Tue August 26, 2014 3:31 pm By Erica Grieder

One of my recurring frustrations with debates over social issues is that such debates often rest on moral principles over empirical evidence, sometimes to the point where the latter are dismissed or even disdained. Philosophically, I have no objection; we should all aim to be serious about our moral reasoning, and the First Amendment protects free expression. Pragmatically, though, arguments that are primarily or exclusively based on moral principles are vulnerable and problematic. Vulnerable, because it's hard to build a lasting coalition of interest around a contentious and unverifiable premise. Problematic, because insofar as moral principles aren't derived from evidence, moral arguments aren't subject to re-evaluation in the face of contrary evidence. They're not even subject to evidentiary standards in the first place, which creates another practical problem: moral arguments don't anticipate or really even allow for the possibility of disagreement. They're blunt instruments. Advocates may be able to use them to ram a bill through the legislature, but they won't change anyone's mind doing things that way, and they create suspicion and hostility on both sides. 

With that in mind, I wanted to point you all to the September issue of Texas Monthly, which features a chat with Kyleen Wright, the head of Texans for Life. They were one of the pro-life groups that advocated for the passage of last year's omnibus abortion bill, and as Wright explained to me, their particular priority was the provision that requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. The reason, she explained, was as follows. Two women had confided in her about their distressing abortion experiences--two women who were unrelated, except that they had seen the same doctor. It occurred to her that a law requiring hospital admitting privileges would effectively provide another layer of oversight and get some of the sketchier doctors out of the business. (Worth noting, although this was cut for space in the print edition: Wright added that they had run through the finite list of doctors who provide abortions in Texas and found that most of them either already had such admitting privileges or would be easily able to acquire them.) A year later, this was her overall summary of their work on the bill, and its effects: 

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Sun August 17, 2014 10:22 pm By Paul Burka

Smearing the prosecutor is just about the dumbest thing a defendant in a criminal case can do. The second dumbest thing is to threaten the prosecutor. Perry appeared to do just that at the end of his press conference yesterday when he said, "And those responsible will be held to account." It sounded very much like a threat.

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Sun August 17, 2014 1:44 pm By Erica Grieder

 

The indictments announced Friday against Rick Perry don’t fully detail the prosecutor’s evidence against him, and it’s possible that when all the evidence is presented Texans will be united in their desire to see him sent to the pokey. On the basis of the facts as we know them, though, the case against Perry seems no more dispositive to me today than it did in April, when the special prosecutor announced that a grand jury would be seated

To review those facts, in 2013 the Travis County district-attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested for drunk driving and sentenced to 45 days in jail. It was a penalty that no one could find fault with after viewing video footage of the field sobriety test and her subsequent behavior at the station that evening (she served about half the sentence and entered a treatment program after leaving prison). A number of Texans felt that she should resign, among them Perry, who publicly warned that he would use his line-item veto to remove state funding to the Public Integrity Unit—an anti-corruption outfit located in the Travis County DA’s office—unless she stepped down. 

At the time, Democrats grumbled that Mr Perry’s threat was politically motivated. The Public Integrity Unit investigates corruption among statewide officials, which means, in the context, that it’s a check on Republicans like Perry and his pals. If Lehmberg stepped down, Perry would, in theory, have had a chance to replace a Democrat with a Republican appointee more friendly to his agenda. And after Lehmberg refused to resign and Perry vetoed the funding, the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice filed a complaint, charging that the veto had been politically motivated. That led to yesterday’s indictments; the charges are coercion and abuse of power. 

Perry, unsurprisingly, responded Saturday by doubling down, dismissing the indictment as “outrageous.” More surprising, perhaps, is how quickly public opinion has moved in his favor, or at least in favor of proceeding with caution. Republicans were quick to rally round, but even independents and Democrats, after the initial fizzle faded, seemed skeptical of the indictment. 

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Sat August 16, 2014 7:39 am By Paul Burka

The indictment of Rick Perry turns Texas politics upside down. He can't be a serious presidential candidate when he is facing a potential jury trial. But it also has serious effects on the state party. An obvious issue is that Greg Abbott has previously ruled that the state could pay for Perry's defense. Does anyone think the Democrats are going to sit idly by and allow Perry to continue to spend large sums of money on his defense when he stands accused of breaking the law? Not a chance.

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Fri August 15, 2014 6:36 pm By Paul Burka

UPDATE: I've included a link to the indictments at the bottom of this post.

Thought Texas politics couldn't get any weirder? A short time ago special prosecutor Michael McCrum announced that a grand jury had indicted Perry on two counts related to his veto of funds for the Public Integrity Unit: coercion of a public official and abuse of official capacity, both of which are felonies. Rosemary Lehmberg, the embattled Travis County district attorney who was involved in an embarrassing drunken driving case last year, argued that Perry's actions amounted to political retribution because her office, which receives state funding for the PIU, oversees that investigative unit. Perry countered that the veto was a result of the fact that Lehmberg had lost the public's confidence in her ability to do her job. The governor's office just released the following statement:

“The veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution. We will continue to aggressively defend the governor's lawful and constitutional action, and believe we will ultimately prevail.”

Here is a copy of the indictment: http://www.scribd.com/doc/236934485/Texas-Gov-Rick-Perry-grand-jury-indi...

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