As you may have heard by now, a grand jury on Friday indicted Governor Rick Perry on two felony accounts of abuse of power. The first charge, abuse of official capacity, is a first-degree felony that carries a potential punishment of five to 99 years in prison. The second charge, coercion of a public servant, is a third-degree felony that carries a potential punishment of two to ten years in prison.
So what did Gov. Perry do? He vetoed something.
But let’s start from the beginning. In Texas, the agency tasked with prosecuting government corruption is the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office. They are most recently known for indicting U.S. Representative and House Majority Leader Tom Delay, who was later acquitted of all charges. The Public Integrity Unit is controlled by the Travis County District Attorney, who is elected by residents of Travis County, and funded by the state. This means that a unit with the responsibility of prosecuting government corruption statewide is elected (re: held responsible) solely by voters of Travis County. Taxation without representation, anyone? Oh, and Travis County is a solidly Democrat county.
Last summer, Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, was arrested for drunk driving. Lehmberg had a blood alcohol level of 0.239, almost three times the legal limit, as well as an open bottle of vodka in her car, and was reported to have been swerving into the bike lanes and oncoming traffic. During her arrest and booking, Lehmberg acted belligerently: she appealed to her position of authority, yelled and insulted police officers, kicked at the door in her cell, and eventually had to be restrained and masked. (See the video here.)
Many public officials subsequently called for her resignation, including State Rep. Phil King (R – Weatherford), who said that Lehmberg had shown “utter contempt and disrespect for the law and for the office” which she holds. The situation then quickly became political, as her resignation would mean that Governor Perry, a Republican, would be able to choose her replacement.
After Lehmberg refused to resign, Gov. Perry announced his intentions to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit should Lehmberg, who he maintained was unfit for public service, remain in office as head of that unit. Stubbornly, Lehmberg forced Gov. Perry to make good on his intentions when she put her own career ahead of the funding security of a vital institution and declined to step down.
So in short, Governor Perry used his constitutional authority to veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit because the head of that unit had no integrity with the public. And the Democrats are outraged.
The Travis County District Attorney’s office has a long history of politically-motivated prosecutions. Apart from the overturned 2005 indictment of Tom Delay, they had also targeted Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison after she took Lloyd Bentsen’s Senate seat from the Democrats in the 1993 special election. In Sen. Hutchison’s case, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earl, Lehmberg’s predecessor, accused the newly elected Senator of official misconduct during her previous role as Texas State Treasurer, and was able to convince a grand jury full of liberal Austinites to indict her. The indictment was immediately thrown out in court after Earl declined to present any evidence for the prosecution.
Similarly, the indictments against Perry are unlikely to go anywhere. David Botsford, Perry’s...