Pictured above is Governor Rick Perry’s mugshot. He was booked, fingerprinted and photographed today in Austin, though a warrant was never put out for his arrest and he never saw the inside of a jail cell. As anyone who has read the news recently could obviously recall, Perry was indicted last Friday over a controversy brewing from a threat to a DA, asking for her to resign or face a funding cut. The two charges were Abuse of Political Office and Coercion of a Public Servant. The former is a 1st Degree Felony and the latter is a 3rd Degree Felony. They carry a combined maximum penalty of 109 years in prison.
A number of things have occurred since the weekend, the most notable of which was Perry compiling an all-star legal team. The Texas Tribune reports that at the helm of this team is prominent trial attorney Tony Buzbee. This, despite being the one-time Chairman of the Galveston County Democratic Party, a two-time Democrat nominee for the State Legislature and the once rumored Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. However, of late, Buzbee has been appointed to the Board of Regents of his alma matter, Texas A&M University, and become a key financial supporter of both Perry and Abbott.
Meanwhile, Perry is firing back by waging war in the court of public opinion. Also via the Texas Tribune, it has been reported that his new “Rick PAC” has put out a video defending the Governor. The video, which runs about 2 minutes in a length, has a nifty little selective timeline that touts how Perry vetoed funding for the Travis County DA’s office following DA Lehmberg’s refusal to resign as a result of her DWI. Inconspicuously absent from the timeline is the threat he made immediately prior to the veto. As I have said before, that is truly the most important part.
Think of it this way. If, as a result of the phony scandal drugged up against UT-Austin President Bill Powers by UT Regent Wallace Hall, Perry demanded Powers resignation or face the end of state appropriations to the flagship University, would the people stand for it? If we merely take history as a guide, the answer is a resounding no. The Governor about 97 years ago, James “Pa” Ferguson, was impeached and removed from office for making such threats. A notorious critic of higher education, he vetoed the vast majority of UT’s appropriations after unsuccessfully trying to intimidate Regents and Professors out of their jobs. Ferguson had some sort of reason for his vendetta (A tyrant will always find a pretext for his tyranny), and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram even notes that he castigated his accusers as liars. This is the main issue at play here, whether or not a Governor has the right to threaten unrelated officials, in an attempt to compel them to do things, with money or lack thereof.
While we’re on the subject, I have seen a disappointing number of Perry-foes approach this issue the wrong way. Some of my colleagues in Austin have taken to calling this scandal “Briberygate,” for example. I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose the claim is ostensibly rooted in the fact that bribery is merely giving money in order to do something, so Lehmberg would have her office receive appropriations in exchange for her resignation. Additionally, there is some evidence that Perry’s aides did offer Lehmberg a job elsewhere in exchange for resignation. But the word “bribery” has such a strong connotation, that its use in this way is just plain wrong. Bribery invokes images of a cigar-filled room where a duffel bag full of $20 bills is handed from one person to another; obviously, not whatever this cluster was. It appears irresponsible and hot-headed to equate the impropriety here with actual bribery.
Rather, the focus should be on Perry’s obsession with being a megalomaniac. As Jason Stanford opined in a column today, “Nobody died and made Rick Perry king.”