The bitter joke at both the national level and here in Texas is the way our so-called populist, Tea Party-era politicians behave when their own oxen are in danger of taking a scratch. Then, watch out! Forget tea. The people be damned.
Immediate case in point: feverish last-minute maneuvering in Austin this week to protect the University of Texas from a state Supreme Court ruling that might bring much needed daylight to an admissions scandal the UT system has spent the last several years trying to bury.
The daylight here is needed to expose a system of under-the-table special privilege for members of a powerful elite, but the people fighting to keep a lid on it and shut out the daylight are the so-called populists.
Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Senate nominations committee are hustling to replace UT System Regent Wallace Hall of Dallas before the Supreme Court can answer Hall’s request for information on UT admissions. During his tenure as a regent, Hall uncovered a sleazy side-deal system of privileged admissions to UT, many of which were awarded to demonstrably unqualified candidates.
For the first time in anyone’s memory, for example, the prestigious UT Law School started cranking out graduates who couldn’t pass the bar exam in multiple tries. Most of those scholars had squeaked in the backdoor with recommendations from powerful state legislators and private sector power wielders.
This week Abbott is in a twist, a sweat, an absolute swivet to get Hall replaced on the board of regents before the Texas Supreme Court has time to give Hall an answer to his request. And here’s the trick: Hall is demanding information that was suppressed when UT published its own skeevy version of an investigation into the admissions scandal. Hall is making his demand in his official capacity as a UT regent.
If Abbott and his Austin cronies can get Hall off the board before the Supreme Court responds to Hall’s demand, then Hall will no longer be an official, and his demand as an official will become officially and instantly dead.
All of this is now down to a matter of weeks or days. Hall’s term is up with this session of the Legislature. The Supreme Court’s answer is expected any day. If Abbott can wrench Hall off the board fast enough, he can trump the Supreme Court.
Hall has said investigators with the private detective agency that carried out the official UT admissions probe have informed him they were waved off from certain areas of inquiry — told by UT not to look too deeply. He wants to see the full work product for the investigation so he can see which files the investigators were told to keep their noses out of.
Since most of the people embarrassed by Hall’s original findings were legislators, it comes as no surprise that a lot of influential legislators want Hall’s inquiries doused before he can get to the bottom of them. Abbott has been an ally of the dousers from the beginning. Together, the lot of them are working overtime this week to get Hall officially replaced (his term ends when his replacement is seated) before the court can weigh in.
And who gets shut out if that happens? You and me. Us peoples. We’re still stuck with the story that UT admissions are on the up and up and only the most qualified candidates can get in. Even though Hall’s initial investigations suggested that was far from the case and even though Hall says the UT probe was phony, you and I may never know the truth if Abbott gets away with his hurry-up reappointment.
And here’s an even more bitter joke within the joke, an irony within the irony: Guess who Abbott wants to appoint to replace Hall on the UT System Board of Regents? None other than former state Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Tyler Republican, whose name popped up in even the cursory shallow-grave excavation the university did in its own investigation. Below please find a copy of a letter that Eltife wrote to disgraced former UT President Bill Powers, who was forced from office by the Hall investigation, asking Powers to make sure a certain kid got admitted to UT.
Lest you think that was just a nice way for a powerful man to help a kid go to college, reflect on the fact that, among other prestigious posts within the Legislature, Eltife served on the ironically named Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Ed Governance, Excellence & Transparency.
Former President Powers was the boy who couldn’t say no to powerful legislators, and they knew it. In remarks to The Dallas Morning News at the time, Eltife justified the letter below, which was turned up by the private eyes, by saying it was only one of hundreds he had written. Multiply that by 150 members of the House of Representatives and 31 State senators, and you’ve got the potential for at least 18,000 numbskulls getting into UT per year.
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Sounds like something the public might have an interest in, would you not agree? Oh, but Abbott and his patriotic populist friends in the legislature are bound and determined to see that the information Hall is seeking never finds the public eye. The Senate nominations committee is due to interview Eltife at 8 a.m. Thursday. He would still have to be confirmed by the full Senate before he can replace Hall, but that sounds like something they can and will get done.
I asked Abbott’s office for comment but had not heard back by the end of the day Tuesday. I asked Hall what he will do if the court gives him what he wants before he is replaced. He said he will go straight to Austin and review the information he has asked for.
I happen to know Hall owns a big motorcycle. If it were me, that’s how I would make my entrance. Loud pipes save lives!