POLITICS

Texas governor’s appointments still mainly going to whites, 15 percent to Hispanics

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott speaks during the Rio Grande Valley Gubernatorial Debate between him and Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis in Edinburg, Texas on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. The debate was the first of two scheduled before the November election. (AP Photo/The McAllen Monitor, Joel Martinez, Pool)

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott speaks during the Rio Grande Valley Gubernatorial Debate between him and Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis in Edinburg, Texas on Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. The debate was the first of two scheduled before the November election. (AP Photo/The McAllen Monitor, Joel Martinez, Pool)

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is following the letter of his predecessors by picking mostly white men and women to the hundreds of appointments he has made since taking office last year.

Nearly three-quarters of the more than his 450 appointments to state boards and commissions have gone to whites – mostly men – while Hispanics, who make up more than one-third of the state’s residents, only account for 15 percent of Abbott’s picks, the San Antonio Express-News reported Sunday.

A former Abbott aide over appointments said the task of getting a larger pool of prospects is challenging. One Democratic state senator said the issue of diversity warrants examination.

The newspaper also found that roughly a quarter of Abbott's appointees are campaign contributors who have given the Republican more than $8.6 million combined since 2000. That is also in line with former Gov. Rick Perry, the state's longest-serving governor, whose donors also made up a similar proportion of his appointments over 14 years.

Seventy-five percent of Perry's appointees were white. For George W. Bush, it was 77 percent, and Ann Richards' appointments were 67 percent white.

Luis Saenz, Abbott's former director of appointments, said the governor has an interest in increasing the diversity of state boards. A number of panels, including those of professional boards, have specific requirements for appointees that narrows the potential pool.

"It's a challenging process," said Saenz, citing "a constant recruitment of people to try to get more folks involved in the process."

Hispanics accounted for two-thirds of the state's growth between 2000 and 2010.

Democratic state Sen. Kirk Watson, who serves on a Senate committee that confirms appointments, praised Abbott for his close communication with lawmakers about appointees but said diversity needed a closer look.

"It's very important that the agencies that end up day-to-day governing the people of this state reflect the people of this state, and that will be one of the things that I think the process ought to look at," Watson said.

In more than a year in office, Abbott has named about 460 people to posts, including state boards, or designated them to chair the entities on which they serve -- a fraction of the approximately 3,000 appointments that a governor will make in a four-year term.

Abbott is surely aware of those who have donated to his campaigns, but Saenz said those seeking appointments are ill-advised to bring up contributions.

"Anybody that comes in to visit with us that may bring that up. ... We will end that discussion very quickly," said Saenz, who left Abbott's staff to return to lobbying.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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