This editorial was first published in the San Antonio Express-News. Guest editorials don’t necessarily reflect the Denton Record-Chronicle’s opinions.
Secretary of State David Whitley’s face-saving resignation in the waning hours of the 86th Texas Legislature was inevitable, but it was tendered too late to benefit Texas taxpayers.
Whitley should have resigned months ago in the best interest of the state and allowed the agency responsible for overseeing elections to operate without distraction. In fact, the governor should have asked for Whitley’s resignation. Gov. Greg Abbott and Whitley go back a long time. The former secretary of state immediately found himself back at his old job on the governor’s payroll after he resigned.
Whitley’s appointment went sidewise in his first six weeks in office with an attempt to purge 100,000 people suspected of being non-citizens from state voter rolls. His defenders say the list was already in the making when the gubernatorial appointee stepped in. That may be, but as head of this agency, it was his responsibility to ensure that the list had been properly vetted before it was publicly released.
Instead, he shamelessly pointed fingers at the Texas Department of Public Safety, where the list originated. His office should have known the information was dated and that the immigration status of some of those holding the driver’s licenses on that list might have changed.
Within days of releasing the list to election administrators across the state, Whitley’s office started to backtrack. It did not take long to find that many on this list had become naturalized citizens. That was information that should have been tapped before the list went out.
The intimidation factor that came with the release of the purge list was no minor matter. The impact on newly naturalized American citizens will never be known and could adversely affect their participation in future elections. It did not help that several high-profile Republicans, including the commander in chief, used the release of the list as an excuse to take to social media to make unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud in Texas.
Whitley’s actions incurred the wrath of the Democrats in the state Senate, who joined forces to block his confirmation. He needed a two-thirds vote in the Senate to ratify his appointment; without that supermajority, his appointment would have come to an end with the legislative session. Whitley delivered his resignation to Abbott midafternoon on the last day of the session.
It should have come earlier to allow a replacement to be named and allow the Texas Senate an opportunity to hold a confirmation hearing. Whitley’s replacement will now get to serve until the end of the 87th Legislature in May 2021 — without Senate confirmation. We urge the governor to make a reasonable choice.
Whitley’s short-lived tenure as secretary of state cast Texas in a negative national light and left taxpayers with a $450,000 tab for the legal expenses incurred defending three lawsuits filed by voting rights groups in federal court. The one good thing to come from this fiasco was a federal judge’s finding that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Texas. That’s significant in a political climate in which it does not take much to find an excuse to enact voter restrictions for partisan political gain.
In six months, Texas will start the monumental task of preparing for the spring 2020 primaries in anticipation of the fall presidential general election. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office is the lead agency in laying out that game plan and is the place that elections administrators across the state will look to for guidance.
The person appointed to that position cannot afford to carry any partisan baggage.