Texas Tech regent Mark Griffin said Friday he was pressured to resign his governor-appointed seat after he endorsed Gov. Rick Perry's rival, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, in the governor's race.
Griffin, who made a recent public appearance endorsing Hutchison, told The Associated Press that Perry's former chief of staff, Brian Newby, called him days later with the message: "The governor expects loyalty out of his appointees."
Griffin said he asked Newby if the governor wanted him to resign and Newby said yes. Griffin said Newby told him, "The governor's not going to ask you himself" but Griffin says he got the impression that his resignation was in the best interest of the university.
Hutchison is challenging Perry in the March 2010 Republican primary. Perry is seeking his third full term as governor.
Newby did not immediately return a phone message Friday seeking comment.
But a spokeswoman for Perry, Allison Castle, said Perry's office had nothing to do with Griffin's resignation.
"The governor appreciates Mr. Griffin's service to Texas Tech and the state of Texas. Our office has not had any contact with Mr. Griffin regarding his resignation (other than Griffin's resignation letter and Perry's acceptance letter). The governor will name a replacement but no decision has been made," Castle wrote.
"I felt like staying on would put the institution at risk and I'm not willing to put the university at risk," Griffin said.
Perry appointed Griffin, a Lubbock businessman, to the board in 2005. Griffin said he agreed to back Hutchison about two years ago, before he knew Perry would seek re-election. But he withheld a public endorsement until after the legislative session ended in June so his political activity wouldn't harm legislation and funding for Texas Tech.
At the Aug. 20 rally in Lubbock, Griffin introduced Hutchison as "a lady who can transcend politics by strong, effective, principled leadership of the state of Texas," according to the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, which first reported Griffin's resignation.
In an Aug. 28 letter to Griffin, Perry accepted Griffin's resignation on Aug. 28 and thanked him for his service.
Newby, who was on Perry's staff since 2004, rose from general counsel to chief of staff, a position he served in for about 16 months, before leaving last year. Newby, now practicing law in Fort Worth, also was a Texas Tech regent from 1999 through 2004.
In February, Hutchison suggested political retribution was behind a dispute between Perry and then-University of Texas regent Robert Rowling that led to Rowling's abrupt resignation from the UT System board.
Rowling, a Perry appointee, headed a fundraising arm of Hutchison's campaign for governor.
Perry sent a letter to Rowling, who was also chairman of the University of Texas System's investment company, criticizing executive bonuses at the company. Harsh questioning of Rowling by state senators following Perry's letter led to the Dallas billionaire's resignation as a regent.
Hutchison called the dispute a "setup" and "partly a payback" by Perry. Perry's office denied there was any political motivation.