At yesterday’s hearing of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, Rep. Ferdinand Frank Fischer III (who goes by the moniker, “Trey Martinez Fischer”) compared the committee’s efforts to impeach UT Regent Wallace Hall with the famous impeachment of Governor James Ferguson in 1917. But a review of the historical record shows that it is the actions of the Select Committee — not Regent Hall — that bare a resemblance to the actions of Ferguson.

Phrased as a question to Barry Burgdorf, former General Counsel to the UT System, who was testifying before the committee at the time, Fischer asked Burgdorf if he knew why Ferguson had been impeached. He went on to ask Burgdorf if he knew that Ferguson had been impeached for attempting to get certain faculty at the University fired from their positions. He then asked Burgdorf if President Bill Powers would be considered “faculty,” and the two agreed that, because he previously taught classes at the Law School, that Powers was indeed a “faculty member.”

As it turns out, as is frequently the case with him, Rep. Fischer’s claims are mostly false and certainly conceal the real truth about the impeachment of Gov. James Ferguson.

A review of the 21 articles of impeachment against Ferguson reveal that the first 14 and last two don’t address matters at UT at all. The first 14 articles focus on the misappropriation of state funds by Governor Ferguson to banks he owned or controlled. In the final two articles, Gov. Ferguson was found to have interfered with the Courts in cases that affected him, threatening to withhold pay increases and political endorsements unless judges would rule in his favor. He was also found to have schemed to keep in place a public official whom he appointed to public office but whose nomination was explicitly rejected by the Texas Senate.

Articles 15 – 19 do, however, deal with Gov. Ferguson’s interactions with the University of Texas, but not in the way that Rep. Fischer would have the public believe. The articles actually explicitly state that Gov. Ferguson was within his rights to make allegations that certain faculty members at the University of Texas were corrupt and needed to be terminated. But it was Gov. Ferguson’s reaction to the response by the legislature and the UT Board of Regents — a response that is eerily similar to the actions of the House Select Committee on Transparency — that got him impeached.

The major claim against Ferguson was that, after University officials refused to heed his advice and fire the objectionable faculty members, Ferguson vetoed nearly the entire budget for the University of Texas and then refused to call a special session to re-appropriate funds for the support of the University. Then, as now, the Texas Constitution required the state to provide maintenance and support for the University of Texas.

But the other four claims had to do with Gov. Ferguson interfering with the authority of the Board of Regents to manage the affairs of the University. After the Board investigated the faculty members identified by Ferguson and exonerated them, Ferguson continued to pressure the Board members to expel the faculty. When they would not, Ferguson sought to remove the members of the Board of Regents who opposed him without “good and sufficient cause.”

When the Senate of Texas sought to investigate Ferguson’s claims, he opposed that investigation, but then took up making his claims against the professors after the session had ended. Finally, in an attempt to secure the vote of the Chairman of the Board of Regents, Ferguson bribed him with $5000 of state funds.

The articles state that the “Board of Regents are given the management of the affairs of the University of Texas with the discretion to remove members of the faculty when in their judgment it is deemed best. The articles go on to state that “it is readily conceded” that, “It is the duty of the Governor, or any private citizen, to call attention to any mismanagement or improper practices at the University or any other State institution” but that the Board of Regents has the “sole right to judge the truth of the charges.”

In this case, it is the committee upon which Rep. Fischer sits that seeks to stop an investigation into potential misconduct and malfeasance at the University of Texas. It is the committee members who are seeking to usurp the constitutional power of the Board of Regents and determine how best to manage The University of Texas. It is the committee members who are seeking to remove a University of Texas Regent without “good and sufficient cause.”

So, the question is raised: Should we impeach the impeachers?

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.