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Attorney General Ken Paxton wasn't in the room, but still a presence at Collin County GOP debates

The audience pack in the hall to standing-room only the tax assessor / collector debate during the Republican Primary Debates at Collin College in McKinney.
Yfat Yossifor
Keresa Richardson, candidate for Texas House District 61, gives a closing statement during he Republican Primary Debates at Collin College in McKinney.

Attorney General Ken Paxton and state Representative Frederick Frazier weren’t at the Collin County Republican primary debates this week — but their presence was felt.

The lecture hall at Collin College’s McKinney campus where local Republican club Collin County Patriots held the debate on Tuesday was packed with supporters, with many people standing or leaning against the wall. Collin County is very Republican — Paxton has a lot of support there — so many people weren’t happy when all five of the Republican state representatives from the area voted to impeach Paxton. And the impeachment vote was definitely an issue on people’s minds during the debate.

Howard Powers said the party should support the challengers during the primary to hold the incumbents accountable for their votes. He’s one of the three candidates running for Collin County Republican party chair.

“The party has to do what it can to punish legislators who are unresponsive to the needs of the people who elected them,” Powers said.

Both Keresa Richardson and Chuck Branch said the impeachment pointed out issues that compelled them to run. They’re both challenging Representative Frederick Frazier in Texas House District 61.

“That’s what made me aware of the bigger challenges, and that's what got me in the race,” Branch said.

“I definitely believe the Paxton impeachment brought dysfunction and corruption to light,” Richardson said.

Paxton and his wife, State Sen. Angela Paxton, have endorsed both Richardson and Branch. The candidates said that’s not an issue because choosing the party’s nominee is up to the voters.

Absent Incumbent

Frazier didn’t attend the debate. The moderator, Stephen Kallas, a local activist and podcast host, said he had a family emergency.

But Frazier did come up indirectly.

Frazier recently pleaded no contest to two misdemeanor charges and guilty to a criminal mischief charge for allegedly impersonating a McKinney city code enforcement officer during the Republican primary runoff last election cycle. And Kallas asked an audience question that appeared to reference Frazier’s legal troubles.

“Do you believe somebody…who has been convicted of a crime, not a speeding ticket, should be eligible to run and hold office as a public servant?” Kallas said.

Audience members chuckled at the question.

“We know what this is about,” Kallas said.

Branch and Richardson both said no to the question.

Frazier technically wasn’t convicted of a crime — he accepted a deferred adjudication plea, of which means he will have no convictions if he successfully completes a probationary period. And he paid some fines. He was also dishonorably discharged from the Dallas Police force after he resigned while he was being investigated for the charges. But he is still eligible to run for and hold office.

Central Ideals

Core Republican values were the main focus of the debate night. Candidates talked about their support for limited government and state sovereignty, especially over the border.

Ellen Loveless is running for Collin County Republican party chair. She said sending a strong message about values is the party’s best recruitment tool.

“We will together stand firm, communicate our core values clearly, message who we are and not waver, and we will compel people to join us,” Loveless said.

Recruiting more people to the Republican party was a big topic. Collin County had some Republican precinct chair positions go vacant recently. Shelby Williams, another candidate for Collin County Republican Party Chair, said giving precinct chairs a more active role will also help with recruiting more members.

“They're going to talk to others,” Williams said. “They're going to encourage them to get involved as precinct chairs. That's how you grow a volunteer army.”

Williams also emphasized the importance of party unity, something that has been an issue since the impeachment vote.

Early voting starts Feb. 20 and goes until March 1. Election day is March 5. The last day to register to vote is Feb. 5, and the last day to apply for a mail-in ballot is Feb. 23.

Got a tip? Email Caroline Love at

Caroline Love is a Report For AmericaCorps member for KERA News.

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Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.