Tony Buzbee, the Texas A&M University System regent who oversees former Gov. Rick Perry's dream team of criminal defense lawyers, asked the office of Gov. Greg Abbott a few months ago to consider him for chairman or vice chairman of the university system's governing board, according to emails obtained by The Texas Tribune this week.
But after learning that Abbott was going to let the board pick its own chairman, he threw his support behind Regent Cliff Thomas once he was nominated, Buzbee said in an interview on Wednesday. Thomas was unanimously selected by fellow regents in April, according to a system news release.
Abbott "was not going to involve himself in the chairmanships,” Buzbee said. "I just figured if I was going to be chairman, my time will come, if it comes."
Buzbee's interest in the top post on the Texas A&M University System Board of Regents came to light in a treasure trove of emails from Abbott's office obtained by the Tribune under the state's open records laws. According to one of them, Buzbee reached out to Abbott's office in early February, touting his push to elevate public universities and his opposition to tuition increases.
Buzbee was told by a top aide that the governor would not "rock the boat" on chairmanships during the legislative session.
Abbott's office declined to comment on the emails.
Buzbee, who was appointed to the Board of Regents by Perry in 2013, said he'd like to serve on the board "as long as I can." That will be Abbott's call if he is still governor when Buzbee's current term expires in early 2019.
Buzbee gave Abbott high marks.
“Gov. Abbott is a real proponent of 'let’s see if we can take these universities to the next level,'” Buzbee said. "I’m very, very encouraged. Since the very first time we ever sat down and talked about higher ed — for about two hours — he’s beaten that drum and he followed through with it this last legislative session.”
Disclosure: Tony Buzbee was a major donor to The Texas Tribune in 2012. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.