Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw today proved he can be every bit as political on ethics issues as any Travis County district attorney.
Just hours before the House is set to debate a bill to take public integrity investigations away from the Travis County Public Integrity Unit and transfer that authority to McCraw’s Texas Rangers, McCraw distributed to legislators a letter he sent to the Travis prosecutors demanding they conclude an investigation into a no-bid contract at his agency.
If power to investigate the contract had been under McCraw, as proposed by HB 1690, he could have ordered the Texas Rangers to stand down a long time ago.
I understand the frustrations of Republican officeholders at the prospect of a complaint against them being investigated by a Democratic district attorney and heard by a grand jury likely made up of partisan Travis County Democrats. But moving investigations to the Texas Rangers will be no less partisan. McCraw worked for former Governor Rick Perry prior to taking charge of the state police agency in 2009. The entire Public Safety Commission is appointed by the governor. And McCraw’s chief deputy, Robert J. “Duke” Bodisch Sr., was an opposition researcher in the mid-1990s for Republican statewide political campaigns.
McCraw’s letter critical of the Travis County public integrity unit was delivered to legislators and their staffs under Bodisch’s signature.
McCraw’s frustrations with Public Integrity Unit head Gregg Cox and the amount of time prosecutors have spent looking into a 2006 no-bid border security contract is understandable, but that too has a political connection.
The Houston Chronicle has reported that the investigation of the contract was brought to a halt in June 2013 when Perry vetoed funding for the Public Integrity Unit because Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign after a drunk driving arrest. McCraw testified to a House investigating committee about the contract last month, and several House Democrats raised questions about the accuracy of his statements.
In his letter to Cox, McCraw said his agency has tried to be transparent on the controversy surrounding the contract with Abrams Learning and Information Systems. McCraw demanded that Cox find a way to conclude his investigation into the contract.
“Surely, it does not take that much time to review a contract to determine if the elements of an offense are present or not,” McCraw wrote, saying he will ask the legislative leadership to use some of his agency’s funds to finance the investigation to a “fair, objective and expeditious resolution.” Also, because the contract involved some federal funding, “we also invite you to call on assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist you in this effort.”
Perhaps one solution would be granting the authority to investigate crimes against public administration to the Texas Ethics Commission, a body whose members are appointed by the governor, the speaker and the lieutenant governor.
UPDATE (4/16/2015, 4:10 p.m.): House Democrats this afternoon used a point of order to delay debate on HB 1690 until at least Monday.