’" the notice said.
‘Matter A’ is in reference to the AG's office, specifically an investigation relating to the $3.3 million settlement.
The chair says this meeting was already scheduled before Paxton’s Tuesday statement.
In response to the resignation call from Paxton, Speaker Phelan's communication director never addressed whether the speaker was drunk.
"The motives for and timing behind Paxton’s statement today couldn’t be more evident," said Cait Wittman, Communications Director for Phelan in a statement. "Mr. Paxton’s statement today amounts to little more than a last ditch effort to save face."
Wilson does not think the speaker will resign because of the heat from the allegations.
Phelan is currently serving his fourth team as a State Representative for Texas's District 21.