How do you get mercy for a dying man on death row—a man who is also, by almost every account, innocent? You go to the governor. And around noon today, that’s just what the attorneys for Max Soffar did.
Lots of news since I last checked in, from Texas and DC. We’ll have more posts next week, but in the interim, feel free to discuss the following, or anything else of interest, amongst yourselves.
Dear Governor-elect Abbott,
When one looks at the wheeling and dealing that went on with the Texas Enterprise Fund, my question is this: Why is it not an impeachable offense? These folks used the Enterprise Fund for their private playground. They awarded $222 million to entities that, according to the Dallas Morning News, never submitted a formal application or agreed to create a specific number of jobs (all of which is required for those seeking TEF grants). Remember, these are state tax dollars that Perry and Abbott were playing fast and loose with, and they were getting goodies from campaign contributors. Abbott, not incidentally, has received $1.4 million in contributions. Isn’t he in the position of being a fiduciary with respect to the Enterprise Fund?
At an August 22 speaking engagement in New Hampshire, Governor Rick Perry declared, “We need to look at the states, which are lavatories of innovation and democracy.”
The governor has a first-class legal team, but some of its arguments concerning the indictment sound more like rhetoric than law.
Such as “an unconstitutional attack on Perry’s rights”
And …”defies common sense”
And …”a violation of the Texas and U.S. constitutions”
And … “an improper attempt to criminalize politics”
And … “based on state laws that are unconstitutional”
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.
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.
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.