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.

More on the Perry indictment

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.”

Perry indicted

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!

Rosemary Lehmberg gets off

KVUE reports (the Austin-American Statesman also had an article, but the paywall just ticks me off) that Rosemary Lehmberg has successfully persisted through a removal trial. As I mentioned briefly on Monday, this stems from a complaint citing a little-known Texas statute authorizing removal from office for “intoxication.” Yes, prohibition really is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. Rosemary Lehmberg, of course, is the District Attorney of Travis County who was arrested earlier this year for drunk driving. She later pleaded guilty to the offense, spent some time in jail before temporarily checking herself into rehab for alcoholism.

The trial, which lasted three days, featured most of its testimony from the prosecution. They largely focused on the crime, as well as what the article calls “testimony from her therapists,” which I am sure pertain to alcoholism and her alleged inability to successfully conduct herself in a place of business.

Lehmberg’s defense largely depended upon testimonials from her office and others with a say in how her professional duties are carried out. The witnesses, which included a CPS officer, the DA First Assistant and a local Judge, all echoed the same belief that the alleged alcoholism has not and would not impair her work at the Courthouse.

Click here to read more!

A few things I missed

Like I said, I had two finals and an 18 page page paper due today, so I did very little blogging over the weekend. That being said, I would like to examine the big things I missed. Sophia is going to be at the Harris County Democratic Party headquarters this evening to follow the drama of last-minute filings and the like, and we’ll work on a somewhat comprehensive article on that topic either tonight or tomorrow morning. Also, I realize that Justice Larry Meyers of the Court of Criminal Appeals switched parties today, but I will be discussing that in greater detail in another post.

First and foremost, the Texas Tribune reports that the long-plagued CPRIT (Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas) is back in the news as one of its officialls has been indicted on charges of impropriety. This investigation, spurred by the Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit, is focused on Jerry Cobbs. He is accused of doling out contracts to his friends unlawfully, a first-degree felony, possibly punishable by life in prison. Sophia beat me to the punch on this story, as did Brains & Eggs, Burnt Orange Report, Off the Kuff and South Texas Chisme.

Click here to read about more stories!

Grand Jury convened against Perry

The Austin American-Statesman, as well as the Houston Chronicle (both behind those asinine paywalls), both report that in the ongoing legal action against Governor Perry.

A few weeks ago, Judge Richardson appointed a Special Prosecutor, later deemed to be Michael McCrum, against Governor Perry in the ongoing abuse of office and coercion investigation. As many will recall, Perry went all Nixonian in June after using a line-item veto to cut funding for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit. This was done after the Travis County DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for drunk driving. Lehmberg, for her part, pleaded guilty and served out her sentence–30 days in jail. However, this was not good enough for Perry, who demanded she resign (and therefore be replaced by a Perry appointment) or he threatened to cut funding to her office’s key Statewide function.

After making the cuts, an Austin group, Texans for Public Safety, filed suit against Perry for a number of corruption charges. The Public Integrity Unit, for its part, was mostly saved after the County itself decided to foot the bill.

This grand jury will be empaneled for three months, and will consider the charges against Rick Perry (as well as some against Rosemary Lehmberg). It may offer up an indictment to either of these representative.

Off the Kuff has more.