Texas Governor Rick Perry may have just made a very shrewd move. No, I’m not talking about declaring himself to be a candidate for president on the same day of the Iowa Straw Poll. I’m talking about this:
John Sharp, the former Texas comptroller who was student body president at Texas A&M in the early 1970s, is in line to head the entire 11-university A&M System. Sharp, 61, won approval Monday from the A&M Board of Regents as the sole finalist to become A&M System chancellor. Under state law, the appointment becomes final in 21 days.
As the article mentions, John Sharp is the former State Comptroller of Texas. He is one of the last Democrats to hold statewide office in Texas and he had previously declared himself to be a candidate for the U.S. Senate position currently held by Kay Bailey Hutchison. Sharp also was a close friend of Perry at Texas A&M. While they have locked horns politically over the years, including in 1998 when they ran against one another for Lieutenant Governor, they have had a sort of rapprochement (if it’s okay to use that word in Texas politics, though the reconciliation did start at an Austin gun store) in recent years. Sharp has remained a stalwart Texas Democrat to this day.
Let me be clear – the Governor of Texas doesn’t determine who is appointed to be Chancellor of the Texas A&M System or any other state university system. The Board of Regents of a given university system does that and that task is taken very seriously by the independent Boards. Still, it is hard to imagine that Rick Perry didn’t have any input in this decision.
If he did help encourage this decision, he may have managed to accomplish the following in one fell swoop: he has eliminated a top-tier Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate (admittedly, it’s unlikely a Democrat would win that seat in 2012, but it doesn’t hurt to neutralize a top prospect), he’s placed a friend in charge of one of the top research universities in Texas and he may have helped put a new face on controversial higher education reforms that Perry and his allies have promoted. On that last point, I’m not suggesting that Sharp is anything but his own man on any public policy issue (anyone who knows his reputation knows he is an independent thinker), but one would think that the next Chancellor of the Texas A&M System would consider the policies that the Governor’s allies have suggested, and it appears he is at least open to giving those policies some evaluation.
This may seem like Texas inside baseball, but I’d suggest this is a local example of what I have written about before. Rick Perry is a very shrewd political actor who knows how to think more than a few steps ahead of his current move. He shouldn’t be underestimated by anyone.