Recently, a seasoned chief of staff for a Democratic state legislator noted wryly to me that if he was a Republican, he’d probably be the executive of a state agency at this point in his career. And that’s probably true if the Democratic governor in his hypothetical world were anything like Rick Perry.
One of the hallmarks of Perry’s tenure as Texas governor is the way he cultivates a deep bench of loyalists through appointments. It’s part patronage, part grooming of reliable yes-men who will carry out his will, with virtually no dissent, across the outposts of state government.
And, my, how quickly one can go from warming the bench to basking in the Friday night lights. Or to use another ill-advised sports metaphor, from the farm team to the big leagues. Take just two recent examples:
Yesterday, Perry announced that he would appoint his chief of staff, Jeffrey Boyd, to the Texas Supreme Court spot vacated by retiring Justice Dale Wainwright.
Texas Monthly‘s Paul Burka called the appointment “cronyism, pure and simple,” noting that Boyd “has one of the skimpiest resumes I have ever seen for a high judicial appointment.”
Boyd’s professional career: He practiced law at Thompson & Knight’s Austin office from 1992 to 1998 and then went to work for Republican Texas Attorneys General John Cornyn and Greg Abbott, then he went back to Thompson & Knight from 2003 to 2010. And then, in 2011, Perry tapped him to serve as his general counsel and, finally, chief of staff. He has no judicial experience, other than clerking for a 5th U.S. Circuit of Appeals justice after law school.
In other words, a perfectly respectable, perfectly dull career indistinguishable from dozens of attorneys in Texas. The only critical difference: Perry plucked him from obscurity.
Another example: Toby Baker, the newest commissioner at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the second-largest environmental agency in the nation. The Austin American-Statesman‘s Asher Price profiled him in a piece yesterday. Baker is 35 years old. His career arc is basically college->advisor/clerk for a state senator->advisor to Perry->TCEQ commissioner.
There are surely hundreds of people in this state with more experience and better-qualified to oversee the enormously complex environmental issues in Texas. Why did Perry pick Baker?
“The governor knew what he wanted to do before I came into the room,” Baker says. “He’d say, ‘We’ve got a good story to tell. Help me tell that story.’ And I’d give him the details.”
There’s little daylight between him and governor about how they view environmental regulation, Baker says: “The same theme (colors) mine and the governor’s view, as a balance of environmental protection and economic success.”
Now, to give Baker credit. He is making overtures to more transparency at TCEQ and has avoided some of the more strident rhetoric employed by TCEQ Chairman Bryan Shaw. Who knows, maybe he’ll end up being a fantastic leader. But lest you think Baker is going to part company with Perry on, say, one of the most pressing environmental and economic crises facing humankind, you would be sorely wrong:
In an interview, by way of explanation, he said a favorite A&M professor used to intone: “Data, data, data.”
So he differs with Republican orthodoxy on global warming, given a preponderance of scientific evidence that industrial emissions contribute to a changing climate?
“The science is still out,” he says, toeing a familiar, if debunked, line. “If the Legislature tells us to regulate (emissions), I would.”
It reminds me of a great exchange in “Downton Abbey” between Lady Mary Crowley and the Dowager Countess.
Lady Mary: “Sybil is entitled to her opinions.”
Dowager Countess: “No, she isn’t until she is married, then her husband will tell her what her opinions are.”