Perry backs regent who's under fire
Governor’s support of Wallace L. Hall Jr. comes on same day House panel starts impeachment process.
Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday broke with one of his appointees to the University of Texas System’s governing board — who happens to be his hand-picked chairman — to back another of his appointees on that board, who happens to be the subject of an impeachment effort and a criminal investigation.
In the latest twist in a multi-act play involving the system’s Board of Regents, arguably the most prestigious board or commission in state government, Perry issued a strong statement of support for Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr., a busi- nessman from Dallas whom he appointed to a six-year term in February 2011.
The governor’s written statement came on the same day that a Texas House panel began drafting articles of impeachment against Hall and six days after the chairman of the UT board, Paul Foster, a major donor to Perry, called on Hall to resign. Travis County prosecutors are investigating Hall, who has been accused of abusing his power by demanding vast quantities of records from UT-Austin to cull for dirt on university President Bill Powers and his administration.
Perry has defended Hall be- fore, but never as forcefully.
“Wallace Hall should be commended for his persistence — in the face of overwhelming opposition from bureaucrats — in trying to ensure the institutions of higher education under his purview are operating effectively, efficiently and within the law,” Perry said.
“Hall is doing exactly what every regent and every ap-
pointee in the State of Texas should be doing: asking tough questions, gathering facts and searching for the truth. Even the chairman of the Board of Regents has said Hall did not commit an impeachable offense or a crime. Texans should be outraged by his treatment, and deeply concerned it will have a chilling effect on those who are tasked with the oversight of state agencies and institutions that they are responsible for.”
Meanwhile, the House panel settled in Wednesday for what could be a long slog to decide whether to recommend Hall’s impeachment by the full House.
The Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations met in public, mainly for a tutorial from House staff members on the impeachment process, before going behind closed doors to begin drafting articles of impeachment — essentially written arguments for his removal from office.
The committee canceled a meeting for Thursday and isn’t scheduled to meet again until July 7.
Once the articles are finished, the committee will vote publicly on them, said the panel’s cochair, Dan Flynn, R-Canton. If the members vote to refer the articles to the full House, that chamber would then conduct its own proceedings, possibly with witness testimony.
A report by the committee’s special counsel, Rusty Hardin, a prominent lawyer in Houston, found four grounds for impeach- ment: Hall’s requests for massive amounts of records from the Austin campus, his handling of confidential student information, his negative actions toward Powers and other university officials, and his advocacy before a national standards-setting group against the university’s position in a fundraising dispute.
The panel doesn’t have to follow Hardin’s lead. But it voted 7-1 onMay 12 to find that grounds for impeachment exist, suggesting that there likely are sufficient votes to refer one or more articles of impeachment to the full House.
If the House votes to impeach Hall, the case would go to the Senate for a trial to determine whether the regent should be ousted from his unpaid position. Whether such a trial actually takes place, and its outcome, could depend in part on the timing of proceedings and the election for lieutenant gover- nor, the Senate’s presiding officer.
State Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, in the runoff for the GOP nomination for lieutenant governor, told a forum Tuesday evening that Hall should be commended, not impeached. His rival, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, demurred on the grounds that he needed to maintain neutrality in the event of a trial. Last year, Dewhurst defended Powers against efforts by some regents to oust him.
Hall has rejected UT board chairman Foster’s suggestion that he step down, and Foster says he won’t press the point. Asked on Tuesday whether he consulted the governor on the matter, Foster said, “No comment.”
RegentWallace L. Hall Jr. was commended for his persistence in a written statement by the governor.
Gov. Rick Perry said in a written statement that Regent Wallace L. Hall Jr. was trying to ensure that the institutions of higher educationwere operating effectively, efficiently and within the law.