The ramifications surrounding the failed impeachment attempt against Attorney General Ken Paxton continue to appear, as another member of the Texas Freedom Caucus has announced he will be leaving the group, citing the incident.
The Texas Freedom Caucus was founded in 2017 with the stated mission of “amplifying the grassroots.” During its inaugural session it served as a means for the chamber’s more conservative members to organize against then-Speaker Joe Straus.
Following Straus’ departure, however, the group’s mission has become murkier as members have generally sided with House leadership. This dynamic has led to some notable defections.
In 2019, when the caucus aligned itself with the now disgraced former Speaker Dennis Bonnen, former State Rep. Jonathan Stickland left the caucus, saying he needed to focus on the conservative agenda.
Bonnen was later forced to leave the legislature following a quid-pro-quo scandal and was replaced by Speaker Dade Phelan. But although the gavel had changed hands, the caucus’ allegiance to leadership had not. Following his predecessor’s precedent, Phelan appointed Democrats to leadership positions with the support of many of the caucus’ own members (State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R–Deer Park), now the vice-chair of the caucus, even gave a prepared speech in support of giving Democrats chairmanships.)
That led to the departure of State Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R–Arlington) and former State Rep. Kyle Biedermann from the caucus in February of 2021.
The failed impeachment attempt against Attorney General Ken Paxton has served as the latest catalyst for another wave of departures. Half of the caucus’ members voted in favor of impeachment, and two of their members—State Rep. Cody Vasut (R–Angleton) and Cain—served on the House Board of Impeachment Managers.
After the Senate acquitted Attorney General Ken Paxton on all impeachment charges last month, State Rep. Steve Toth (R–The Woodlands) announced he was leaving the caucus, citing the impeachment as his reason.
State Rep. Nate Schatzline (R–Fort Worth) has now followed suit, saying, “I’m very excited to see the grassroots uniting like never before following the acquittal of Ken Paxton. One thing is clear, we have to fight to reform the Texas House. The status quo is leading us down a path of division and obstruction.”
The dwindling membership leaves questions about the caucus’ future and purpose. With the caucus’ chairman State Rep. Matt Schaefer (R–Tyler) announcing earlier this year he will not be seeking re-election, the number of members that are set to return next session is currently at nine.
Notably, the caucus is not part of the Freedom Caucus national network, which is affiliated with the conservative caucus in Washington D.C.
Schaefer and the Texas Freedom Caucus did not respond to requests for comment following Toth and Schatzline’s departure.