By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org
HOUSTON – State Sen. Dan Patrick’s win over incumbent Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the Republican primary runoff Tuesday likely means the eventual end of a yearlong effort to impeach Wallace Hall, the regent of the University of Texas System whose investigation of political influence in the admissions process had threatened several top lawmakers.
In a debate May 20, Patrick called for an investigation into admissions favoritism at the University of Texas School of Law, calling it “a potential huge scandal in the making,” one “that can bring down the whole law school.”
While Gov. Rick Perry has defended Hall, saying last week that “Texans should be outraged by his treatment,” Patrick became the first high-ranking official to demand an investigation into the university’s practices. Most politicians who’ve gotten involved have taken the other side, blaming Hall for stirring up trouble.
As no Democrat has won statewide office in 20 years, Patrick is now the heavy favorite over Democratic nominee Leticia Van De Putte to be the next lieutenant governor of Texas. As lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the state Senate, Patrick would wield a great deal of control over any articles of impeachment against Hall sent over by the House.
The effect of Patrick’s statement was immediate. The next day, a legislative committee that had met to draft articles of impeachment against Hall failed to do so. Several members of the committee were quoted saying that it would take a while. Others expressed hope that the Travis County District Attorney would, basically, take the case off their hands.
“It’s a real lengthy process,” said committee co-chair Carol Alvarado. “We’re looking at a couple of months.”
The committee’s lawyers have already settled on four accusations against Hall that they consider somewhat plausible, though the committee’s other chair, Rep. Dan Flynn, has already rejected all four of those accusations.
Few insiders ever thought it made much political sense for Speaker Joe Straus to call a special session for the purpose of impeaching Hall, calling members away from their campaigns and jobs and costing himself political capital when he should be storing it up. Now, impeachment would be dead on arrival in the Senate at best, and at worst, it would flip into an investigation of corruption at UT.
The committee now needs some face-saving way to wrap up its work, or failing that, to let it fizzle out. They still have a majority of UT’s Board of Regents on their side, opposed to digging any further into the piles of evidence of admissions favoritism that have been uncovered recently.
Patrick’s win is significant because the state Constitution allows the Senate to write its own rules. The current rules give the lieutenant governor total control over parliamentary questions and procedural rules.
Even though the laws governing impeachment procedures include plenty of “shalls” that would be binding on Patrick, he could still stop the process. For example, he has the power to schedule the impeachment at some distant date, “or adjourn during the impeachment trial” and “condition reconvening on the occurrence of an event specified in the motion.”
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