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Former Gov. Perry questions legitimacy of Texas A&M student body election

Former Gov. Rick Perry, now the U.S. energy secretary, is questioning the legitimacy of the election that gave his alma mater its first openly gay student body president.

Former Gov. Perry is sworn in before testifying at a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on his nomination to be Energy secretary on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on January 19, 2017.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from a Texas A&M University administrator.

Former Gov. Rick Perry, now the U.S. energy secretary, is questioning the legitimacy of the election that gave his alma mater its first openly gay student body president

In a Houston Chronicle op-ed published Wednesday that caught university officials by surprise, Perry said the administration at Texas A&M University owes students answers about Bobby Brooks' victory, which came after the top vote-getter, Robert McIntosh, was disqualified amid accusations of voter intimidation and failure to report a campaign expense. The A&M student government's Judicial Court later cleared McIntosh of the former charge but upheld the latter, according to the student newspaper, The Battalion. 

Perry wrote that the process at best "made a mockery of due process and transparency" and at worst "allowed an election to be stolen outright."

In his article, Perry raised the question of whether McIntosh's punishment fit the alleged crime. And he suggested that the A&M administration wouldn't have allowed the results to have been thrown out if the top vote winner were the potential first gay student body president.

"Brooks' presidency is being treated as a victory for 'diversity,'" Perry wrote. "It is difficult to escape the perception that this quest for 'diversity' is the real reason the election outcome was overturned. Does the principle of 'diversity' override and supersede all other values of our Aggie Honor Code?"

Amy Smith, the school’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, firmly denied that allegation. She said student government elections are run by students, not administrators.

“I would say that we respectfully disagree with his assessment,” she said of Perry, “and his understanding of the election rules of student body president elections doesn’t reflect the facts.”

The student judicial court’s final decision on the election was unanimous and the A&M administration sees no need to intervene, Smith said.

“Honestly, we were just surprised to see that the secretary of energy would take the time to weigh in in detail and we respectfully disagree with his assessment of what happened,” she said.

She added, “I have always had a lot of respect for Rick Perry and his commitment to A&M.”

Perry, the state's longest-serving governor, has always had a fierce pride in A&M. He was the first Texas governor who graduated from the school, where he had been twice elected yell leader, a highly sought-after role similar to a male cheerleader. As governor, he spent 14 years handling appointments to the school's Board of Regents — which he suggested was kept out of the loop in the recent election controversy. 

"If anything is worthy of oversight, these events should qualify," Perry wrote. "Incredibly, it appears that the Board of Regents was never informed."

Perry was sworn in earlier this month as President Donald Trump's energy secretary. 

Smith said the office of A&M’s president never heard any questions or concerns from Perry about the issue. The first she heard about his complaints, she said, was when someone from the Houston Chronicle contacted her about them.

She also called McIntosh, the student who was disqualified, a “great leader” at A&M. And noted that Brooks, the eventual winner, “will be representing all students of all backgrounds.”

Brooks and officials from the student elections commission couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Wednesday night.

Another high-profile Aggie, U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, was already well-versed in the matter during a brief interview at the U.S. Capitol late Wednesday night.

"I'm aware of the controversy," he said, explaining his understanding that a video used in McIntosh's campaign included unreported glow sticks on a campaign finance report.

"I believe if you're going to have a student-run organization, then it ought to be student-run," Barton said. "I certainly don't think this is worthy of federal intervention or former-governor intervention, but I do think on the merits the student that won, won. And maybe he should have paid a fine or something, but the candidate that got disqualified claims that he did not purchase the glow sticks, therefore did not think he had to report them. And to me, that seems to have merit. When somebody voluntarily gives you some material or something happens to be available, that shouldn't in and of itself be grounds for disqualification.

"Then again," he continued, "If you have a student-run organization, and the students make decisions, then generally you should stand back and let the students make those decisions."

Abby Livingston contributed to this report.

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • Texas A&M University's first openly gay student body president is set to take office next month, marking a milestone for the largest public university in the state.
  • In 2014, then-Gov. Rick Perry declined the offer of having Texas A&M University's Academic Building named after him.

Disclosure: Texas A&M University has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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