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Local Control

A breach in protocol is behind the recent flap over who will serve as the next state education commissioner in Texas after James E. Nelson leaves the post March 31.

Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, revealed his pick during a dinner meeting this month that included representatives from several education groups.

The announcement created a stir, in part, because his choice, Felipe T. Alanis, the associate vice chancellor for academic affairs for the University of Texas System, would be the first Hispanic to hold the post.

The Texas Association of School Boards even posted a press release on its Web site announcing the decision. Newspapers followed suit.

As it turns out, the attention was a bit premature.

In a break from tradition, the governor failed to give the state senator in the district where Mr. Alanis lives a chance to approve the nomination before it was revealed publicly.

Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos, a Democrat representing the Austin area, has said he was told of Mr. Perry's choice only hours before the governor went public with the decision. And he was not happy.

"It kind of goes against the grain on how appointments are made," Mr. Barrientos told the Houston Chronicle. "I'm going to take my time about vetting the nominee."

As of late last week, Mr. Barrientos had not given his consent to the nomination, which must then be approved by the Senate.

Meanwhile, Mr. Alanis was referring all calls from the media on the subject to the governor's office. A spokesman for Gov. Perry said simply that the governor was "waiting for the hometown legislator" to act. Mr. Barrientos could not be reached for comment last week.

Asked about the sudden turn of events in recent days, an observer of school issues in the Lone Star State, who asked not to be identified, chuckled and said, "I guess we just do things a little different here."

—Robert C. Johnston

Vol. 21, Issue 27, Page 14

Published in Print: March 20, 2002, as State Journal

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