In case you haven’t checked the internets in the last two days, it is worth repeating once again that Governor Rick Perry has been indicted by a Travis County Grand Jury for two felonies, abuse of politicaal office and coercion of a public servant. Two big questions come to mind immediately. First, how did we get here? Second, where do we go from here? I will attempt to briefly answer both below.
In April of last year, the Travis County District Attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for drunk driving. She was nearly four times the legal limit, belligerent and tried to use her influence to get out of the charge. Normally, when an official screws up this publicly, a quiet resignation occurs and everyone will continue on their merry way. The problem with this, however, is that Perry would have appointed Lehmberg’s –a Democrat– replacement. The Travis County DA, additionally, is especially powerful because it oversees the Public Integrity Unit (PIU), which oversees alleged impropriety on the part of state officials.
Lehmberg was charged with a first-time misdemeanor, plead guilty and accepted a 45 day sentence in jail. The sentence was called by the Austin American-Statesman “without a doubt, the harshest sentence for a first-time drunken driving charge in the history of Travis County.” About a month later, she was back at work. Of note here is that the Travis County DA only prosecutes felonies, so her charged was not included. The Travis County Attorney prosecutes such misdemeanors.
But in June of that year, Perry stepped in around veto time. He publicly threatened to cut off funding for the PIU unless Lehmberg resigned. The San Antonio Express-News recent reported last May that Lehmberg was offered a job in exchange for the resignation. When Lehmberg did not comply, he followed through and cut the funding.
This, in its simplest form, is the issue. Perry has attempted to frame it in a way that makes him look like a valiant moral crusader fighting against drunken DAs, but the controversially is completely separate. Perry had the unquestioned power to veto the PIU’s funds, but he did not have the power to publicly threaten to take or not take the action based on another person’s deed.
For what it’s worth, the PIU did not directly prosecute this case. A special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, was called in for this. I’ve even heard he is a Republican, but don’t care too much about that.
I think, when all is said and done, the only real affect of this issue is that it will sink whatever presidential prospects Perry may have had. He will have long left office before this goes to a trial. My inclination is that Perry will be convicted at least on the coercion of a public servant charge by a Travis County Jury, but the charges will be thrown out on appeal.
This case is all about the law, the grey. The facts are not in dispute. The only question is if Perry’s little diatribe to the media before line-item vetoing the funding constituted coercion.
In the past, I made comments suggesting that Lehmberg should not resign. Those were wrong, I should not have taken a hard position on this issue given that I am not one of Lehmberg’s constituents nor is she part of a deliberative body that directly affects me, such as the State Legislature. But whatever your position on Lehmberg and her drunkenness (to be fair, a trial designed to get her kicked out of office last year went nowhere quite expeditiously), it does not justify what Perry did. It does not make it any less illegal, nor less serious. It is a complete, 100% red herring.
No matter what Lehmberg could have been guilty of, it would not have justified what Perry did. He is not her boss, he just cannot micromanage like that while staying within the boundaries of the law.
I’ll likely have more when Perry gets his mug shot next week!