Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is taking the first step toward memory-holing his ill-fated nomination of former Texas Secretary of State David Whitley. Abbott announced Monday that he's appointed the chairwoman of the Texas Workforce Commission to the post. Ruth Ruggero Hughs, also a former associate in the Texas Attorney General's Office, will oversee voting and elections in the state until at least 2021.
Hughs is getting the job because Whitley couldn't get confirmed by the Texas Senate during the 2019 legislative session. Whitley resigned on Memorial Day, finally falling on his sword after months of criticism from Texas Democrats over his push to remove from state voter rolls as many as 95,000 Texans identified as potential noncitizens by the Secretary of State's Office.
After Whitley sent an advisory to county voting officials throughout the state calling on them to investigate all of those flagged as potential noncitizens because of their Texas Department of Public Safety data, journalists and activists around the state began poking holes in the list, identifying numerous naturalized citizens who shouldn't have been included. Three separate groups of plaintiffs sued the state, winning an injunction that barred election officials from taking any action based on the list.
Eventually, every Democrat in the Texas Senate came out against Whitley.
"It was just an incompetent thing to do. You're secretary of state and you just arrived in office," Rice University professor Mark Jones told the Observer in May. "Only if you live in an unreal world where you believe that millions of undocumented immigrants are voting would those numbers not raise multiple red flags."
Jones suggested something prescient later in the same interview. Abbott, he said, might benefit from returning to his previous script for nominating secretaries of state.
"(Abbott's) previous strategy of appointing Latino Republicans was a smart one," Jones said. "Carlos Cascos and Rolando Pablos were seen as Republicans, but they weren't seen as over-the-top Republicans."
Abbott highlighted Hughs' business and legal backgrounds, rather than her political bona fides, in announcing her appointment.
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“Ruth is a proven leader who has done a tremendous job as both a commissioner and the Chair of the Texas Workforce Commission,” Abbott said. “She has built strong relationships with the business community throughout Texas and has helped lead the way in developing the best workforce in the nation. ... Under Ruth’s leadership, we will continue to build the Texas brand on the international stage and uphold the integrity of our elections.”
Hughs, a native of Argentina, can serve until 2021 without Texas Senate confirmation. Until then, Texas Democrats said, they will be watching her performance closely.
“Incoming Secretary of State Hughs would be wise to respect our democracy and avoid any requests by Republican Governor Greg Abbott to suppress the vote. While we remain hopeful Secretary of State Hughs will protect and expand the vote in Texas, we will be observing the Republican establishment’s actions very closely," Texas Democratic Party Executive Director Manny Garcia said.