In Perry appointees, Dallas lagging across the boardsExclusive: White males, donor-rich cities have most spots on panels
August 7, 2006
By CHRISTY HOPPE / The Dallas Morning News
AUSTIN – In many of the most important decisions a governor makes, Rick Perry has danced with the ones who brought him. It means that on occasion, Dallas has been left standing by the punch bowl.
The vast majority of his 2,743 appointees over the past five years have been white males, and they have come from the cities that have afforded Mr. Perry the most campaign contributors – Houston and Austin, a computer analysis by The Dallas Morning News found.
People from Dallas, fourth among cities in the number of contributors, have been named to less than one in 10 policy-setting seats.
Texas governors wield their greatest power by naming the members of about 170 state boards and commissions that oversee everything from a child's education to seed inspections. In between are highways, public safety, universities, health care – and down to the hair-splitting details of the barbering board.
Geopolitics is not as important to the governor as other considerations, said press secretary Kathy Walt.
"The vast majority are based on their qualifications, and they are expected to represent the entire state," Ms. Walt said of the appointees. "The governor looks for the best qualified person for the job."
Overall, he wants his board members to be pro-business and anti-red tape, she said.
"In general terms, he would want a philosophy of fiscal conservative principles. It would be about eliminating bureaucratic stumbling blocks," she said.
Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson said the appointments reflect both the governor in office and the regulation-wary ways of Texas.
"You tend to make appointments from the groups that have been best to you in terms of fundraising," Dr. Jillson said.
Indeed, 43 percent of appointees to the 10 most powerful state boards have been major campaign contributors to Mr. Perry, state records show.
While the prestigious boards might hold big political donors, the majority of state panels deal with professional licensing and standards, so it's not unusual to see Republican governors appoint people who are in the regulated industry, Dr. Jillson said.
"The boards are an opportunity for interest groups to self-regulate until they prove that they can't – until they do something visibly troublesome and come to the public attention," he said.
Ms. Walt said Mr. Perry's appointees are talented volunteers "who truly believe in giving back to their state." She said they have "provided protections when protections are needed."
While the governor has diligently worked to bring diversity to the boards, Ms. Walt said, his appointments are tempered by the number of qualified people who have "the quality, passion and interests" and are "willing to make the sacrifice of time required."
Even so, the dominance of white males underscores the priorities of this administration, said Craig McDonald, executive director of Texans for Public Justice, which is devoted to campaign finance reform.
"To a large extent, it's reflective of the constituency that the administration listens to. It's unashamedly pro-business," Mr. McDonald said. "When you listen to that, you leave out a lot of other constituencies."
He said the high percentage of big campaign donors on important boards is sadly typical. "You have to reward the contributors," Mr. McDonald said.
Of Mr. Perry's appointees, two-thirds are male and three-fourths are white. Even so, the governor has done better than his predecessor, George W. Bush, in naming minorities to state boards. Fifteen percent of Mr. Perry's appointees were Hispanic – Hispanics are now 32 percent of the statewide population – and 9 percent of the appointees were black (compared with 12 percent in the state population).
Mr. Perry and virtually every other Republican and Democratic governor still lag behind Ann Richards – 20 percent of her appointees were Hispanic, and 15 percent were black. Also, 46 percent were women.
"This is not the face of Texas," Dr. Jillson said of Mr. Perry's appointees.
But reflecting the state is difficult, he said, citing the same diversity problem found in nearly all non-blue-collar professions.
"But obviously, if you do work hard, they are there, because Ann Richards found them," Dr. Jillson said.
'It's just not fair'
State Rep. Tony Goolsby, the senior member of the Dallas delegation in the Legislature, said he wished that more of the appointees came from the city.
"Dallas being the type of town it is, and I'm a little prejudiced, I would think we should get an appreciable number of appointments," said Mr. Goolsby, a Republican.
Based on the telephone area codes of appointees, The News' analysis found that Dallas had 266 appointees on boards and commissions, compared with 332 for Houston, excluding 78 river pilots (the governor gets to appoint captains who drive ferries and guide ships through Texas' coastal waterways). Austin had 372 appointees.
Mr. Goolsby said any board member brings the best understanding of local issues – and because of that, he said, Dallas should have more representation at the table.
"Certainly it's detrimental not to. It's just not fair" to have the state's third-largest city underrepresented, Mr. Goolsby said.
Sherri Greenberg, a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas and a former state representative from Austin, said she believes most board members try to be equitable. Most don't have widespread discretion over where to spend their budgets, which are dictated by the Legislature.
But there are exceptions, she said, such as the Texas Transportation Commission, which determines road spending. Dallas has no representative on the five-member board, which currently has one member each from Houston, El Paso, San Antonio and Weatherford; one seat is vacant.
Then again, Austin has always been well represented on boards and commissions by virtue of its being the capital.
"When I was in the Texas House, there was almost always someone I knew who was on a board, and I would be able to call them easily," Ms. Greenberg said. "It does provide some leg up."