By Tom Cushing
Never Say Never -- the Perry IndictmentUploaded: Aug 19, 2014
I'm not sure I've ever expressed it aloud, but I can say with certainty that I never thought I'd write a blog in support of Texas' all-star all-hat/no-cattle Governor Perry. Ever.
That has to change. Because even a man who packed and temporarily disbanded the Texas Forensic Science Commission to impede its investigation into the very shaky arson-murder case against a father executed during his watch (and bragged about the man-bits it took to do it), deserves fair treatment by the legal system on those occasions when he does his job. His recent indictment on abuse of power charges is a dog (as they say in Texas) that just won't hunt.
The backstory is that Texas has a statewide Public Corruption Unit led by Travis County (Austin) DA Rosemary Lehmberg, which seems remarkable enough in the land just east of the Pecos (for the record, it is 'against' public corruption). Odder still, Ms. Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving, and made an embarrassing, Alaska-size scene about it -- her blood alcohol was a mere 3X the legal limit, and it showed. She, a Democrat, refused to resign from her office.
Mr. Perry, a Republican, thereupon threatened to veto the state funding for said anti-corruption unit if she failed to step-down, and then did so when she still refused. Because he may have had many excellent reasons to want to squelch the risk associated with that office, some fellers reckoned that the veto threat was a tee-ninesy bit political, in that he might-could appoint a GOP loyalist to run that henhouse. Ms. Lehmberg remains in office, and hopefully off the streets. The anti-corruption unit limps along without the $7.5M state funding that Mr. Perry has, in fact, withheld.
Whereupon an Austin-based Grand Jury has now indicted the Governor on two felony charges, potentially worth up to 109 years in the hoosegow. There's an old saying that any worthy DA can get a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich and now, we know it's true. The Governor is charged with misusing that $7.5M in public funds, and trying to coerce a public official, DA Lehmberg.
Trouble is, this case is a non-starter from the git-go. In the rather tangled web of Texas governance, the state-wide corruption unit that looks into cases involving federal, state or local officials, is housed in one particular County DA's office. The state's general fund support amounts to a substantial share of the unit's budget, which seems both odd and prone to exactly this kind of dust-up. That said, Mr. Perry was very likely within his purview as the state's Chief Exec to veto that funding, which governors do all the time, and which he did in a very public way. Veto threats, arm-twisting, and vetoes themselves are, after all, part-and-parcel of the rough-and-tumble of politics.
The real problem is that Ms. Lehmberg lobbed a vodka-soaked hanging curveball into the Governor's wheelhouse, and he gleefully crushed it. The solutions include a veto override (doubtful -- as a legislator, you don't want to ham-handedly vote to un-fund an anti-corruption bureau, but that don't mean you have to throw it a lifeline if you can let it sink), and the ballot box. Perry is not running for re-election but he seems to have his newly bespectacled eyes set on a wider horizon beyond the burnt orange Hill Country. It's a good look, but perhaps not sufficient. We'll see.
Moreover, this kerfuffle is in line with a recent trend for losers to turn to the courts to resolve political complaints. Many of the same arguments that defend Mr. Perry are also available to the President in his legal defense against the House lawsuit, in case it's actually ever filed. I do not know whether the inclination to sue derives from the new nadir of nastiness (like it?) that pervades our politics, or from our generally litigious society, or maybe it relates more particularly to these two defendants. We can hope for the latter and for a quick and merciless failure of these peculiar cases. Indictments and lawsuits really ought to mean something -- these do not.
There. I've done it. I feel just a little bit soiled.