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.

Special Prosecutor against Perry

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Paybacks are hell

The Dallas Morning News reports that a Special Prosecutor will be named to begin an investigation against the Governor for charges of coercion and abuse of office following his veto of funding for the Public Integrity Unit.

The astute will surely remember that Rosemary Lehmberg, the District Attorney of Travis County, was arrested earlier this year for Driving While Intoxicated. Lehmberg’s case, like all other misdemeanors, was handled by the County Attorney, so there was no conflict of interest. Additionally, Lehmberg pleaded guilty, spent 30 days in jail, and completed all pending action against with–together will a pledge she would not run for re-election in 2016. Most people thought that would be it.

The trouble with Lehmberg resigning would be that the Governor would appoint her replacement. The Travis County DA is also uniquely important, as it hosts the State’s Public Integrity Unit, investigating corrupt acts perpetuated by State officials.

This is why Perry came in, as he has a vested interest in appointing the next Travis County DA. Shedding crocodile tears over Lehmberg’s alleged alcoholism making her unfit for the job (the pot calling the kettle a drunk, in my humble opinion), Perry announced he would line-item veto the funding for the Public Integrity Unit in the State’s budget unless Lehmberg resigned.

As it turns out, Lehmberg didn’t resign and Perry ended up vetoing the funding. That is where the arguments began over Perry’s wrongdoing. This could be seen as coercion because Perry made a threat to Lehmberg and abuse of office because it would be Perry, for all intent and purposes, withdrawing money from a group that investigates wrongdoings by himself.

The trial will be heard in State District Court in Williamson County, however it will be presided over by Judge Bret Richardson, who was appointed to the case by the powers-to-be in Williamson County. The case would have originally been heard in Travis County, but officials there recused themselves. Richardson is a Republican.

The Special Prosecutor the Morning News speaks of, I assume, will have the power to start the discovery process of the case against Rick Perry. Let us hope he finds something. As the article goes on:

Judge Robert “Bert” Richardson said he expected to name someone early next week, at which time “an order will be prepared and filed with the court.”

[…]

Richardson will appoint an “attorney pro-tem,” which the criminal state statutes describe as a special prosecutor, except the lawyer is not under the auspices of an elected district attorney.

This trial will be quite the event to watch. In other related news, the Houston Chronicle reports that Judge Richardson will soon appoint an attorney to defend the State as well.

Lege update 6/20

There are a few other things that have happened at the Capitol in the last two days that I have missed. So, briefly, I will attempt to explain and discuss these two actions.

First, reports The Texas Tribune, the Senate is moving towards approving SJR2, which would amend the constitution to allow for the the rainy day fund to be partially depleted in order to fund transportation infrastructure projects. I talked about this bill at length a few days ago, when it passed a Senate panel. 
Off the Kuff has more about the topic.

Next, the San Antonio Express-News reports that the House has taken up the Senate’s bill to apply life-with-parole to 17 year-olds who commit Capital Murder. I talked at length about this bill when the Senate passed it. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee unanimously approved the Senate’s bill. The House, however, discussed alternative proposals, preserving the possibility that the Senate may retake up the measure.

Rep. Bryan Hughes (R-Wood County), never really especially progressive, pleasantly surprised me by offering up a better solution to this problem: allowing juries to choose a range of punishments ranging from 25 years to life-without-parole. As a reminder, the Supreme Court said that life w/o parole for 17 year olds is not unconstitutional, per se, but rather only when they are the mandatory sentence. Accordingly, a greater consensus existed in the House to preserve the penalty as an option, allowing juries to choose between life with parole and life without parole. This presents an interesting conundrum, because, in Texas, prosecutors and defense attorneys generally do not discuss parole options before a jury takes up a sentencing matter. When a jury convicts for life with parole, they usually just think they are convicting for “life.”

Third, the Austin American-Statesman discusses the building momentum in the House to override Perry’s line item veto of Public Integrity Unit funding. Sylvester Turner, recently named the “Bull of the Brazos” by Texas Monthly, is leading a coalition to override the veto. This will be interesting to watch. Obviously, Turner can get the votes of all the Democrats. Thereafter, he will still need about 45 Representatives and 9 Senators. I think that is possible, though. Perry ticked off a lot of Republicans when he vetoed their bills (Kel Seliger and Dan Patrick, anyone?), so they may be easy pickings for payback. Just a theory, though.

Last, but certainly not least, and this is fresh off the press, the House has voted to rubber stamp the Redistricting bills. The Houston Chronicle  states that these are second readings, with final approval expected tomorrow. At that point, it will just be the Governor’s signature standing in the way of these vile maps being adopted.

I’m up in Dallas for the next few days on official business. Saw/met Ken Starr and Justice Samuel Alito today, so I guess you could say it was a success.  I’ll probably have more to talk about tonight.

Lege update 6/14

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Quite a lot of stuff happened today, so much that I have been holding off on talking about it until end-of-business. First and foremost, the Governor went on a Veto Spree, killing off 22 pieces of legislation in all, along with a few more line-item cuts. The only significant bill he signed today was SB21, which mandates drug testes for unemployment insurance recipients. In other news, a Senate committee pushed through an omnibus abortion restriction bill and the full Senate voted (along party lines) to rubber stamp the court-drawn maps in the redistricting saga. Last but not least, the Senate also voted to close the loophole for 17 year old offenders charged with Capital Murder.

Friday Night Massacre
Rick Perry line-item vetoed SB1, the budget. Specifically, he vetoed the funding for the Public Integrity Unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s office, as he promised. Just this morning, an organization, Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint against Perry for the possible action, alleging he committed “coercion of a public servant, abuse of official capacity and official oppression.” The Dallas Morning News has the full story on this lawsuit. I spoke with a friend a few days ago who is heavily involved with Travis County Democratic politics, and he was discussing the more noticeable transgression would be a separation of powers issue. The PIU is what investigates official violations and corruptions from public officeholders in Austin. There are many pending investigations against the Governor’s office, including, most notably, the CPRIT ones. This is where the parallels to the Saturday Night Massacre begin. Just as how Nixon committed a steep transgression by firing the Special Prosecutor who was in the process of investigating his administration, the Governor coercing the director of an independent agency that does the same thing to resign is on very, very iffy grounds.

More Vetoes
Next, reports The Dallas Morning News, Rick Perry had vetoed HB950, Senfronia Thompson’s Equal Pay for Women act. This is big news, like front page of the Huffington Post big. The veto is not especially surprising, as the act passed with significant Republican opposition in both Houses of the legislature. The Morning News reported that Sen. Davis, the bill’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber, responded saying Perry’s veto “[i]s a statement of his absolute disregard for the challenges that women face.” If anyone was unclear if there is a War on Women occurring in Texas, Davis said, there is not even any opacity left in it. Perry thinks that Equal Pay is not important enough for his signature, but radical anti-abortion legislation is important enough of an emergency for a Special Session.

Next, Perry vetoed a bill to regulate the UT Regents. The Dallas Morning News reports that Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo)’s bill that would have required Senate confirmation on UT Regents before they could vote on personnel matters, is dead. Perry is absolutely anathema to the idea of anyone, or anything, limited his authority.

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Then, the Governor vetoed HB217, a bill that would have banned sodas from public elementary and junior high schools. I have been uneasy about the bill in the past, but think that its passage would have been for the best. Perry, as expected, jumped onto the individual-liberties bandwagon. Ostensibly, Perry cited his veto to the fact that 2% milk would be banned under the plan. Well, I read the bill, and I know that could have been solved with a line-item veto. Nice try, Governor…

Perry vetoed SB219, colloquially known as the “Ethics bill.” The bill released a whole new code of transparency and ethics for public servants. Perry found some of this reprehensible, including the resign-to-run requirement for the Railroad Commission. For what it’s worth, I find those sorts of requirements to be troubling as well.

Perry also vetoed HB2836, a Dan Patrick bill which would have changed curriculum standards. Perry also vetoed another Patrick bill, SB17, which would have provided crisis training for public school teachers holding CHLs. The Dallas Morning News reported the chief reason for this was the price tag attached.

Last but certainly not least, the Governor vetoed SB1234, a bill aimed at reforming truancy laws. The bill, sponsored predominantly by Sen. Whitmire, passed the Senate with only three objections. The bill would have reduced the truancy fine to $100 from $500, and required counseling evaluations before school districts refer offenders to courts. Perry detested the “progressive sanctions” passed by the Legislature.

There were some other actions, and I will be sure to link it if someone picks up the story, or if some other blog writes on the topic.

Drug Testing coming
The Texas Tribune  reports that Governor Perry has signed SB21, the bill which would drug test unemployment. As you might remember, the measure to drug test welfare (TANF) failed after it passed the deadline. The bill would subject some applicants to drug tests if they are deemed high risk (a/k/a, in Perry’s eyes, minorities), and would require them first to enroll in a drug counseling program before kicking them off the program. It could be worse, though as I have extensively written in the past, it is a stupid idea that saves absolutely no money.

Senate approves maps
The Texas Tribune also reports that, as expected, the full Senate has approved the court-drawn maps for a permanent basis. This comes just two days after the Senate Select Committee rubber-stamped the maps themselves. In a strictly partisan vote, the upper chamber voted 16-11 to approve. Redistricting Chairman Kel Seliger repeatedly shot down and blocked any and all attempts to do something different than his interim-to-permanent map. At one point, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) even stated that it appeared as if Sen. Seliger was intentionally blocking dissenting views. As I had expected, the hearings did not make a [expletive deleted] difference. The ratio was 10-1 against the maps in Houston, and I have heard it was similar in Dallas and Corpus Christi.  Sen. Garcia even told the Tribune that Seliger was refusing dissenting points, and had privately been told by the Chairman that that was the case. This is getting ugly, though not as ugly as those darn maps are.

Omnibus Abortion bill
The Texas Tribune reports that the Senate Health & Human Services Committee has voted out the session’s SB5, which is also known as the “Omnibus Abortion bill.” The bill would (1) ban abortion after 20 weeks; (2) require abortions to occur in ambulatory centers; (3) require abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital; and (4) require abortion doctor to administer all drugs in person. These regulations would shut down a majority of the abortion clinics in Texas (basically all of them outside of Austin, Dallas and Houston) and would probably be ruled unconstitutional by a court. The bill passed on party lines, 5-2, and will head to the full Senate on Tuesday.