Editor’s Note: On Aug. 15, a Travis County grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry for abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. Perry, the state’s longest-serving governor, entered into political fisticuffs with Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg last summer when she refused to step down after her much-publicized arrest for drunk driving. Perry had made it clear that he would not allow state financial support to continue flowing to the Public Integrity Unit — which prosecutes political misconduct across the state and is overseen by Lehmberg — if she did not heed his calls for her resignation. In the face of her disobedience, Perry made good on his threat and vetoed $7.5 million of state funding for the PIU. At the time, the unit was investigating misconduct at the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, but not by Perry himself, according to a Travis County prosecutor. Perry entered a plea of “not guilty” to both charges on Aug. 22. On Aug. 24, Democrat Mindy Montford, an Austin defense attorney, confirmed that Perry had offered her the job. Below, we have sought the opinions of key leaders of University Democrats on the matter. This is part of a Point/Counterpoint. To see the opposing viewpoint, click here.
Texas hasn’t indicted a sitting governor in 97 years. On Aug. 15, Gov. Rick Perry broke that streak with his two-count felony indictment for abuse of power and coercion.
Though the indictment does not paint a pretty picture of Texas politics, it would be far worse to sweep corruption under the rug in the interest of saving face. As embarrassing as this process is, the indictment proceedings demonstrate a judicial process devoted to uncovering truths Perry’s office would rather keep hidden.
Fundamentally, this case illuminates the investigation the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) was conducting into a scandal involving the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). Accusations that CPRIT was funneling funds intended for life-saving cancer research toward Republican donors prompted an investigation. In December, a former CPRIT official was indicted for improperly handing grants to a company backed by a wealthy Perry donor.
Naturally, this must have made Perry extremely nervous. It has been said that God helps three kinds of people: fools, children and drunkards. It was certainly a stroke of luck for Perry that the elected official responsible for the PIU, Rosemary Lehmberg, picked this time to drive drunk. Providence helped her from hurting anyone other than herself. With this providential windfall, Perry immediately began calling for her resignation — a win-win situation. Either she resigned or he would veto PIU’s funding, and either way the CPRIT investigation would halt.
Yet an odor of mendacity permeated the good governor’s self-righteous demand. Two other district attorneys — curiously, both Republicans — have been convicted of DWIs during his administration. The governor made no demands that they step down. Of course, neither DA was investigating the shady financial dealings of organizations closely tied to the governor’s office.
Governor Perry offered a quid pro quo — DA Lehmberg’s resignation in exchange for continued funding of the PIU. Without question, Perry has the constitutional power to veto legislation. What the constitution does not grant him is the power to coerce the resignation of a public official. The indictment was never about the veto. It was about Perry threatening to defund the PIU unless DA Lehmberg resigned and offering to restore funding only if she resigned.
Texans deserve a high standard of behavior from their publicly-elected officials. Expecting the executive branch not to stoop to coercion and abuse of power isn’t a terribly stringent standard; it is the bare minimum we should demand from our public servants. Ultimately, we have rules in our democracy and instead of respecting those rules, Perry, apparently too long in office)decided they didn’t apply to him.
Though right-wing pundits would have people believe otherwise, this felony indictment showcases the impartiality of our judicial system. The initial complaint was the result of an independent investigation by a nonpartisan group of citizens. The presiding judge, Republican Bert Richardson, is a George W. Bush appointee. Judge Richardson appointed Michael McCrum as the special prosecutor to oversee the investigation. Every Travis County Democratic official has recused themselves from the case. And it would be a trifle ridiculous to claim that the randomly selected grand jury is a group with a partisan agenda. It is difficult to discern the pattern of partisan abuse in this case.
This is how our judicial system is supposed to work. A grand jury reviewed witness testimony and evidence for months before they decided that there was enough to issue a two-count felony indictment. Perry will now avail himself of our judicial system, though at least he has been publicly shamed into paying his lawyers out of pocket, rather than with the tax dollars he had been using.
CPRIT officials engaged in questionable financial dealings. When the government office responsible for investigating became involved, Rick Perry panicked and responded with threats and intimidation. Now his only recourse is to shift blame from his own questionable actions onto a DA who has already paid her debt to society. Texans are smart enough to see this for what it is — the last resort of a man backed into a corner.
Regrettably, the entire situation is embarrassing for Texans. Our state’s highest office is held by a man who has clearly demonstrated flagrant disregard for the rule of law. The felony indictments are just the latest example of corruption from Texas’ longest-serving governor. Perhaps it is time for Texans to show our governor that we will not stand by while he reduces our office of the governor to the level of a playground bully hopelessly mired in partisan squabbles. Let us take a page from his playbook and call for his resignation and cross our fingers that he doesn’t further embarrass us with yet another run for president.
Adams is the communications director for the University Democrats. She is a mechanical engineering senior from Dripping Springs.