- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Aug. 19, 2014.

Perry has brought himself and Texas to this juncture

Whatever the outcome of the criminal case against Gov. Rick Perry, the events that led to it are a reflection upon him and how he has chosen to govern.

Consider how he and the entire state of Texas arrived at this juncture - the governor charged with coercion and abuse of official capacity. He threatened to veto state funding of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office if the district attorney didn’t resign. Then he made good on the threat when she didn’t.

Let’s start with the arrest last year of the DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, on suspicion of drunken driving, her subsequent guilty plea and sentence that included jail time.

Lehmberg did all of the honorable things after her arrest but one - resign. She should have. Here’s what we said in April 2013: “Politics aside, we don’t see how a DA could hold office effectively while serving jail time, even if it’s one of those weekends-only jail sentencing arrangements.”

If only politics - and Perry’s way of practicing it - could be put aside. Because they can’t, Lehmberg had two reasons not to resign:

1. The Travis County district attorney, by quirk of geography and state constitutional law, heads the state’s Public Integrity Unit. The unit investigates public corruption by state officials because the Travis County seat also is the state’s capital.

Lehmberg and Travis County are Democratic and Perry, all other statewide officeholders and the Legislature are Republican. Absent public corruption, that shouldn’t be a problem. But state government manages to keep the unit busy. It was busy back when Democrats were running the state but now there’s always the specter of a Democrat going after Republicans.

2. Perry would have appointed her successor. The assumption - a reasonable one - was that he’d appoint a crony who would make a mess of the Public Integrity Unit and its investigations.

Urging Lehmberg to resign would have been justified. The veto threat - much less the actual veto - was not. But it was consistent with how Perry has chosen to govern. He claims to have acted on principle. Urging a resignation would have been acting on principle. The veto, which didn’t accomplish the resignation, forfeited any claim he had on principle.

And now the governor of Texas is about to be arraigned on criminal charges punishable by as many as 99 years in prison, which would be extreme. Any prison time would be extreme. If a punishment were to fit the crime, it would be removal from office and reversal of the veto.

Were Perry’s actions criminal? Maybe we’ll find out. Probably we won’t. A governor has line-item veto authority, the legal bar for proving abuse of power is high, and Perry’s threat sound like politics as usual, not unusual. But no outcome - quashed indictment, acquittal or conviction - will settle in Texans’ minds whether Perry committed a crime. The outcome, whatever it is, will be viewed through the political prism of the beholder.

That’s Perry’s doing. His actions, legal or not, were driven by partisanship, not principle. The group that lodged the complaint is described as left-leaning. The grand jurors were derived from a Democratic county. It’s not fair to assume that they’re Democrats or that they considered anything other than the facts or the law. Indeed, the grand jurors, the special prosecutor and the Republican judge who appointed him may be the only ones focused on the law and the facts. But it will be assumed that they acted politically.

Perry, predictably, accused them of it Saturday, the day after he was indicted. He is correct that there is no separating partisan politics from this. He should know: He has made a career of polarizing politics.

The political divisiveness of the past several years, the embarrassment to Texas and to the office of governor, and the divisiveness that this case has yet to cause aren’t random events. They are direct results of how Perry has governed.

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Houston Chronicle. Aug. 15, 2014.

Abuse of power? Indictments against Gov. Perry suggest he has grown too accustomed to getting his way

For presidential hopeful Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, it was a bridge too far. For another Republican governor with his own White House ambitions, a career too far could be the nail in the road that waylays those dreams.

Gov. Rick Perry was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on two counts Friday, one for official oppression, a first-degree felony, and another for coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony.

The indictments may turn out to be nothing but an annoyance for a man who seems to be gearing up for another presidential run. Annoyance or not, they suggest that the longest-serving governor in Texas history has grown too accustomed to getting his way when it comes to making sure that virtually every key position in state government is occupied by a Perry loyalist.

The indictments grow out of a four-month investigation by a special prosecutor, Mike McCrum, looking into whether the governor overstepped last year when he tried to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to leave office after she was convicted of drunken driving. McCrum is a San Antonio attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Perry vetoed the $3.7 million in state funds for the Public Integrity Unit, a part of the Travis County DA’s office that investigates the misdeeds of state agencies and officials. If Lehmberg had resigned, Perry would have appointed her replacement. She stayed on the job, and Travis County and the district attorney’s office made up a portion of the funds Perry’s veto took away, although the staff was cut from 35 to 22 employees.

Perhaps the most worrisome problem for Perry is that he went after Lehmberg at a time when the Public Integrity Unit was investigating how a Dallas-based company, Peloton Therapeutics, had received an $11 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas without proper review. CPRIT, before it became awash in scandal, was one of Perry’s proudest accomplishments during his 14 years in office.

Perry has insisted, of course, that his action against Lehmberg was solely in response to her drunken-driving conviction. Maybe so, but this week’s charges are the kind of barnacles that attach themselves to an elected official who’s stuck around too long, particularly in a state where the party in power goes too long without being challenged.

A career too far? Perry’s fellow Republicans no doubt will charge that he’s being harassed by disgruntled Travis County Democrats and may even see the indictments as dual badges of honor. But then there’s that independent special prosecutor.

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San Antonio Express-News. Aug. 17, 2014.

Perry’s veto was political, not criminal

The grand jury indictment Friday of Gov. Rick Perry for abuse of power casts a pall on Texas politics and governance, long known for its hardball characteristics.

And if it does not derail Perry’s pursuit of the presidency, it has at least hobbled it.

But an indictment is not a conviction, and we continue to doubt whether the governor’s actions in this case amount to criminal, much less felony, behavior. We fear the criminalization of politics, a point the governor stressed in a denunciation of the indictment on Saturday.

There is no doubt that the governor was wrong in vetoing funding for an ethics investigation unit in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.

Perry said he was nixing the funding because the DA there, Rosemary Lehmberg, would not resign after her arrest on a charge of driving while intoxicated. She pleaded guilty later.

The veto prompted a complaint by the liberal Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics, and then a grand jury was impaneled to consider the case.

On Friday, that grand jury in Travis County returned the indictment on two felony counts alleging Perry abused his official capacity and for coercing a public servant.

The veto threat came as the Public Integrity Unit in Lehmberg’s office was investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute, whose creation Perry pushed. Earlier, it launched the investigation that ultimately brought down U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, an engineer of controversial redistricting that benefited Republicans. Travis County is one of a few blue islands in an otherwise red state.

But, again, bad timing doesn’t necessarily spell criminal behavior and there was a legitimate question about whether Lehmberg should have resigned. The governor erred in substituting his judgment for the voters who have options ranging from recall to denying her re-election.

We doubt in any case that Lehmberg was effectively coerced by the removal of state funding for one portion of her office. The unit continues its work in more limited fashion with county funding.

At present, taxpayers are footing the bill for the governor’s defense. This makes sense because there is a legitimate debate about whether he was exercising a constitutionally provided power properly in what he viewed as the public interest.

The benefit of the doubt should go to the governor here. And the fact is that Lehmberg should have resigned - on her own, though.

Perry’s tenure as Texas’ longest serving governor has been dotted with missteps and controversy, from questions about crony politics and grants that favored his supporters to not pushing for the expansion of Medicaid as part of the Affordable Care Act in a state with the largest number of uninsured people to whether he allowed an innocent man to be executed and then tried to squelch an investigation of the evidence that convicted him.

At best, his legacy will be mixed. It should not, however, include a criminal conviction.

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Austin American-Statesman. Aug. 16, 2014.

Trial should clarify Perry’s motive in Lehmberg case

Gov. Rick Perry, determined to reform his national image, has been busy traveling the country this year to promote Texas’ economy and his role in shaping it. Lately, he’s been talking tough about border security. Perry is scheduled to leave office in January after 14 years as governor and he’s expected to run for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Perhaps we should say “was” expected. Perry now must factor a criminal trial into his plans - a trial that might leave him without a political future. If so, he has only himself to blame.

Late Friday afternoon, a Travis County grand jury charged Perry with breaking the law in 2013 when he tried to force Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after she was arrested for drunken driving. Grand jurors charged Perry with abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony that carries a punishment of 5-99 years, and coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony punishable by 2-10 years.

Next for Perry: booking and a formal reading in court of the charges against him.

For residents of Travis County and our fellow Texans, a legal process now has been set in motion that will formally explore whether Perry abused his political power. A trial should offer clarity about Perry’s motive, and open a window, however small, into his behavior as governor.

Perry potentially will leave office with perceptions of him shaped not on his own terms, but on a trial jury’s terms, and with a criminal conviction trailing his legacy.

Perry’s authority to veto the Public Integrity Unit’s budget was not in question. The question is whether he crossed legal lines when he neutered the unit’s state budget to try to force Lehmberg, an elected official answerable to the voters of Travis County, to resign.

Lehmberg, whose blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit, pleaded guilty to drunken driving and was sentenced to 45 days in jail, fined $4,000 and had her license revoked for 180 days. Her decision to drive drunk put her credibility and the credibility of her office in jeopardy.

Nonetheless, Perry’s decision in June 2013 to cut the $7.5 million lawmakers had allocated for the Public Integrity Unit for 2014-15 because Lehmberg refused to resign was egregious and coercive. Perry’s action put hundreds of cases and investigations in limbo and placed in doubt the jobs of 35 prosecutors, investigators and other employees.

The Travis County district attorney’s office is the most powerful in the state because the Public Integrity Unit is charged with policing the ethics of legislators and other state officeholders. While Perry’s veto did not take away the unit’s authority to investigate official wrongdoing, it left it without state funding. Authority without funding is no authority at all.

Travis County commissioners decided to cover the unit’s costs, approving $1.8 million last August to help keep the unit alive this year. Commissioners added to the funding mix $734,000 from a forfeited property fund that the district attorney controls. Travis County taxpayers are now paying for the work of an office established by the state to investigate state officeholders. If Perry is convicted, perhaps commissioners should consider asking the state for reimbursement.

For decades, Democrats have led the Travis County district attorney’s office and Republicans have complained the Public Integrity Unit unfairly targets them for prosecutions. A Travis County grand jury indicted former Republican U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay of Sugar Land in 2006 for money laundering. Former Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison was indicted by a Travis County grand jury in 1993 for official misconduct and records tampering dating from her time as state treasurer.

Perry’s case, however, was not being considered by Lehmberg’s office but by Michael McCrum, a special prosecutor from San Antonio. Presumably, Perry will seek a change of venue for trial.

“I took into account the fact that we’re talking about a governor of a state - and a governor of the state of Texas, which we all love,” McCrum said Friday. “Obviously that carries a lot of importance. But when it gets down to it, the law is the law.”

Now the law might make Perry pay for his unseemly politics.

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Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Aug. 19, 2014.

Indictment of Perry is not a full legal case

When an Austin grand jury delivered a two-count indictment of Gov. Rick Perry late Friday, many were quick to judge.

He should resign, said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, somewhat predictably calling for an abrupt end to the 13-plus-year Republican governor’s public service.

That’s ridiculous. Perry is innocent of the charges unless - and plenty of people argue it will never get this far - a fair and impartial Texas judicial system eventually decides otherwise.

Anyone who has watched Perry in office, especially after seeing his forceful responses to the indictment over the weekend, knows it’s also ridiculous to think he would fall on his own sword or in any way dial back his own political career.

At the same time, those who see only politics in the indictment, who believe it was contrived solely as a way to steer the political process, are not seeing the whole picture.

Perry is accused of criminal conduct in attempting to coerce Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg into resigning after she was arrested for driving almost three-times-the-legal-limit drunk and generally making a fool of herself when she was booked into jail.

He threatened to veto, and eventually did veto, $7.5 million in state funding for the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes cases of official corruption under the Travis DA’s supervision.

Vetoing bills passed by the Legislature and line items in the state budget is the governor’s prerogative. He’s free to threaten a veto to influence what bills get passed or what gets funded in the budget - although Perry has not made it part of his governing style to issue veto threats.

But it’s different if he threatens a veto to influence the action of an autonomously elected official at an entirely different level of government.

For that, the grand jury decided there is reason to believe Perry may have violated state law.

An independent special prosecutor with bipartisan credentials, Michael McCrum of San Antonio, spent a year investigating a formal complaint filed against Perry by a liberal-leaning activist group and presented his findings to the grand jury.

McCrum was appointed by senior state District Judge Robert Richardson, a Republican and also of San Antonio.

To say that politics has guided all of this is to say that the individuals involved and the grand jury process itself are corrupt. That stretches credulity too far.

Perry’s defense attorney, David L. Botsford of Austin, whose $450-an-hour fee is being paid by Texas taxpayers, can be trusted to fight the indictment, which he says has no legal basis.

He can contest the charges against his client, even the laws on which the charges are based.

An indictment is not a legal case. We’re eager to see and judge the legal case behind this one.

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