Texas Politics

Former Texas secretary of state back on Gov. Abbott’s payroll after resigning post

Texas representative says allegations of widespread voter fraud are mostly “urban legend and myth,”

Rep. Marc Veasey, D- Texas, tells a CSPAN caller that allegations of widespread voter fraud in his state are mostly “urban legend and myth," January 30, 2019.
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Rep. Marc Veasey, D- Texas, tells a CSPAN caller that allegations of widespread voter fraud in his state are mostly “urban legend and myth," January 30, 2019.

After resigning Monday, former Secretary of State David Whitley is back on Gov. Greg Abbott’s payroll.

Whitley, who resigned after leading a botched investigation that questioned the U.S. citizenship of nearly 100,000 Texas voters, was rehired by the governor’s office at an annual salary of $205,000 with the classification “Deputy Director II,” Kevin Lyons, a spokesman for the comptroller’s office, confirmed. The Dallas Morning News was the first to report on Whitley’s rehiring.

“David Whitley has been an exemplary public servant to the state of Texas for many years, and the governor is proud to welcome him back to our organization as a special adviser,” said John Wittman, a spokesman for Abbott.

Whitley, who was serving as the acting secretary of state after being appointed by Abbott in December, resigned before he could be forced out by a likely failed Senate confirmation vote Monday. Whitley previously worked in the governor’s office as Abbott’s deputy chief of staff and appointments director. He first began working for Abbott in 2004, when Abbott was serving as attorney general.

Advocacy groups and the state’s Democratic Party were quick to condemn Whitley’s new position.

“Let’s get this straight: David Whitley used taxpayer dollars to attack Texans’ right to vote,” Manny Garcia, executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement. “Texans and the Texas Legislature said he had no business sitting in the Secretary of State office. He definitely has no business continuing to draw a six-figure salary on the taxpayer dime in the governor’s office.”

Whitley “cost the state nearly $500,000 in court settlements,” Sam Robles, advocacy director for Progress Texas, said, in reference to a settled federal lawsuit that required Texas to pay $450,000 in fees to civil rights groups over the botched investigation.

“While Democrats chose to effectively fire Whitley for his actions, Republicans chose to give him a promotion and a raise. Whitley’s return to the Governor’s office clearly demonstrates Abbott’s priorities,” Robles said.

“Whitley being so handsomely rewarded for almost knocking thousands of legitimate voters off the rolls underscores just how hostile the politicians in power are towards voting rights in Texas,” said Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas.

Civil rights groups sued Whitley over a citizenship review that they said was unconstitutional and targeted voters of color. A January advisory sent to county voter registrars by the Secretary of State’s Office included a list of nearly 100,000 voters compiled by the Department of Public Safety that the department indicated were “non-U.S. citizens” — 58,000 of whom had voted in one or more Texas elections.

It quickly became apparent that voters on the list were U.S. citizens. Tarrant County election officials said the Secretary of State’s Office told them in January that of the 5,800 voters initially identified in Tarrant County, 1,100 of them were indeed U.S. citizens.

The January advisory has since been rescinded as part of the April settlement, which also required county officials to inform voters who were asked to provide proof of citizenship that their voter registration is still in place.

In an interview with reporters Monday, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen placed the brunt of the blame for the mismanaged citizenship review on the Department of Public Safety.

“Frankly, I think that that was a situation where the secretary of state was unfairly overpoliticized, because he was up for an appointment, when the truth of it is DPS failed us,” Bonnen said. “And for some reason, no one wanted to pay attention to that, because we were too busy headhunting the secretary of state.”

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Tessa Weinberg is a state government reporter for the Star-Telegram, covering all things policy and politics. She previously covered the Missouri legislature where her reporting prompted an investigation by the Attorney General’s office. A California native and graduate of the University of Missouri, she’s made her way across the U.S. and landed in Texas in May 2019.