Gov. Greg Abbott's first three appointments to the University of Texas System Board of Regents head to confirmation hearings Thursday morning, and one far-right group aligned with UT Regent Wallace Hall is coming out on the offensive against two of them.
The three appointments include Regent Steven Hicks, who has served on the board since 2009, and two newcomers, Sara Martinez Tucker and David Beck. All are set to appear before the Senate Committee on Nominations, which will pass its recommendations on to the full Senate.
Empower Texans, a conservative advocacy group spearheaded by Michael Quinn Sullivan, is making noise about the two newcomers. The nominations committee includes several lawmakers Sullivan's group has deemed politically palatable, including the committee chairman, Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury.
No committee members have yet echoed Sullivan's concerns publicly. It is rare for the committee to reject regent appointments.
Martinez Tucker served as the U.S. undersecretary of education in President George W. Bush’s administration, and recently became CEO of the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit focused on improving performance in science, technology, engineering and math fields.
She has come under fire from Empower Texans for an op-ed she authored in U.S. News & World Report in which she supported Common Core, a set of K-12 education standards developed by the nation's governors and embraced by President Obama’s administration. Forty-three states adopted the standards, and they have become a favorite punching bag for conservatives.
Beck is a Houston trial lawyer and founding member of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education — a group formed in response to higher education policies proposed by former Gov. Rick Perry. The group has been an ardent backer of current UT-Austin President Bill Powers, and a vocal critic of Hall.
Beck has also drawn Sullivan's fire. "Quite frankly, Gov. Greg Abbott’s staff did their boss and taxpayers a disservice to taxpayers by recommending him,” Sullivan wrote on the group's website earlier this week. He criticized Beck’s role with the coalition, and his former position with the UT Law School Foundation, which came under fire for its “forgivable loan” program.
The UT System Board of Regents has been mired in conflict with UT-Austin's administrators and some lawmakers — most specifically over actions that Hall took. Hall has been accused by some lawmakers of conducting a "witch hunt" to oust Powers. Hall, a UT-Austin graduate, has said he was performing his duty as a regent.
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