Governor Abbott’s growing Lubbock Problem
It started as a big problem. Then it got bigger. And it’ll probably get even bigger.
George McMahan, a well-respected Lubbock builder, took to social media to publicly voice concerns he had about participating in an upcoming fundraiser for Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaign, an event in which he and his wife were $10,000 hosts.
McMahan’s concern, a concern as common as cornbread on the Caprock, was (and is) that five members of the Texas Tech Board of Regents mysteriously acted against Tech’s interest in ousting Chancellor Robert Duncan in what we’ve coined as #RegentGate.
Then McMahan took a follow-up television interview in which he said what most every Texan already believes: to be eligible for positions like regents, one must “make a large donation to the governor and, in turn, you are eligible for appointment.”
The implications were: (1) the name of the game is pay-to-play and (2) the governor might know something the public doesn’t know, and was, perhaps, involved in Duncan’s sudden closed-door forced retirement.
The result was Abbott’s campaign returning McMahan’s check and disinviting the McMahans from the event.
The governor’s office released this statement:
“What Mr. McMahan suggested is not only false, but also illegal. To insinuate that Gov. Abbott makes a appointments on the basis of campaign contributions is an offense to the hundreds of people the governor appoints to boards across the state. Because of his unfortunate comments, Mr. Mahan has been removed as a host from the governor’s event, and our campaign has returned his donation. This is not how the governor does business.”
Texas political observers have come to see that Abbott has a signature political panic, and it’s triggered by those who voice pay-to-play concerns in the way Texas governors do business. Business that as of January 2018 had helped amass $43 million in Abbott’s campaign coffers.
In the 2017 legislative session, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, authored and passed a bill out of the House that would make candidates for appointments ineligible if their contributions to a governor’s campaign exceeded $2,500.
Under the bill, which Hub City state Rep. John Frullo supported, every member of Tech’s Gang of Five, not named John Steinmetz, would be ineligible for re-appointment.
Larson’s bill was also very publicly backed by state Rep. Sarah Davis, R-West University. Fast forward, not only were some Larson bills later vetoed by Abbott, both Larson and Davis were presented GOP primary opponents. Opponents that where both well funded by and publicly backed by Abbott. Larson says his opponent received $150,000 from Abbott.
Eventually, Larson and Davis prevailed in their respective districts. [Of note: Davis is currently chair of the House’s General Investigating and Ethics committee, which could take up #RegentGate.]
But back to Lubbock. Two days before Abbott’s visit, right around 10:30am, right as the Tech regents convened again in executive session, this time to decide on an interim chancellor, we more broke news. Citing treatment of the McMahans and concerns about Duncan’s forced retirement, two more fundraiser hosts— former Lubbock Mayor Marc McDougal and his father Delbert, big Lubbock names long associated with local Republican politics, along with their wives— were also pulling out of the event.
Abbott’s actions— how, apparently, the governor does business— made a big problem bigger. And if it wasn’t yet clear that Abbott lacked a proper respect for the intelligence of Lubbockites, it would be proven by rejecting McMahan’s check while, according to a solid source, keeping checks from Bart Reagor and Rick Dykes. Both of whom are at the center #ReagorGate, Lubbock’s other scandal. [Note: Abbott’s campaign has been given days to make comment on the Reagor and Dykes check, but has chosen not to do so.]
But the problem could grow even bigger for Abbott headed into the next Legislature, which begins in January.
That’s when and where Larson will taking up his bill again.
“I guarantee if Wendy Davis was the governor right now, every Republican in the house and the senate would be tripping over themselves to eliminate this issue.But if it’s a governor of our party, we’re supposed to look the other way,” Larson said on Other Side of Texas radio this week. (Hear the interview here.)
“This is a non-partisan issue. This cuts at the core of people having respect and the integrity of government,” he continued. “If you can buy a position, it’s wrong. And I agree with George (McMahan), it is understood that if you give large contributions to governors, there’s usually some payoff. I just think it’s wrong.”
We’ve previously reported that in late 2016 Abbott’s then-Chief of Staff Daniel Hodge told Tech regents to choose between a vet school and dental school. At his Lubbock event Abbott told KCBD TV the only person he had talked to about Duncan’s ousting was Tech BOR Chairman Rick Francis.
These two events— one at the beginning of problems festering at Tech and the other in midst of public scandal, and both of which concerning regents appointed by a governor— indicate Abbott likely knows details that the public does not.
It’s still a bit unclear what and who prompted Hodge’s intervention early on, as well as Duncan’s ouster later. (We’ve got a good idea, and we’ll report on this in the days to come.)
What is clear, however, is that come next session, Larson will have more than a few new folks arriving in Austin to speak for his bill to wreck pay-to-play in Texas.
And they’ll be wearing red and black.
Jay Leeson is the founder of Other Side of Texas. You can hear the radio program by the same name each weekday 5-6pm CST on AM 580 Lubbock, streaming OtherSideofTexas.com. Each episode is posted as a podcast, subscribe at Apple podcasts.