Davis questions Abbott’s role during CPRIT turmoil

Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, makes a point as she speaks to supporters at her campaign headquarters, Tuesday, March 4, 2014, in Fort Worth, Texas. Now the Texas governor's race really begins and Democrat Davis insists that, yes, it'll be a race. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

AUSTIN (AP) — Democrat Wendy Davis shifted the focus of her underdog run in the Texas governor’s race Tuesday to the oversight role that Republican rival Greg Abbott held while the state’s $3 billion cancer-fighting agency came unraveled by turmoil in 2012.

Davis said Abbott was derelict not only as attorney general but as a member of the governing board of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. The agency is only now emerging from a criminal investigation and national embarrassment over questionable spending.

The attacks by the state senator marked a new target for her campaign, which has proven adept at raising money but has trailed Abbott in the polls. It also comes with a sharper edge than trading barbs over school policy proposals, which have dominated the race in recent weeks.

Prosecutors last year criminally indicted one top state executive on charges related to $11 million in taxpayer funds that the cancer agency, known as CPRIT, awarded to a private company without review.

Abbott didn’t attend board meetings that finalized lucrative awards to researchers and private companies.

“Rather than appearing and being that watchdog, he purposely removed himself from that table and looked the other way,” Davis said.

Abbott’s political donors include backers of companies that received lucrative awards from the agency. Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said Abbott was simply removing himself from potential conflicts of interests during this time on the board. As the problems at CPRIT mounted, Abbott’s office opened its own investigation into the agency.

“Greg Abbott upheld the ethical standards that all elected officials should use, and he retained the independence that allowed him to investigate and help prosecute wrongdoing at CPRIT,” Hirsch said.

The attorney general’s office no longer has a seat on the CPRIT governing board, which lawmakers entirely replaced last year as part of sweeping reforms.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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