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The Riggs Report: A Texan for Sacramento State

New campus president named to replace Alexander Gonzalez

Wednesday’s announcement that the California State University trustees had picked a Texas educator as the top administrator for Sacramento State set off all kinds of jokes and winks on social media.

“Take that, Rick Perry,” tweeted West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon.

“The moving trucks are fleeing Texas and coming to California!” read another tweet from a Democratic Senate staffer.

Not that Dr. Robert Nelsen , formerly president of the University of Texas-Pan American, isn’t qualified for the Sac State job. It’s just that his Lone Star State credentials play directly into an ongoing political and economic feud between Governor Jerry Brown and former Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Perry loved to brag that he was actively seeking to bring California companies and their jobs to Texas with promises of low taxes and scanty regulations. It wasn’t job poaching, he said, just good old-fashioned competition.

Last spring, he took credit for a decision by Toyota to move its US headquarters, along with 3,000 jobs, from Torrance to a suburb of Dallas.

Last July, in a memorable stunt designed for TV cameras, Perry arrived at a Sacramento hotel across from the Capitol behind the wheel of a Tesla Model S, telling reporters he wished it had a “made in Texas bumper sticker.” At the time, California and Texas were competing for a planned Tesla battery factory, which eventually went to Nevada instead.

Brown has periodically swatted back.

“Hell no!” he heatedly told me in 2011 when I asked if Texas was a better place to do business than California. At the time, a delegation of Republican legislators, along with Lieutenant-Governor Gavin Newsom, were packing for an economic tour of Texas.
Brown’s administration pushed for successful passage in 2013 of a multi-million tax incentive program called California Competes, and identified a number of California businesses that would eligible for the tax breaks.

Earlier this week, the Sacramento Bee’s editorial board jumped into the act, noting new figures that showed California had added 498,000 new jobs in 2014, compared to 393,000 in Texas.

“Texas surely has its charms,” the Bee editorialized, “and while we are not exactly sure what they might be, perhaps being a cheap place to do business is one of them.”

It’s a swipe that Jerry Brown might have made.

Nelsen, the Texas educator, will hear echoes of this spirited rivalry when he arrives in the capital city in July to take over as Sac State’s twelfth president. In tackling the challenges of running a campus of almost 30 thousand students, Nelsen will benefit from the long leadership of Alexander Gonzalez, who’s held the top job at Sac State since 2003.

But if the new president wants to wants to get plugged into California politics and build good relations with the Brown Administration, he’d be wise to leave any “Rick Perry for President” bumper stickers back in the Rio Grande Valley.