The Senate paid an emotional tribute to University of Texas President Bill Powers this afternoon. During the honorary resolution’s introduction, senators meandered and chatted as usual, but Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s voice boomed through the room. He admonished the senators to stop talking and take their seats.
The praise was unusually effusive. Sen. Kevin Eltife, a Tyler Republican, was typical. “I see a man who always puts the university first, someone who always stands up for what he believes in even if it may not be politically popular,” said Eltife. “President Powers, I want to thank you for your outstanding leadership. I want to thank you for leading the University with honor and integrity.”
Many senators emphasized that the tribute was “not a eulogy,” even though at times it sounded like one. Rumors of Powers’ removal have been circulating for at least a year. Things came to a head in May, when Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka reported that UT System regents were planning to sack Powers. Obviously, that didn’t happen but the tensions between Powers and a self-described group of “reformers” close to the governor have continued.
The resolution, the senators insisted, was not meant to punctuate the end of his career. Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst went out of his way to laud Powers, even tearing up. “We are lucky to have you,” Dewhurst told Powers. “I believe in reform, and I know that Bill Powers believes in reform. That’s why I’m particularly troubled when I see UT regents go around this man. I see them trying to micromanage the system.”
Dewhurst hinted darkly at palace plots.
“I’ve been told of character assassination, which is unacceptable to the members of this body. There’s one thing I think all of us in politics appreciate, and that is, you can come up anytime, anyplace, anywhere and say whatever you want to about me—as long as it’s true. But if it’s not true, or if you so dare to mention my wife or my daughter, you will hear from me.”
He tried to continue through tears, but Dewhurst was visibly angry. “This man deserves better treatment,” he said.
Dewhurst reluctantly spoke with the press about these allegations of character assassination and clarified (sort of) what his remarks were meant to insinuate. “I’ve heard complaints about anonymous letters, and perhaps not anonymous letters… Listen, you do what you want to with me, but you don’t touch family.”
“There were some anonymous letters that may not be so anonymous, that were trumpeted, I’m told, by one of the regents.” He continued, “I just think that’s a very underhanded approach.”
“You leave family and staff out of it. I am really mad.”