AUSTIN, Texas — Lieutenant Governor-elect Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxton spoke out about the ongoing admissions scandal at the University of Texas at Austin Thursday evening, voicing their support for Wallace J. Hall, Jr., the embattled Board of Regents member. Patrick went one step further, specifically criticizing legislators who had sought an unfair advantage for their children in getting admitted to UT.
Patrick and Paxton were speaking on a panel called “The Future of Texas” on the second day of the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s (TPPF) annual Policy Orientation for the Texas Legislature conference in Austin, where they were joined on stage by Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, Comptroller Glenn Hegar, and Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist, who moderated the discussion.
As Breitbart Texas reported, Hall has been under attack for his efforts to investigate allegations of financial improprieties and favoritism in admissions at UT, facing public condemnation from UT officials and the media, ongoing investigations, a “motion of admonishment and censure” from the Legislature, and threats of criminal investigations and lawsuits. Last month, Hall revealed that Texas House Speaker Joe Straus had sought to pressure Governor Rick Perry to ask for his resignation. In an interview with Breitbart Texas, Perry’s chief of staff confirmed that Hall’s story was true, and Perry himself confirmed it as well. Throughout it all, Hall has remained steadfast that his suspicions had merit, and investigations by Watchdog Texas and other groups have repeatedly proven him to be correct.
Patrick had previously called for an investigation into the alleged favoritism in the admissions at the UT School of Law during a debate last May, and his election has generally been viewed as a favorable development by Hall’s supporters. Hall himself must have agreed, donating $10,000 to Patrick near the end of his primary campaign.
When Norquist asked his opinion about the scandal on Thursday, Patrick was adamant in his belief that the way Hall had been targeted and persecuted was wrong. “It’s going to be really difficult to get private citizens to volunteer” to serve in positions like university boards of regents, said Patrick, if they fear that they will be threatened with investigations, indictments, and impeachments just for doing their job.
Patrick acknowledged that he did not know all of the facts, and that the investigation at UT was still ongoing, but said that it was “critical” to get to the bottom of what really happened, because UT’s reputation is so closely tied to the reputation of the State of Texas, and is vitally important to the state’s future.
While he did not mention Hall by name, Patrick expressly voiced his support for regents to have the freedom to do their job without fear of retaliation. The Board of Regents is “not supposed to be a rubber stamp,” he said. “I believe a regent’s responsibility isn’t to go along, or get along…it’s to protect taxpayers.”
Patrick also had strong words of criticism for his fellow legislators who have been implicated in seeking unfair advantages in the admissions process for their children or the children of their campaign donors, saying that it was wrong for them to have taken spots that would have gone to more qualified students, and questioning the motivations of the legislators who had so aggressively criticized Hall.
Paxton agreed with Patrick, adding that members of the Board of Regents have a “fiduciary duty” to investigate suspected wrongdoing. “Something is wrong with the system,” said Paxton, if a regent is facing threats of indictment for merely doing his job. Paxton expressed confidence that the truth would be found soon.
[Disclosure: Sarah Rumpf was previously employed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation.]
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter @rumpfshaker.