When it can't win at the ballot box, the Left heads for the courthouse.
This month we are witnessing the latest disgusting example of the
criminalization of politics in the decision by a single rogue
prosecutor in my home state of Texas to indict Gov. Rick Perry on a
ridiculous abuse-of-power charge. It's a classic call from the Left's
playbook: When they can't defeat a conservative politician at the
polls, they turn to the legal system to destroy him.
We saw it in the cases of the late Sen. Ted Stevens, former Rep. Rick Renzi and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, even in the unjustified prosecutions of White House aides such as Scooter Libby.
I myself, unfortunately, have a deep and searing familiarity with what
Mr. Perry is now facing and have a few thoughts on what he should do.
But first let's understand why these political prosecutions are so
damaging, not just to the conservative cause but to our very system of
representative government and the rule of law.
Political disputes should be settled in the political arena, not by
unaccountable district attorneys or by judges. However the cases turn
out, these indictments are intimidating and are intended to be
intimidating to those who challenge the Left's political orthodoxy.
They discourage good people from even considering running for public
office; I can't tell you how many people have said they decided
against entering politics because they couldn't imagine putting their
family through such an ordeal.
These prosecutions also are meant as a warning shot to leaders who
stick their head up too high in an effort to change the system. The
indictment engineered by Austin District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg
last week is clearly motivated by revenge (the governor correctly
vetoed her office's budget after Ms. Lehmberg refused to resign
following an egregious drunk-driving incident and conviction in 2013),
but it is also a kind of perverse tribute to Mr. Perry's conservative
agenda as governor. Since the voters of Texas have shown they won't
restrain him, the district attorney has stepped in to do the job
herself — and perhaps torpedo the governor's 2016 White House hopes in
My own experience dates back to 1996, when Nancy Pelosi and her House
Democratic cronies flatly announced they were going to use the ethics
process to take me out and end my political career. Bogus charges that
year, in 1998 and 2000 were all thrown out, but in 2005, Ms.
Lehmberg's predecessor Ronnie Earle went through a half-dozen grand
juries before finally finding one he could bully into indicting me on
money laundering and other ridiculous allegations. (At one point, I
was even accused of "conspiring to defeat Democrats" — I almost
pleaded guilty to that one.)
It took years and massive legal expenses to finally clear my name, but
in one way the Left got what it wanted: I left the House and my
political career was essentially over. The final legal verdict was far
less important to my persecutors than the political one.
Rick Perry clearly understands the game being played here, and has
already stated forcefully his conviction that he did nothing wrong.
But I can tell him now that he's in for a nasty fight, and one in
which his opponents hold a lot of high cards.
For one thing, the judge in the case is going to be a Democrat, since
everyone elected to the bench in the People's Republic of Austin is.
Even the honest jurists there are deathly afraid of the local, highly
liberal media and will be unlikely to give the governor any breaks.
Because of the judge assigned to my case, it took five years just to
get my trial started.
Likewise, the jury pool will also be heavily tilted to the left, as
was clearly the case for me. My case began with a jury pool of 300,
but the final panel was totally biased against a prominent
conservative Texas Republican.
And finally, the governor may hope for speedy justice but he better be
prepared to settle in for the long haul. Rick Perry is not in control
of the timing of the case, and it's in the Left's clear interest that
this thing drag out as long as possible.
I have not doubt the governor will be vindicated in the end, but I
would offer a little unsolicited advice here on how best to handle the
ordeal ahead. For starters, the governor should report for his
arraignment not in downtown Austin but in the Haskell County
Courthouse near his own Abilene home. If i were him, I would demand
the right to be tried by my peers in own home city, not in the hostile
confines of the state capital.
And I would immediately call a special session of the Texas
legislature to address the whole issue of prosecutorial abuse and the
near-total immunity prosecutors have even when bringing abusive cases
such as this one. The DA's improper control of the Office of Public
Integrity must be ended and the office shifted to the control of the
(elected) state attorney general. One frustration for me is that we
have known in Texas for years that we have a problem, but haven't used
the political power we've won in the legislature and the governor's
mansion to institute real reforms. I warned for years that failing to
tackle this problem would prove costly.
Right now there is no accountability for rogue district attorneys such
as Ms. Lehmberg, who abuse the vast public trust with which they have
been entrusted. When people with such power go off on political witch
hunts that destroy people's lives, careers and personal fortunes, they
should be held accountable.
As I said, I am confident Rick Perry will win in the end. The voters
of Texas, the people of America understand all too well the game being
played here. The criminalization of politics and the abuse of
prosecutorial power hurt us all in the end. Let's hope this misguided
case contributes to that cause.
Tom DeLay, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader
from 2003 to 2005, writes a weekly column for The Washington Times.