So a Democratic Texas D.A. did something stupid: got drunk, and then drove. She was arrested and served time, but refused to resign under pressure. She was within her rights under law: she is under no obligation to resign.
Rick Perry pressured her to do so anyway. His motives were not just for show; if the D.A. resigned, Perry would get to appoint a replacement.
That’s no small deal, as the D.A. in question, Rosemary Lehmberg, is the D.A. for Travis County, home to Austin, the state capital.
Why is that a big deal? First of all, Austin is one of the few counties in Texas with a Democratic majority. Second, the D.A. for Austin, it being the state capital, runs the state’s public integrity unit. The public integrity unit is kind of the like ethics committee: it investigates government corruption. And it’s run mostly by Democrats, in a state where most politicians are Republicans. And Texas Republicans have a long history of corruption.
Naturally, Republicans would like nothing more than for the public integrity unit to shut up and/or go away. They have tried to defund it in the past, but failed. Getting a Republican appointee in there could potentially throw off all current investigations and damage the unit, even if the appointee were replaced by a Democrat in the next election.
So, when D.A. Lehmberg was arrested, and, as a bonus, acted like a tool on camera in jail, Republicans saw this as a big political opportunity. Unfortunately, the position is locally elected, and so Republican politicians couldn’t touch her. A grand jury set on her by Republicans refused to indict her. Lehmberg refused to resign, but said she would not run for re-election in 2016.
Unwilling to accept that, Perry decided to play hardball: he demanded that Lehmberg resign, or else he’d cut the funding for the public integrity unit.
She refused, so Perry defunded the unit.
Normal hardball politics, right?
Except for one small detail: Perry, like so many Republicans, was so used to getting away with illegal crap that he forgot that he could still be prosecuted for it. And he had committed an abuse of power: he threatened to defund a legally operating government office if a legally elected public official who was not under his authority did not resign so he could appoint a political ally to that seat. What’s more, he didn’t try to hide it: he made it quite clear what he was doing.
Well, you’re not supposed to do that, it turns out. The governor is not supposed to get involved with county business, he’s not supposed to coerce public officials, and he’s not allowed to use his office or powers as governor to do so.
Think it’s no big deal? Well, imagine if Obama, citing Perry’s corruption, demanded that Perry resign, or else Obama would cut the $1 billion-plus federal Transportation Equity Bonus funds for Texas, citing a corrupt governor’s inability to disperse those funds honestly.
Do you believe that, if Perry refused and Obama actually cut those funds on the basis of his threat, that Republicans would not immediately impeach him?
Of course they would. They would call it the foulest, basest, most despicable act of illegal “Chicago politics” imaginable. And they would see no irony in defending what Perry did at the same time, claiming they were totally different.
Perry, predictably, is not taking this sitting down. He is, however, kind of going over the top.
“This indictment amounts to nothing more than an abuse of power and I cannot and I will not allow that to happen,” Perry charged. There’s your standard conservative move: accuse those you are against with exactly what you have done wrong.
However, he went much further:
I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes and I intend to win. I’ll explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter. I am confident that we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is. And those responsible will be held accountable.
So, what is his evidence that this is a political attack? Nothing, of course.
Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor appointed to the case, is a respected attorney from San Antonio, and was actually backed by both Republican Senators for the U.S. Attorney position in Texas. Hard to call him a flaming political hack.
The grand jury who indicted him, on the other hand, consisted of residents of Austin—a county with more Democrats than Republicans. While not his “political opponents,” they potentially could have bias. On the other hand, the grand jury was selected by Special State District Judge Bert Richardson—a San Antonio Republican, appointed by Bush.
So, all in all, it does not look especially like this is a political witch hunt; a Republican-backed prosecutor convinces a grand jury selected by a Republican judge from a county which is roughly 60% Democrat and 40% Republican.
What really sounds over-the-top in Perry’s response is that “those responsible will be held accountable.” Really? Will he be holding the Republican judge who seated the grand jury responsible? Or the highly-regarded prosecutor who received Republican backing, will he be “held responsible” for playing politics? Or maybe the governor intends to track down and punish the members of the grand jury who voted to indict?
And what will Perry do to them, exactly? He calls it an “abuse of power”—what, did any of those people threaten Perry with the indictment unless Perry resigned? Nope—nobody involved said or did anything remotely political—so exactly what will Perry do to “hold them accountable”?
Perry’s bluster is not just game-playing, however: he levied a rather serious charge and a threat of retaliation, in a case where he very clearly demonstrated that he does follow up on such threats.
I’m sure it will play well with the home crowd, but from a distance, Perry sounds even worse than he did when he started.