AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday backed an embattled University of Texas System regent who is being investigated for possible impeachment, calling the proceedings "extraordinary political theater" and defending the regent's demands for massive amounts of records.
Regent Wallace Hall, whom Perry appointed, has been accused of misusing his office in an attempt to force out Austin campus President Bill Powers. A state House committee is investigating whether to recommend impeachment, which could lead to Hall's removal from office.
The committee is investigating several allegations against Hall, including whether he withheld information on his application for appointment, abused open records laws with requests for more than 800,000 pages of documents and released private student or employee information.
The panel can also determine if Hall's actions amounted to malfeasance or misuse of his office.
"I think it's some extraordinary political theater," Perry said when asked about the investigation after casting an early vote for the Nov. 5 elections.
"I think the idea that a regent or an appointee in any place in government is being stymied from asking questions about the operations of a particular agency is very, very bad public policy," he said.
Hall's lawyer has said Hall's efforts raised important questions about political influence over university admissions, fundraising and a law school loan program, and denies Hall released any legally protected information to the public.
The governor and Powers have clashed in recent years over tuition and graduation rates, the roles of teaching and research and other issues. Powers is believed to have a slim majority of support from the nine-member board that was appointed entirely by Perry, and the struggle over the flagship campus has led prominent alumni to rally in support of Powers.
In June, Republican state Rep. Jim Pitts, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, asked lawmakers to investigate Hall, complaining that he was acting on behalf of Perry to force Powers out of office in order to radically change how UT operates.
The Select Transparency in State Agency Operations Committee heard its first witness testimony last week and is scheduled to meet again Nov. 12-13. Hall's attorney has notified the committee that Hall is willing to answer questions, but insists that he be subpoenaed to testify under oath. A subpoena could give Hall some legal cover if he were to be pressed to reveal otherwise confidential information.
Perry appointed Hall, a Dallas businessman, to the state Higher Education Coordinating Board in 2008. Perry appointed him a Texas regent in 2010. Both appointments were confirmed by the state Senate.
"At the end of the day, we'll find out whether there are things that are being hidden, there are things individuals don't want to have out in public. And at that particular point in time, the public will make a decision on whether or not Regent Hall is correct," Perry said. "I happen to support him."
Associated Press reporter Paul J. Weber contributed.