Committee Finds Grounds For Hall Impeachment
Regent accused of Bill Powers witch hunt
The civil war involving the University of Texas' leadership took a turn on May 12 as the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted that there were grounds to impeach controversial UT System Regent Wallace Hall.
Hall, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011, is accused of orchestrating a witch hunt to remove UT President Bill Powers, and of abusing his office (most particularly through open records requests) to achieve that goal. The committee agreed 7-1 (Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, was the sole nay in the Republican-dominated committee) that there were grounds for impeachment, and will meet again May 21 to draft articles, which will then go the Legislature. If the articles are approved by the full House, Hall will face a trial by the Senate, which may then remove him from office.
While impeachments of any kind are a rarity, this has been a particularly long, ugly, and almost unprecedented process. Hall has slung mud constantly at lawmakers, accusing them of abusing the impeachment process to cover for other legislators who used their office to get relatives into UT. However, if Hall intended to force Powers out, he seems instead to have reinforced the president's position and increased his popularity among the Longhorn community, while in February, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa quit to become head of pediatric transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio (he has said repeatedly it has nothing to do with Powers or Hall).
The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education described the House committee vote as sad, but necessary. In a statement, the group said, "The distraction and dysfunction caused by Regent Hall's actions have caused substantial damage to UT Austin and the UT System, and the people of Texas deserve better from those given responsibility to govern."
Cue the predictable shoot-the-messenger posturing from Koch Bros. front operation Americans for Prosperity-Texas, whose state director Mike Hasson and policy director Peggy Venable complained in an open letter that "the Committee's vote today sets a dangerous precedent that threatens both the credibility and authority of the Legislature." Another arm of the Koch-related spin machine, Watchdog.org, immediately sent out a "months-long" analysis, regurgitating Hall's claims of legislative nepotism in the law school.
In contrast, House Speaker Joe Straus thanked the committee, and delicately (if pointedly) suggested that the UT System leadership put its own house in order and take steps to redress "the harm that some regents have inflicted."