The governor’s appointments for secretary of state typically sail through the Texas Senate. But against the backdrop of a flawed voter citizenship check that risked the votes of tens of thousands of naturalized citizens, Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest pick finds himself in need of Democratic support. And the minority party’s doubts about — if not outright opposition to — his confirmation are growing. A longtime Abbott aide appointed to the post in December, David Whitley is set to face the Senate Nominations Committee on Thursday after almost two weeks of intense scrutiny of his decision to question the citizenship status of almost 100,000 voters using flawed data that seemingly singled out naturalized citizens for review. He’s since been named as a defendant in three lawsuits alleging the review was unconstitutional and violated federal safeguards for voters of color, who are more likely to support Democrats. And he’s facing questions from Democratic lawmakers about why he handed that list of voters to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution even before the names were reviewed by local elections officials.
Although Republicans hold 19 seats in the 31-seat upper chamber and can largely consider legislation without the say of any Democrat, Whitley needs a two-thirds vote among the senators present when the full Senate votes on his nomination. That means even with the votes of all of the Republicans, he’ll need at least some Democratic support unless several senators are gone the day of the vote.
Whether he’ll clear that hurdle remains a question. Democrats on the Nominations Committee say they’re heading into Thursday’s hearing with a set of what are likely to be blistering questions about whether Whitley acted to suppress the votes of naturalized citizens.
“There is very little about this that doesn’t concern me — everything from intent to what a reasonable person would do under these circumstances to flaws in the system,” said state Sen. Kirk Watson, an Austin Democrat who serves as the vice chair of the committee.