Despite (or maybe because of?) objections from Rick Perry, the Texas Senate voted 30 to zip to fire the TYC board for incompetence in the handling of the ever-escalating sexual abuse scandal at the agency's juvenile jails.
It's the governor's second rebuke in as many days at the hands of the Legislature; the House voted yesterday to undo Perry's mandate requiring the HPV vaccine of young Texas girls.
The Senate showdown has been shaping up for at least a week, with key lawmakers insisting that the board resign. Perry prefers that the board remain and assist a special master investigating the troubled agency.
But a test vote on Perry's popularity in the Senate could scarcely have come at a worse time for the governor. This morning, we posted an interview of Perry conducted by Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith in which Perry expresses an interest in running for re-election in 2010. Wouldn't that break David Dewhurst's heart? Smith asks. "I break his heart everyday," Perry responds.
At the post-session press conference with Dewhurst, I stood in the back of a pack of reporters asking Dewhurst and Senators Chris Harris and John Whitmire about the TYC board. A senator sidled up behind me and whispered in my ear: "Whose heart's breaking now?"
But when I asked Dewhurst for an official response, I got nowhere. "I'm really focused on solving the problems at TYC, lowering electric rates in North Texas," etc., etc., Dewhurst said for the rolling cameras. "I'm not going to comment on my friend Rick Perry's comment in your magazine."
Harris did acknowledge the Senate rebuffed appeals today from Perry's staff to keep the board and allow the governor to appoint a "czar" to oversee all TYC matters.
Earlier, Dewhurst was asked whether he wouuld sign the TYC legislation if the House hurries up and passes it. After all, Dewhurst is acting governor as Perry is visiting Qatar. "I prefer to have a good working relationship with Gov. Perry," was Dewhurst's genial response.
Meanwhile, just as you thought the news coming out of TYC couldn't get any worse, Whitmire announced an update in the case of the math tutor/whisteblower at the Pyote TYC facility who first reported that kids had confided in him about sexual abuse by TYC administrators. Yesterday, it was reported the volunteer tutor had been dismissed by TYC for failing to keep current with his duties. Today, Whitmire says the man was indicted in 1986 on charges of sexual assault and allowed to plead to a charge of assault. Given the context of his dismissal, Whitmire wondered aloud if TYC authorities were continuing to cover up mistakes -- in this case, allowing a sexual offender to tutor kids -- with a false story about the grounds for his dismissal.
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