Texpatriate supports Death Penalty abolition

The death penalty has not really been the topic of political conversation of late. Earlier this month, Noah M. Horwitz wrote on how both gubernatorial candidates –State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democrat, and Attorney General Greg Abbott, the Republican– were tried and true supporters of capital punishment. Even Davis supported the expansion, much less continuation, of the mechanisms.

Now, the fact that both serious gubernatorial contenders support capital punishment should not be all that surprising. After all, recent polling suggests that more than 70% of Texans support its continued use. However, since 2012, the Texas Democratic Party has called for the total abolition of capital punishment as a part of its platform. Simply put, this board has eagerly been awaiting Democratic candidates to follow through with espousal of such a plank.

Davis supports the death penalty, but as best as we can figure out, so does State Senator Leticia Van de Putte (D-Bexar County), the Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. Ditto for Sam Houston (Democrat’s candidate Attorney General) and Kim Ogg (Democrat’s candidate for Harris County District Attorney). So what gives?

The previous individual posts and editorials of this publication have certainly heavily suggested such a conclusion, but we are not completely sure if it has ever been unequivocally stated in print. To be clear, this board supports the total abolition of capital punishment. There are a literal plethora of reasons why the sentence is ineffective or overly pricey. And the process of lethal injection, particularly with recent shortages of execution drugs, raises important important questions about unnecessary cruelty. But the overarching concern with this issue is that, no matter which way it is carried out, the killing of another human who does not present any immediate or existential danger to another is morally wrong. That’s it.

This can be a religious issue, if one prefers it that way. The bible is pretty clear about the whole “Thou shall not kill” thing. But wholly separate from any religious influence, all people should agree that minimizing violence is an ideal way to run a civilization. Vengeance is not a healthy way to govern our laws. The entire reason why vigilante justice and lynch mobs are illegal is that primal reactions should not trump the established moral supremacy of due process and civil liberties.

But to humor the other arguments, it can be shown that death penalty does not deter violent crime. It’s not even an open question. Nor does it actually save money; every significant investigation has shown that it actually costs more money to follow through with a death sentence than the cheaper penalty of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Furthermore, recent travesties in Oklahoma and Arizona have reopened debate on just how “painless” death by lethal injection actually is compared to other methods.

At the root of all these problems, however, is a fundamental moral hiccup with the idea that it is okay to kill another human being. We seriously do not see it as that complicated.

Likewise, it should not be all that complicated for the aforementioned Democrats to come down on the right side of this issue. There is something to be said for not going too far to the left in an attempt to remain viable to a more centre-right electorate. But the death penalty, an issue where people’s lives are quite literally directly at stake, is simply different.

Perhaps this board is too full of starry-eyed optimist. But we dream of a State where our politicians –ostensibly courageous public servants who will do what’s right over what’s popular– aren’t afraid of some mythical blowback for publicly espousing a position everyone already knows is being peddled in private.

The Texpatriate Editorial Board is comprised of Noah M. Horwitz & Olivia Arena of Austin, George Bailey of Boston, Luis Fayad of College Station and Andrew Scott Romo of New Orleans. Editorials represents a majority of the board.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Herb Ritchie

Editorial note: This is the seventh in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

 Herb Ritchie

Herb Ritchie, Democratic candidate for the 263rd Criminal District Court

Texpatriate: What is your name?
HR: Herb Ritchie

T: What office are you seeking?
HR: Judge, 263rd Criminal District Court, Harris County, Texas.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
HR: Judge, 337th Criminal District Court, Harris County, Texas; January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2012.

T: What is your political party?
HR:Democrat.

T: What is a specific case in which you disagree with actions undertaken by the incumbent?
HR: Offenders serving a sentence for a state jail felony currently do not earn good conduct time for time served. However, as previous Judge of the 337th Criminal District Court, I told defendants at sentencing that I would award maximum diligent participation credit for diligent participation in programs such as work, education, and/or treatment. My rationale was that this would (1) save taxpayer money since less jail space would required; (2) encourage defendants to better themselves through education and treatment for substance abuse; (3) discourage inmate fighting and abuse toward jailers, lest the time credit be lost. The incumbent to my knowledge has not, and does not award diligent participation credit.

T: What is a contentious issue that you believe the Court will face in the near future? Why is it important? How would you solve it?
HR: The dockets in Harris County continue to grow larger each year with no additional courts being created to handle the ever burgeoning population. I will support requests for the creation of more criminal district courts. In the meantime, I will continue to work diligently, just as I did previously, to insure that every defendant receives a prompt, full and fair hearing and/or trial.

T: Do you believe that the incumbent has specifically failed at her or his job? If so, why?
HR: I think it is more appropriate to set forth the positives of my candidacy rather than to speak negatively of the incumbent. The voters will make this judgment in the upcoming election.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
HR: My qualifications are as follows:

U.T. honor graduate (B.A. 1967, with honors; M.A. 1969; J.D. 1974, with honors); Phi Beta Kappa (Honorary Academics Achievement); Phi Delta Phi (Honorary Legal Achievement); Eta Sigma Phi (Honorary Classics Achievement); past teacher/instructor of Classics at U.T.-Austin and Baylor University; Teacher’s Award Mortgages; third highest grade, Texas Bar Examination; past counsel Texas Real Estate Commission and Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., past managing partner, Ritchie & Glass, Law Firm; experienced in both civil and criminal cases and appellate procedure; Board Certified in Criminal Law since 1987 by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization; member: Houston Bar Association, College of the State Bar of Texas. Licensed to practice in all Texas Courts, Southern, Western and Eastern District of Texas, Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. Supreme Court. Elected Judge 337th Criminal District Court, 2009-2012.

T: What role do you think a Criminal District Judge should have individually? What role do you think the Criminal District Courts should have as a whole?
HR: Individually a Criminal District Judge should exhibit patience, judicial temperament and demeanor. The role requires the highest degree of integrity and the treatment of all persons fairly, equally and respectfully. The Criminal District Courts as a whole should promote faith, confidence in and respect for the American criminal justice system.

T: What role do you believe a Judge should have in plea bargains? Do you think a Judge should ever veto an agreement between the District Attorney and Defense Attorneys?
HR: The Judge should normally let the attorneys for the State and defense agree upon the appropriate disposition of a case based upon the facts, evidence, and criminal history of the defendant. A Judge should veto a plea bargain only when there appears to be a miscarriage of justice, should the plea bargain be followed.

T: What role do you think that rehabilitation, rather than punishment, particularly for drug offenses, should have in the criminal justice process?
HR: For the non-violent drug offender, treatment is preferable to incarceration. This saves taxpayer money by reserving prison space for violent offenders such as rapists, child sex offenders, robbers, murderers, etc.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
HR: I believe in the partisan election of judges for the following reasons: (1) appointed judges are often likely to suffer from “black robe disease” or “robitis”, and even with retention elections, it can be difficult to dislodge an unfit, arrogant judge; (2) judges need to be accountable to the electorate rather than be chosen by a few political insiders; (3) in large counties such as Harris, it is impossible to know all the individual candidates, and party label often gives some clue about a candidate; (4) non-partisan elections are more likely to produce winners with common, familiar-sounding or likeable names; (5) the political parties themselves will often screen out unqualified candidates through various party group endorsements and primary contests. While some argue that appointed judges are less susceptible to political pressure, an elected judge of good character will follow the law and not succumb to political pressure or public clamor. I realize that sometimes political sweeps can remove from office some qualified judges, and install some less qualified jurists, but the reverse is also sometimes true. In short this is a difficult and perplexing question; the answer to which, reasonable minds may differ.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
HR: (1) The dockets in Harris county have exploded with the burgeoning population, and the last criminal district court in Harris County was created in 1985. I have advocated for the creation of additional courts, and also for the addition of court magistrates to hear uncontested pleas and other administrative matters in order that the elected judges can spend more time trying and disposing of contested cases. Additionally, when judge of the 337th Criminal District Court, I spent long hours on the bench whenever necessary to keep the docket as current as possible.

(2) Jail overcrowding is a serious and dangerous problem. As mentioned earlier, I would give diligent participation credit to state jail prisoners. Additionally, I would try to rehabilitate non-violent substance abuse offenders in appropriate cases. I had at one time, to the best of my knowledge, more defendants on probation and deferred adjudication than any other criminal district judge in Harris County. The jail space was saved for violent offenders who were a danger to the community.

(3) Effective representation of indigent defendants is a great concern, and I used the Harris County Public Defenders Office as much as possible. This would ensure that by and large the same resources would be available to the defense of the indigent as there would be for the prosecution. There needs to be a level playing field for justice to prevail.

Civil Affairs: Courthouse

CIVIL AFFAIRS

Meticulously following both the 2013 election and the 2014 election has led me to examine the many differences between the two campaign cycles. In the former, an individual voter makes selections in a grand total of 8 elections at City Hall, plus one or two –give or take– around various school boards. The duties and responsibilities for these elected posts are quite straightforward. Stewardship of a municipality typically deals with rather simple issues, such as budgets and the passage of ordinances that directly deal with the public. The weeds of the issue may be complex, but it can be simplified into a newspaper headline at the end of the day.

The races down at the Courthouse, in a word, are not. Quite different from off-year elections, the average voter in Harris County will find herself with about 90 different contests to make a selection in, the vast majority of which being local judicial offices. I’m not naive, I know darn well that over 99 out of 100 voters will not bother to know the inside story about each and every race, and will likely just pull the lever straight ticket one way or another. Indeed, I would be comfortable assuming today that the sizable majority of the judicial candidates I vote for will be Democrats, even though I have not begun to intently analyze any of these contests.

One of the biggest problems with public engagement in this process is the shear number of candidates; even for the most experienced political mavens, it can be overwhelming. As I have lightly opined in the past, perhaps Texas should not elect its judges. While electing one District Judge and one County Judge for a small community may have made sense 100 years ago, the staggered hodgepodge of literally hundreds of jurists in the Harris County area just is not effective anymore.

But an equally frustrating problem that can occur when trying to make rational decisions in these contests is the amount of legal jargon and complexity thrown into the equation. Maury Maverick, the Mayor of San Antonio from 1935 to 1939, was arguably best known for coining the word “gobbledygook,” for excessively bureaucratic language. I am a layperson, as is the vast majority of the Texas electorate, so most of the goings-on at the Courthouse are coated in what could only generously be referred to as such gobbledygook.

However, such an attitude is enormously damaging to the integrity of the entire county. The great/scary thing about the way our judicial selection is set up is that I have the exact same say in selecting a Judge than an attorney who has practiced before that courtroom for the past 40 years. And obviously, there are a lot more people like me than like the hypothetical attorney.

At Texpatriate, we have positively zero attorneys among our contributors. Thus, there is some light confusion when we deal with going-ons at the Courthouse, namely our endorsement process for judicial elections. For the Democratic & Republican primaries, as well for the upcoming general election, we consulted with a few anonymous attorneys with special expertise in the courts we were profiling. However, at the end of the day, we made our own decisions.

I think that is one of the best parts about our judicial system, how open it is to the general public (at least, theoretically). Court Coordinators and other court staff, all of whom are invaluable to the process of how the legal system moves along, are seldom attorneys. Similarly, both grand juries and petite juries are almost always comprised of non-lawyers. The adjudication of a case, in many instances, is literally only decided as a direct result of their action.

Make no mistake, the best way to directly involve yourself in courthouse politics is to speak up on the issues or get involved. If you are unfamiliar with the background of certain issues, consult a friend who is an attorney to help you out. As an adulteration of the famous Pericles quote, just because you don’t take an interest in the Courthouse, doesn’t mean the Courthouse won’t take an interest in you.

Chances are, you or someone you know will be involved in the Criminal Justice system, either as a defendant, a victim or a witness. You may very well have a high-stakes squabble over money, which would be routed into Civil Court. With over 50% of marriages ending in divorce, there is also a high probability that you end up in a Family Court. And, of course, one of the ugliest truths of life is that you and everyone you are related to will eventually die, likely to leave behind an estate that must be probated in Court.

My parting advice is merely to do a little digging about these judicial offices yourself, because straight ticket voting –in many instances– simply will not cut it. Many incumbent Republican Judges are decent and fair legal minds, but many are not. It’s up to you to change that.

Davis’ second TV ad

The Texas Tribune reports that State Senator Wendy Davis (D-Tarrant County), the Democratic candidate for Governor, has released her second television ad, a real barnburner that seeks to connect her Republican opponent, Attorney General Greg Abbott, to the ongoing CPRIT scandal.

The ad, which I have embedded above, is a 30 second spot that interviews a gentleman named “Manuel,” who is a local cancer survivor. He lambasts Abbott for his role on the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas. “But Greg Abbott did his best to keep my prayers from being answered,” the gentleman said after alleging Abbott’s complicity in the scandal.

For those unfamiliar with the CPRIT scandal, it is a rather nebulous political drama that is not easily explained. The board doles out grants and other moneys to outside firms for cancer research. Shortly after its formation in 2007, the Chief Commercialization Officer of CPRIT, Jerry Cobbs, went out of his way to secure an $11 Million grant to Peloton Therapeutics, without completing the necessary business or scientific reviews. Not coincidentally, one of Peloton’s biggest investors was Peter O’Donnell, whose political records show evidence of him donating nearly $250,000.00 to Governor Rick Perry. The Governor, for his part, appointed most of the heavy-hitters involved in CPRIT, along with the Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House.

Anyways, Cobber eventually got indicted by a grand jury following a long investigation by the Travis County District Attorney’s office’s Public Integrity Unit. CPRIT otherwise has a few other kinks of impropriety, including (but not limited to) the saga of Charles Tate, as well a high-level scientist on the board who blew the whistle a couple years back about how politics was trumping science when it came to grant considerations.

Now, the reference to the Public Integrity Unit should sound familiar, since its attempted defunding is at the center of the Rick Perry indictment. The more conspiracy-minded Democrats I know swear that the two are inexplicably mixed, and Perry’s attempted ouster of Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg was merely a veiled attempt to stymie the progress of prosecutors closing in on his corruption, making the funding veto a Texas-sized “Saturday Night Massacre,” if you will.

The only problem with this is that the facts simply do not support this view. An affidavit released by Perry’s legal team to the public on Thursday shows that the PIU investigation into CPRIT did not target Perry. Still, the whole issue feels a little dirty, which is why its use as the subject material of a television ad is not surprising. But why is it an ad against Abbott?

Abbott, in his official capacity as Attorney General, was an ex-officio member of CPRIT’s oversight board. Considering how much good the “oversight” did, in addition to the fact that Abbott did not attend any meetings of the organization, the Davis campaign has been frothing at the mouth for months for an opportunity to hit him. The Austin American-Statesman compiled a writeup of this line of reasoning back in May.

Once again, the issue with this is that Abbott always made it clear that he disagreed with the ethics of him holding a spot on the oversight board. He protested the appointment, and boycotted the meetings in defiance. The rationale used was that, if allegations of impropriety ever arose on the board, his office should be the primary investigators, something he would not feel comfortable doing if he had been a part of the process.

I don’t know how I feel about this ad, given the liberties it takes with the whole truth. It claims that Abbott was “charged with overseeing” CPRIT, which is a very far cry from the limited position he was ostensibly put in, before deciding to eschew that responsibility as well. I’m curious what the good people at PolitifactTexas will say about it.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the impropriety that occurred at CPRIT is objectionable, and I still think that it is an open question as to whether or not Perry knew of the bad stuff going on over there. But it’s only appropriate to push the sins of an incumbent onto his prospective successor if you are open about it (E.g., “Rick Perry did all this bad stuff. Haven’t we had enough Republican governors?”). There are plenty of skeletons in Abbott’s closets ripe for the picking, the subject material of Davis’ first ad to name one. But this attack just doesn’t pass the smell test.

Texpatriate’s Questions for Ken Wise

Editorial note: This is the sixth in our series of electronic interviews with candidates for Statewide and Harris County offices. We have sent questionnaires to every candidate on the ballot, given we could find a working email address. We have printed their answers verbatim as we receive them. If you are or work for such a candidate, and we did not send a questionnaire, please contact us <info@texpate.com>.

Ken Wise, Justice on the 14th Court of Appeals, Place 7

Texpatriate: What is your name?
KW: Justice Ken Wise

T: How long have your held this post? What number term are you seeking?
KW: I will have been in office over a year at the time of the election. I was appointed to this position in October, 2013 and am seeking my first full term.

T: Please list all the elected or appointed POLITICAL (including all Judicial) offices you have previously held, and for what years you held them.
KW: Judge,152nd District Court: 2002-2008; Judge, 334th District Court: 2011-2013.

T: What is your political party?
KW: Republican

T: Please describe a majority or concurring opinion that you have written in the most recent term. What were the parameters of this case? Why did you come to your conclusion?
KW: I have written many opinions during my time on the Court. I always work to write opinions that are clear, thorough and easy to understand and apply. Each opinion gets my full effort, no matter the size of the case or the status of the parties.

T: Please describe a dissenting opinion that you have written in the most recent term. What were the parameters of this case? Why did you come to your conclusion and disagree with the majority?
KW: I have yet to dissent from an opinion of a panel to which I’ve been assigned.

T: Why you, as opposed to your opponents?
KW: The most important quality of a good appellate justice is experience. I have over ten years of experience as a judge. My opponent has no judicial experience and has not, to my knowledge, even practiced law.

T: What role do you think a Justice of the Court of Appeals should have individually? What role do you think the Court of Appeals should have as a whole?
KW: An individual justice should be thoroughly prepared when participating on his or her panel. The justice should review opinions carefully before voting. The Court as a whole has a responsibility to rule promptly, which is the reputation of the 14th Court of Appeals.

T: What are your thoughts on the partisan election of Judges?
KW: Partisan election is the way the legislature has decided judges should be selected. As the law of the State I support it. I also very much enjoy discussing my service with the voters and being accountable to the citizens. There are challenges with such a system, of course, but as long as it is the law of the State of Texas I will be a willing participant.

T: What are the three most important issues to you, and what is at least one thing you have done to address each of them?
KW: During the entirety of my judicial service I have had multiple opportunities to serve in leadership roles. I co-chaired a State Bar of Texas task force that conducted the first top-to-bottom study of the Texas court system since 1894. I was in charge of the judicial committee overseeing the construction of the first new civil courthouse in Harris County in over 100 years. I served as the Local Administrative Judge, overseeing the state district judiciary in the third largest county in the United States. In these and other leadership roles I have had the opportunity to address a tremendous number of issues including infrastructure, juvenile justice, judicial administration, technology and many others. I’m tremendously proud of my service to date and look forward to the opportunity to serve the citizens of Texas into the future.

Food Truck fight!

On Wednesday, the Houston City Council’s Quality of Life Committee began deliberating reforms of food truck laws. The Houston Chronicle’s Editorial Board was one of the first entities to truly cover the process, while Miya Shay at KTRK provided a much more extensive and evenhanded account of the issue. As best as I have understood, proposed reforms center around whether or not to allow propane-based food trucks in Downtown and the Texas Medical Center, as well as relaxing restrictions on how close they may congregate and prop up tables and chairs. I have placed calls to officials on both sides of this issue, in an attempt to understand this issue further.

Furthermore, the Houston Chronicle reported that, following Wednesday’s contentious committee hearing, Mayor Annise Parker announced that she would be unilaterally changing the pertinent regulations regarding food trucks downtown, though she would still try to push through Council-approved fixes on the other topics.

As best as I can figure out, this topic will be on the agenda at the next City Council meeting. Coming on the wheels of the super contentious Vehicles-for-Hire fight earlier in this same month (which itself followed the non-discrimination ordinance by only one week), Mayor Annise Parker has continued attempting to pass a large chunk of radical policy reforms. Love her or hate her, everyone should be impressed by just how much she has been able to accomplish, and will undoubtedly continue to accomplish (in the Strong-Mayor system used in Houston, the Mayor almost always gets her way). However, the key difference that I have been able to find is that the Mayor sought more of a consensus on the topics. The once-controversial Wage Theft ordinance passed unanimously, and the Payday Lending reform ordinance passed with only two dissensions. On the other hand, the NDO and the Vehicles-for-Hire fights were bitterly fought over and left many with bad feelings.

I have historically been broadly supportive of food trucks, as most astute followers of this publication might remember. Opponents of the proposed reforms have typically been a little slow in getting their valid objections out there, and the mainstream press has harped on the silliest statements ever made by Council opposition,. The Chronicle editorial not once, but twice, mentioned the outlandish tirades that former Councilmember Andrew Burks went on against food trucks, suggesting (among other things) that the propane tanks downtown could be used for terrorist activity. I stand by my assertions that strange comments are unbecoming of a public servant, but they shouldn’t be used to justify a position one way or another on this issue.

Something to remember on this issue is that food trucks are not a monolith. Food trucks should not be all assumed to be the cute, glitzy vehicles zooming around Montrose that so many simply assume them to be. They can also be unsafe, dirty deathtraps, typically situated in poorer neighborhoods. They need very stringent safety inspections, perhaps even more stringent than brick-and-mortar restaurants. But, as far as I can tell, the proposed changes do not deal with safety violations.

As for the propane tanks in densely populated areas, I am still skeptical of the regulation being sound. The facts are still out on the idea that trucks in densely populated areas are dangerous. There was, for example, a terrible tragedy out of Philadelphia last month involving an exploding food truck that killed two people. But restaurants deal with plenty of dangers too, and they have been prone to burning down every once in a while. However, as the Chronicle article repeatedly mentions, the trucks are allowed Uptown and in Greenway Plaza, other high density areas. Like any other issue, I think there should be some consistency. Ideally, that would be strengthening safety standards for the propane tanks, including regular inspection, then letting the trucks into the neighborhoods.

As for some of the other proposals, I still have not completely made up my mind. I am, however, an opponent of allowing individual tables and chairs for the specific food trucks. I do like and support the so-called “Food Truck parks,” in which community tables and chairs are shared among a plethora of trucks. But if individual furniture is used, the truck transforms into a pop-up restaurant.

Just like the Uber/Lyft debate, I am a big believer in everyone providing the same service abiding by the same regulations (Editorial note: Horwitz formerly contracted with the Clifford Group, a public relations firm that counted Yellow Cab among its clients. I have no dog in this fight, though). Restaurants must follow some pretty onerous restrictions, namely for public safety and health reasons. I can understand the idea that a restaurant and a food truck could plausibly provide different services, but not if the latter allowed “dine-in” service. You can’t have it both ways.

Personally,  I am sick and tired of people comparing this issue to the Vehicle-for-Hire spat. There are some big differences, chief among them is that food trucks are not what I would call a “disruptor” into the restaurant industry in the same way. Food trucks, be it the Eatsie Boys or Bernie’s Burger Bus, have taken the next step and become restaurants on many occasions. I don’t think Uber or Lyft want to one day shift to the same business model as Yellow Cab. Furthermore, food trucks have not been operating downtown or doing other things that so openly and cavalierly violate the City of Houston’s ordinances. Call me old fashioned, but Uber’s incessant and gleeful lawbreaking is what sent me other the edge originally. The integrity of laws is important.

That is why I am bitterly opposed to the Mayor’s irresponsible decision to go around City Council on this issue. The Mayor, for all its power, is not a tyrant.

What I sent to The New York Times

Regarding the indictment of Governor Rick Perry, which has been covered remarkably well by the Texas press corps, a plethora of otherwise reasonable media outlets –The New York Times chief among them– were quick to lambast the indictment as nothing more than political theater. In doing so, they ignored the serious legal background and precedent underlying this case. I drafted up about 950 words on why I disagreed with their editorial positions, and why the indictments are not overly frivolous or litigious. The Times said that their reserve the right of exclusive publication, but to feel free to assume they would not publish after three days, so I waited. I have now sent the article to a couple of sites which do not demand exclusivity (The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Times and the Los Angeles Times). I’m aware that no one will publish it, so I decided to share my thoughts here.

==============================================================================================

I’m big on Texas politics. I love it so much that I transferred from college at Brandeis University in Boston to the University of Texas at Austin so that I could return to my native State and follow the twists and turns of the full-contact sport known as our political process. And though I consider myself a left-of-center Democrat, I have a big problem with people who rag on Texas in general.

But more than my indignation at detractors of the Lone Star State, I maintain a pet peeve against the dilettante; he or she who feels entitled to write and judge what is going on south of the Red River, despite not being familiar with our laws, our traditions or our history. Sometimes the judgment happens without the author even visiting the State. I have seen this in action a disappointing number of times in the immediate aftermath of Governor Rick Perry’s indictment at the hands of a Travis County (Austin) grand jury.

Alan Dershowitz, David Alexrod, The Atlantic. A plethora of progressive mouthpieces have inexplicably defended Perry against what they foolishly call an unsubstantiated allegation, one that may be frivolous or overly litigious. Rather, the only thing frivolous is these parties’ understanding of the way Texas does business.

This is not about political blowback, it is not about any ongoing investigations into the Governor’s office and it is not even about any specific veto. It is about a threat. Perry threatened a public officeholder, the Travis County District Attorney, with leverage —the denial of funds for her office— unless she did a specific official act: resign.

The DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, has broad power over the entire State because her office, which maintains jurisdiction over the State Capitol and the Governor’s mansion, commands the Public Integrity Unit, best known for an unsuccessful trial against former Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and a successful conviction against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (that one is still tied up in appeals). Lehmberg herself is no saint; she was caught driving drunk last year in a videotaped incident that recorded her belligerent and discourteous attitude toward law enforcement. For her part, she pleaded guilty and served about a month in jail, the toughest sentence for a first-offense DWI in Austin’s history.

But this simply is not about the actions committed by a District Attorney. A DWI is not a felony, nor is it a crime of moral turpitude that would necessitate removal from office. She has been no-billed by a grand jury looking into the matter, and a civil trial to determine if she should be removed from office for dereliction of duty ended with a resounding NO.

Perry is not the King of Texas; he is merely the State’s Chief Executive in a system with the separation of powers, not only between branches, but constituencies. The Governor is not the District Attorney’s boss. When Perry says that Lehmberg has “lost the public’s confidence,” where is he getting his information? She has been convincingly elected by her constituents twice, and remains somewhat popular—at least when the alternative is a Perry appointee. It is also worth noting that the Travis County District Attorney’s office only prosecutes felonies (the County Attorney handles misdemeanors), so Lehmberg’s office did not even control the process over her own crime, as many critics have falsely charged.

At the end of the day, however, what Lehmberg did is a complete red herring. It has absolutely no basis for justifying what Perry did or changing the pertinent law or precedent on the matter. This issue is not about her, it is not about the veto, it is about threat. That very simple fact bears repeating because it appears that no one in the ostensibly credible national press can remember that.

To better illustrate this point, the same principle of Perry’s illegal act should be taken to an absurd extreme. Take the ongoing spat between Perry and William Powers, the President of the University of Texas at Austin. What if Perry demanded Powers’ resignation, perhaps using the cover of the phony scandal embattled Regent Wallace Hall supposedly uncovered regarding law school admission, or else he would cut off funding? What would the State do then? Thankfully, there is a precedent.

Texas impeached one Governor nearly 100 years ago for eerily similar circumstances: James “Pa” Ferguson, a populist Democrat. Ferguson, who like the current Governor was a fervent opponent of the University of Texas, vetoed virtually all of the University’s appropriations after unsuccessfully trying to fire Regents and Professors at UT-Austin. Once again, it was not the veto so much as it was the threat. Ferguson used his power inappropriately in order to meddle in another public official’s business. This should sound familiar.

This has always been —and is— what the scandal centers upon. The legal basis is sound and holds lengthy precedent. When prominent legal minds attempt to chime in on this issue without being familiar with the underlying case, it hurts everyone who is exposed to misinformation.

The Travis County DA’s office’s public integrity unit, it should be freely stipulated, can sometimes generously be described as partisan hacks. Lehmberg’s predecessor, Ronnie Earle, engaged in a witch hunt with very little proof against Hutchison, and the office has been a bit trigger-happy investigating every misstep taken by Perry. But since this controversy has revolved around the DA’s office which normally investigates these cases, Lehmberg and her office recused themselves from all proceedings.

A Republican Judge out of San Antonio, Bert Richardson, appointed a non-partisan Special Prosecutor, Michael McCrum, last year to investigate the complaints lodged against Perry. Call it what you will, this is not a partisan witch hunt. Indeed, it is far from it.