Controversy over comments made by the Finance Commission of Texas chairman to a reporter for the El Paso Times have spilled into the already hot race for governor, making for the contest's first big storyline of 2014.
Democratic candidate Wendy Davis earlier this week called on the commission's chairman, William J. White, to resign his post. In her statement, she said that "White can't protect Texas consumers while he represents a predatory lending company on the side.” It echoed comments she made to the Texas Observer in January 2011 when she called White's appointment “the classic fox in the henhouse."
Pushback on Thursday came from the Greg Abbott campaign and from conservative blogger David Jennings, whose posts appear on his Big Jolly Politics website. They accused Davis of hypocrisy because she was one of 30 state senators voting to confirm White as finance commission chairman in May 2011.
In its statement sent out Thursday, the Abbott campaign also highlighted a requirement that the commission have a consumer credit executive as a member.
“Sen. Wendy Davis’ statement is blatant election-year hypocrisy. Perhaps unknown to Sen. Davis, state law mandates that industry executives serve on the Finance Commission, and Sen. Davis voted to confirm William White to his position," said Abbott spokesman Avdiel Huerta. "Sen. Davis also had two opportunities to amend bills pertaining to the requirements to serve on the Commission, and both times Sen. Davis chose not to do so. Before calling for the resignations of those she voted to confirm, Sen. Davis might take a hard look at a her own record."
The Davis campaign responded by pressing Abbott to say whether White should resign.
"Greg Abbott is in the pocket of the payday lending industry and once again refused to voice a position on William White and payday lending,” said Davis spokesman Bo Delp. “In 2011, Senator Davis voiced her concerns. William White should resign over his recent comments and actions that prove he is more interested in protecting the industry than consumers.
"Senator Davis has a history of protecting consumers. Greg Abbott leaves some important questions unanswered: Does he think William White should resign? Does he think the state’s top consumer regulator should belong to the payday lending industry?”
The Davis campaign also sought to put the White vote in context, pointing out that White was one of 40 appointees confirmed by a single vote.
Also on Tuesday, Houston Democratic state Sen. Sylvia Garcia lent her support to Davis, saying: “This is just another example of how political cronyism by failed leaders in Austin works against Texans. Senator Davis is right to bring this issue to light. As Chairman of the Texas Finance Commission, White’s comments earlier this week were inappropriate and clearly show that he does not have the interest of Texas consumers at heart. He needs to decide which side he is on: the people he’s charged to protect or the political insiders cutting back room deals and hurting our state.”