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.
UPDATE: I’ve included a link to the indictments at the bottom of this post.
I don’t think Republicans recognize what is happening to their party in Texas. The GOP is verging on irrelevance. The failure of Texas to land the Republican national convention should have been a wake-up call for the state party. There was a reason why the Republicans chose Cleveland over Dallas: The national Republican party likes us for our money and for our electoral votes, but they don’t really want to deal with us. The Republican platform was the final straw. No rational Republican leader would have chosen to put the convention in Dallas when the state party was calling for “reparative therapy.”
To close this discussion, I simply want to say one thing: This was completely predictable. There was no reason to send the National Guard to the Border. There was no mission. There was no objective. It was just political theatre to make Rick Perry look like he was doing something, which of course he was not, because there was nothing useful the National Guard could do.
Governor Perry’s decision to fund the opening of a new Charles Schwab office in El Paso (and another in Austin) is a classic example of what is wrong with the governor’s economic development funds. Charles Schwab is a national firm that needs no subsidy from the state to succeed. The issue with these grants ought to be whether the firm getting state funds needs the money to be successful. In the case of Schwab, the answer is clearly no.
It is one thing to institute a DPS “surge” on the border; it is quite another to send the National Guard there, a thousand strong, as Perry intends to do.
In the July issue of the magazine, several writers—myself included—assessed the legacy of Governor Perry. One of the stories reviewed eight critical areas Texas Monthly believes the governor is responsible for, and we gave him a letter grade for each. Some readers thought we were too harsh, and some thought we were too kind. We have also heard from many prominent and respected members of state agencies, including Richard Hyde, the executive director of TCEQ. Our writers gave the governor a D+ for the environment, which Hyde strongly disagrees with. We appreciate his response, and I have posted it in full below:
Dear Texas Monthly,
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) takes issue with a number of inaccuracies in a story entitled, “The Perry Report Card,” in the July Texas Monthly issue, specifically those in “The Environment” segment.
To support the conclusions made in your assessment of Texas’ environmental record under the tenure of Governor Perry, Texas Monthly relied more on conjecture than statistical analysis, which proves Texas has made important and significant progress protecting air and water quality. To provide appropriate context for your readers, who after reading your report card may be under the false impression that Texas is somehow substandard and that the reduction of TCEQ’s budget resulted in a reduction of environmental protection, I offer the following examples of our progress: