Gov. Greg Abbott’s picks for various state jobs either contradict his professed political beliefs, or displayed a lack competency for the tasks they were tapped to accomplish.

He has appointed those with bad ideology, questionable competence, or connected to the statist Bush family. All of this suggests the administration biased towards the establishment.

Backstory

During the Senate impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, multiple connections were established between the political persecution of Paxton and Bushworld.

Just as loud as these findings was the deafening silence of Abbott during the extremely rare occurrence of the Texas House impeaching a public servant. Testimony of one of Paxton’s accusers exposed a to-do list that mentioned a planned meeting with Luis Saenz, Abbott’s chief of staff at the time the accuser went public. The accuser, Ryan Vassar, said he “believed” that a meeting took place between Saenz and two of Paxton’s other accusers, but he was not a part of it.

Texas Scorecard asked the Office of the Governor if this meeting took place, if so what was the nature of the discussion, and what did the governor know and when did he know it. No response was received before publication.

Both of these data points raised questions about Abbott’s proximity to Bushworld. Part one of this series examined the Bush infiltration of Abbott’s office and in his appointments. With such a focus on elevating the politically connected, what are the allegiances and competencies of others Abbott has appointed?

Known Bad Choices

2022 was the year Abbott fired two of his high-level appointments.

The first is Tracy Norris, the former Texas Adjutant General (TAG) of Texas’ Military Forces. Abbott replaced her in March 2022. She was in command when Abbott started Operation Lone Star, his ongoing border security operation since 2021. A series of errors followed. OLS was criticized as being poorly planned “political theater.” Personnel reported problems with pay, there were poor living conditions for soldiers, and other issues came to light. Norris was also criticized as being a “toxic leader.”

It also appeared Norris had not properly maintained the Texas Military Department (TMD). An internal review of TMD’s 2017 response to Hurricane Harvey raised further questions about Norris’ competency. The review reported that TMD, then under command of Maj. Gen. John Nichols, in some areas performed better than during OLS. It also identified problems similar to those that would come up during OLS. Recommendations were made to address these problems. However, they showed up again under Norris, suggesting that these early warning signs were not addressed.

The other high profile appointee Abbott fired in 2022 was Jaime Masters, the former commissioner of the troubled Texas Dept. of Family and Protective Services (DFPS). Having previously worked for the State of Kansas’ equivalent to DFPS, Abbott appointed her in December 2019 following the agency’s illegal removal of 4-year-old Drake Pardo from his family. At the time, DFPS was also in the midst of a federal court case. In 2015, Judge Janis Jack found DFPS had exposed foster children in their care to an “unreasonable risk of harm,” and that children left the system worse off than before. This lawsuit is ongoing, and, according to the Texas Tribune, Judge Jack has had DFPS on a very short leash, demanding changes to improve the agency.

Left to Right: Jaime Masters, Tracy Norris

As covered in Texas Scorecard’s March 2023 investigative series “The Texas Deep State” (parts one, two, three, and four), DFPS has not followed state law, and bungled investigations under her watch. In one case, a Child Protective Services staffer encouraged a minor in DFPS care to prostitute herself. Masters herself appeared preoccupied with saving her job by fighting those she viewed as her enemies in the governor’s office.

Furthermore, records obtained from DFPS showed that during Masters’ tenure, the agency failed to protect minors in their care. From Fiscal Years 2019 through 2022—more than 210 “children and youth” who went “missing from DFPS conservatorship” were identified as having been sex slaves during their “missing” period. Peak enslavement was Fiscal Year 2020—during the government lockdowns—at 68. It dropped to 43 in FY 2021 but climbed back to 56 in FY 2022. This is out of 6,600 who went “missing” and were recovered during that time period, but DFPS records report that 790 “children and youth” remained “missing.”

Abbott appointed Masters in December 2019, and fired her in November 2022.

These stories have previously been reported. New data points raise further questions about Abbott’s continuing choices of appointments.

Bad Ideology

While marketing himself more and more as a strong conservative, Abbott’s appointment history contradicts that image.

The aforementioned former TAG, Tracy Norris, is an example of this. In 2021, Andy Hopper, a member of the Texas State Guard, exposed how members of the Guard were forced to undergo cultural Marxism and critical race theory training. ”One thing was clear: the Texas Adjutant General, Major General Tracy R. Norris, ordered Texas State Guard Major General Robert Bodisch to conduct the DOD training,” Hopper wrote.

More bad actors in the culture war came to light at DFPS during Commissioner Masters’ tenure. In November 2022, Texas Scorecard covered how multiple members of the agency launched a deep state rebellion against public servants’ efforts to protect children from abusive medical procedures.

Abbott continues to appoint those whose ideological goals are the opposite of his public image.

In August 2023, the governor appointed John Trischitti, III to the Texas Diabetes Council. This council “addresses issues affecting people with diabetes in Texas and advises the Texas Legislature on legislation that is needed to develop and maintain a statewide system of quality education services to all people with diabetes and health professionals who offer diabetes treatment and education.”

At a time where parents nationwide have been fighting to protect their children from sexually objectionable material, Trischitti chose to support the wrong side. On February 18, 2023, the Midland Reporter-Telegram published an opinion piece by Texas Family Project’s executive director, cautioning that Midland’s public library also had “perverted content.” That same day, Trischitti, who is from Midland, wrote a social media post in defense of the library.

Source: X

“We must continue to speak out against these types of accusations. They will keep coming until as communities we say ENOUGH AND we push back,” he wrote. Trischitti tagged the social media accounts of FReadom Fighters, Right to Read Texas, and Banned Books Week, all of whom have opposed efforts to protect schoolchildren from sexual materials. He also tagged the Texas Library Association, which was previously reported to have promoted such materials and drag queens at their 2022 conference.

Months later, on May 17, 2023, Trischitti shared a post from book author Christina Soontornvat, who also joined in opposing efforts to protect children from sexually explicit materials.

Source: X

“We have people who are harassing & insulting our nation’s educators in the vilest ways. I know which side I stand on,” she wrote.

As with other Abbott appointments, there is a Trischitti connection to Bushworld. He is the executive director of the Literacy Coalition of the Permian Basin. Their website promoted a November 2, 2023 “Evening with the Bush Sisters” event benefiting the coalition, Texas Tech’s Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health, and Laura Bush Ladies for Literacy. “The Bush sisters will discuss the power of literacy and why they chose to write a children’s book, Love Comes First,” the advertisement read. “This event will celebrate the importance of literacy and its impact on the community.”

The Laura Bush Ladies for Literacy is a project of the Literacy Coalition and is linked on their website, with an introduction recording by the former first lady.

Abbott has made more concerning ideological appointments.

He appointed Kathleen Wu and Jill Jester to the Texas Woman’s University’s Board of Regents in July 2023. A 2014 interview with The Texas Lawbook profiled Wu, reporting that she had served two years as the Diversity & Inclusion chair for the U.S. Tennis Association (USTA). Diversity & Inclusion are two terms in the destructive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion ideology. Although marketed as a new tool to eradicate racism, in practice the ideology has been widely criticized as creating more divisiveness in society, weaponizing businesses against customers, and governments against citizens. The profile also boasts of her work at the USTA, helping local tennis associations reach out to those that identify as LGBT.

Left to Right: Jill Jester, Kathleen Wu.

In June 2023, Gov. Abbott signed into law a ban on DEI practices at government universities.

As for Jester, in August 2022 she shared two establishment media reports attacking former President Donald Trump.

Source: X

Source: X

These are recent appointments, however, Abbott appears to have a history of questionable choices.

Texas Indigent Defense Commission

The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) states that they “funds, oversees, and improves public defense throughout the State of Texas.” It has a 13 member board, comprised of appointees from the governor’s office, the state Senate, and the state House. Alex Bunin was one of Abbott’s appointees to the TIDC’s governing board in March 2019. In August 2023, Abbott reappointed him. “The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) was created by statute to distribute funds to counties in order to support indigent defense as required by the Texas and U.S. Constitutions. The Commission also regulates and surveys the practices for the appointment of counsel in each county. The members are either ex officio (sitting because of their title) or nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate,” Bunin wrote to Texas Scorecard. “The Chair, Chief Judge Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals is ex officio. I have been appointed and reappointed four times by Governor Abbott and unanimously confirmed by the Senate.”

Previously, Bunin has been a center of controversy.

He is listed as the chief public defender of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office. In 2018, it was widely reported that he was investigated for allegedly leaking to a bail reform advocate—Jay Jenkins—78 confidential juvenile records that included defendants’ names. Bunin admitted releasing some records by accident, but disagreed it was as many as 78. Bunin was also accused of inappropriately discussing bail hearings, as well as allowing Jenkins to do work at the public defender’s office. When the Harris County Commissioners Court questioned Bunin, only Democrat Commissioner Rodney Ellis defended him. As previously reported by Texas Scorecard, Ellis is at the center of Harris County’s spider web of power.

Texas Scorecard asked Alex Bunin about his working relationship with Ellis. “I have known Commissioner Ellis since he was a [State] Senator,” he replied. “He was a co-sponsor of the Texas Fair Defense Act of 2001, which created TIDC. He has always been interested in criminal justice issues.”

Alex Bunin of the Harris County Public Defender’s Office.

The commissioners decided to allow Bunin to keep his job at the time, passing the buck to the county’s public defender board. The Harris County Public Defender’s Office still lists Bunin as their Chief Public Defender.

Bunin replied to Texas Scorecard’s inquiry to him on this matter. “In June of 2018, there was [an] accusation that the Harris County Public Defender’s Office released ‘confidential’ information about clients. As head of the office, I was required to respond. Harris County Commissioners Court referred the matter to my board for investigation,” he wrote. “The board is completely chosen by the members of Court. The Court then were four Republicans and one Democrat. The board relied upon local and national experts on the law and ethics regarding such client information. The board unanimously found that no law or ethical rule had been violated and reported their findings to Commissioners Court. The Court accepted the findings and closed the matter without action.”

Texas Scorecard asked the Office of the Governor about this allegation against Bunin. No response was received before publication. When asked how his name had come up for consideration by the governor for the nomination to TIDC, Bunin replied: “I worked closely with TIDC since my office first opened in 2010. By statute, there is a slot on the board specifically for a chief public defender. When it became open I was supported by Chief Judge Keller and former Chief Justice Sherry Radack, as well as then Executive Director Jim Bethke.”

At the time, Commissioner Ellis claimed that there was more anger over Bunin’s role in a 2016 federal lawsuit against Harris County’s bail policies than the alleged leak of information. “I couldn’t disagree more,” former Commissioner Jack Morman replied. The federal lawsuit in question had led to Harris County’s bail system being ruled as unconstitutional. In 2019, the now Democrat-controlled commissioners court passed Commissioner Ellis’ “brainchild” bail bond reform in response. Since then the county has become infested with criminal activity, with law-abiding citizens in danger as judges release violent criminals. Bunin was reportedly one of a number of county officials who filed affidavits supporting the plaintiffs.

Allegations of sabotage again surfaced in Bunin’s orbit, this time at TIDC.

In February 2022, Texas Scorecard published an investigative report into allegations taxpayers were funding a sabotage of Operation Lone Star (OLS). The allegation centered around the Lubbock Private Defender Office. The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) gave LPDO millions in taxpayer-funding in order to provide legal representation to illegal border crossers arrested as part of OLS.

Bunin proceeded to comment on TIDC’s funding of LPDO for Operation Lone Star. “The Governor sought legislative appropriations to fund both the prosecution and defense of Operation Lone Star (OLS). The distribution of defense funds is through TIDC. TIDC does not have the staff to individually appoint and oversee counsel in OLS cases. Lubbock’s managed assigned counsel program (LPDO) is the oldest and largest in Texas. It also has proximity to the affected counties,” he wrote. “The decision to fund Lubbock was first decided by TIDC’s Grants Committee with assistance from TIDC staff. I do not sit on the Grants Committee and had nothing to do with that vote. The succeeding votes by the entire board were likely unanimous.”

Texas Scorecard’s investigative report examined a complaint alleging LPDO’s chief defender at the time, Philip Wischkaemper, had been pressuring defense attorneys to not plead their clients guilty or no contest, even if that’s what their clients wanted. Wischkaemper’s alleged goal was to sabotage OLS. Wischkaemper no longer appears on LPDO’s website as their chief defender.

Bunin provided comment on this allegation.

“Public Defender offices and managed assigned counsel offices may not ethically have policies that bind the cases of all clients. Absent evidence to the contrary – and I do not find that a single lawyer’s email allegation to be sufficiently credible — I do not believe the LPDO ever had a policy preventing clients from pleading guilty once they were advised by counsel of the consequences of their plea. Mr. Wischkaemper has not been with LPDO for a couple years, so unless there is an allegation against someone else at LPDO, this controversy appears moot.”

Bunin made it clear that in his responses to our questions, he was speaking for himself and not the Texas Indigent Defense Commission.

Qualified?

Aside from ideological questions, and allegations, there are also questions surrounding the qualifications of some of Abbott’s appointments.

In August 2023, Abbott appointed Lucy Sisniega to the Texas Board of Medical Radiologic Technology—which regulates radiologic technology. Sisniega’s experience is all in commercial real estate.

That same month, Abbott appointed Christopher Carmona to the Texas Diabetes Council. He is a Houston attorney, and business owner, with no apparent ties to diabetes or the medical field. Transparency USA shows that Gary Gates paid Carmona for legal services in 2016. Gates was elected to the Texas House as Republican State Rep. for Texas House District 28 in a 2020 special election.

Then there’s Fritz Duda, whom Abbott appointed to the Texas Historical Commission in July 2023. Duda is the president of a real estate development company that bears his name. Transparency USA reports that he donated $25,000 to Eva Guzman’s 2022 campaign against Attorney Gen. Ken Paxton’s reelection bid. Duda also has donated $380,000 to Abbott since 2015.

Conclusion

The surfacing of Abbott’s chief of staff during during the Paxton impeachment trial helped reveal an infiltration of Bushworld into the governor’s appointments. Further questionable appointments were found during this investigation that contradict Abbott’s public marketing of himself as a conservative.

While in multiple areas, grassroots pressure has seen Abbott move further and further to the right on multiple public policy issues, most notably the open border, it remains to be seen if the same change will be seen in his future appointments.

One check on this particular power of the Governor is the Texas Senate, which has to confirm his picks. Texas Senators have challenged Abbott before over his appointments to the Secretary of State. Since 2017, the Senate had not confirmed an Abbott appointment to the position until March 2023 when they confirmed former State Sen. Jane Nelson to the position. Previous appointees David Whitley and Ruth Hughs were forced to resign at the end of the previous two legislative sessions after failing to garner support from two-thirds of the Senate.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.

Kristen Stanciu

Kristen is passionate about preserving American founding principles and educating the next generation. When she's not researching, she loves reading, cooking, and spending time with family and friends.

RELATED POSTS

7/24/24 Chinese National Importing Fentanyl

-Chinese National Charged in Massive Fentanyl Importation Case -US Rep. Arrington’s Defund Muleshoe Land Grab Amendment Passes in House Vote -Tarrant Appraisal District Directors Pass Reforms Requested by Taxpayers

Texas Congressman Lambasts Secret Service

Pat Fallon is making Texans proud, JD Vance has given Texas a great reason to seriously consider making the Texas Homestead exemption larger, and Representatives Toth, Tinderholt, and Schatzline and pressuring Democrat chairs who are supporting Kamala Harris to act on important policy issues.