James R. Huffines
James R. Huffines
Gubernatorial Campaign Contributions:
Years as Regent:
February 2003 - February 2009
Residency: Austin, Texas
James R. Huffines is the president of Plains National Bank Financial and executive vice president of Plains Capital Corporation. PNB Financial is the fifth largest private bank in Texas, and PCC is a holding company in affiliation with Hester Capital Management where Huffines is also a director and principal. PCC owns a handful of other companies, which combine to form the largest private mortgage company in Texas.2 Under tuition deregulation, the regents have complete control over the amount charged to students. As a banker, Huffines could financially benefit from growing student debt. PNB Financial currently handles around $20 million in student loans.3
Huffines' Political Past
James Huffines has long been involved in Texas politics. He was appointments secretary from 1987-89 under Governor Bill Clements (husband of current regent Rita Clements), who served from 1978-1982 and 1986-1990. In this position, Huffines advised the governor on hundreds of Clements' appointments across the state. From Huffines' recommendations, Clements would present appointee names to state senators who finalized the appointments. After the names had been given to the senators, Huffines bullied them into approving the nominees. He reportedly said that bills introduced by recalcitrant senators would consequently be vetoed. Some senators claimed that he said: “Is this vote worth risking your entire legislative program?” and “We’re taking names.”4 When these statements were made public, they prompted apologies from Huffines, who left his post in 1989, one year before Clements left the governor's mansion.5
The Public Utility Commission (PUC) is a three-member board appointed by the governor. Gov. Clements appointed a few of his friends to this board over the years, one assumes under advice from Huffines. Months after he selected Republican William Cassin, the PUC had proposed 60 pieces of legislation later to be known as the "Austin Bashing Bills." Groups such as the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, South Austin and Central Austin Democrats and Campus Animal Rights Activists rallied at the State Capitol to protest these bills. Three months later, another Clements-appointee was removed from office for conflicts of interest; in PUC rate cases, she was allowed to basically act as judge and as defender of agency employees. Later that year, Cassin left the commission, and Clements appointed Paul Meek to fill his shoes. Meek was a board chairman of American Petrofina, a gas company that could have done significant business with Gulf State Utilities. State law prohibits a regulated utility from doing business with a company whose director is a state utility commissioner. Huffines defended Meek's appointment by stating business from Petrofina "wasn't a significant portion of the business."6 However, in 1992 then-Attorney General Dan Morales forced Meek to resign because of this apparent conflict of interest.
Huffines and Clements had also approved then-McAllen Mayor Othal Brand for the Agricultural Resources Protection Authority. Two months earlier, Brand was quoted: "Sure, [the pesticide chlordane]'s going to kill a lot of people, but they may be dying of something else anyway."7 Brand then pulled his nomination since he knew that he would not have then-State Senator Hector Uribe's support (since Brand lived in Uribe's district). Huffines only said that Brand's decision would be honored.
In 1991, the year after Clements was voted out of office, Huffines tried to get back in the picture. He got nominated to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission but was immediately rejected,8 due to his recent history with Clements.
Huffines got back in the Texas political scene when Bush selected him for his 1999 Inaugural Committee, helping the re-elected governor secure hefty donations. The following year was the highly controversial presidential race between George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore, and Huffines donated at least $100,000 to Bush's campaign, officially making him a Bush "Pioneer" (and ensuring that Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry got the governor's office). That December 14th, the day after Bush was handed the election, Perry named his "Transition Team" that was to ease him into the governor's seat. Huffines was appointed Chairman, and he was able to oversee all of the team's tasks such as Texas' federal relations, the state's relationship with Mexico, and most notably, Perry's appointments. The team was split into three groups which were in charge of each of the above categories. Two of the three members of the appointment group were Cyndi Krier and Robert Estrada, just months before Perry appointed them to the UT Board of Regents.
About two years later, Huffines was appointed as a 2003 Inaugural Committee Co-Chairman. He was able to secure millions of dollars for Rick Perry, with about $1.5 million in corporate donations alone. Perry was able to pay Huffines back in the only way he can, by appointing him to yet another powerful position in Texas politics.
Stories from Huffines' past show flaws in regent selection by John Pruett (June 14, 2004)
Here's to cronyism
- Daily Texan Viewpoint (6/10/2004)
When Gov. Rick Perry releases the new Texas commemorative quarter this morning at the Bob Bullock museum with music and barbecue, the new chairman of the UT System Board of Regents will be present. But he will have his own reasons to celebrate.
Perry selected PlainsCapital Bank to be the "official bank partner" for the event, according to a company press release.
The bank's Central and South Texas regional chairman, James Huffines, is a former Perry campaign chairman, a big-time Republican fund-raiser and, since 2003, a Perry appointee to the Board of Regents. He was just voted the board's chairman.
Because of Perry's selection, PlainsCapital has its name on state press releases, its employees passing out quarters at the gubernatorial event, and a stockpile of shiny new commemorative quarters to sell in $10 rolls at its locations statewide. That's considerable advertising for Huffines' company.
Everyone likes to help out an old friend once in a while, but Perry and Huffines are public figures. They should know how favoritism looks. They should know to avoid it.
Board and Executive Positions
Board and President, Austin
Executive Vice President and Board Member
Huffines Chevrolet Subaru, Inc.; Ray Huffines Chevrolet, Inc.; Huffines Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc.; Huffines Dodge Lewsville, Inc.:
Huffines Chevrolet Subaru, Inc.; Ray Huffines Chevrolet, Inc.; Huffines Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc.; Huffines Dodge Lewisville, Inc.: