Friday, August 15, 2014

Last Call For Gov. Rick Perry's 2016 Hopes

Thanks for playing 2016 GOP Clown Car, Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry!  Last time we checked on the 2016 hopeful, he was having some serious problems with a grand jury convened in April over a veto that slashed funding for the state's anti-corruption office, the Public Integrity Unit, because it was headed by a Democrat.

Rick Perry—Republican Texas governor, failed 2012 presidential candidate, and potential 2016 retread contender—is battling legal trouble at home, thanks to his controversial veto that demolished the state office tasked with investigating political scandals. On Monday, a Texas judge convened a grand jury to probe Perry's decision last year to ax funding for the state's Public Integrity Unit. The special prosecutor investigating the case, Michael McCrum, has not filed any charges. But earlier this month he said, "I cannot elaborate on what exactly is concerning me, but I can tell you I am very concerned about certain aspects of what happened here."

Perry's troubles started when he attempted to to displace the government official in charge of the Public Integrity Unit, a state-funded watchdog agency that investigates charges of public corruption. The unit is led by whoever is serving as the Travis County district attorney, who is based in Austin. The current DA is Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat. Last April, she was arrested for drunk driving.

After Lehmberg's arrest, Perry called for her resignation, claiming that the public could no longer place its trust in an official who herself ran afoul of the law. But the governor has no direct control over her job, a locally elected position, and a grand jury rejected a former opponent's attempt to have Lehmberg removed from office. For her part, Lehmberg refused to resign, though she said she won't run for reelection in 2016. That wasn't enough for Perry. With Lehmberg holding on to her job, the governor decided to cut off the $7.5 million (over two years) in state funding for the watchdog unit with a line-item veto. "Despite the otherwise good work the Public Integrity Unit's employees," a Perry statement said after the veto, "I cannot in good conscience support continued State funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public's confidence."

 Well, four months later, the other shoe dropped.  On Rick Perry's head.

A Travis County grand jury today indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two charges related to his effort last year to force District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign after her drunken driving arrest.

Grand jurors charged Perry, 63, with abuse of official capacity, a first-degree felony, and coercion of a public official.

The indictments stemmed from Perry’s threat last summer to withhold $7.2 million in state money from Lehmberg’s office unless she step down – a threat he later carried out by vetoing an appropriation in the state budget. The money was earmarked for the state’s Public Integrity Unit, which is housed in Lehmberg’s office. Perry’s veto forced Travis County taxpayers to partially fund the office, but several prosecutors and staff lost their jobs or had to be reassigned.

Lehmberg supporters said Perry’s actions constituted political retribution; Many Republicans have said the Public Integrity Unit has unfairly targeted their party for prosecutions. The Travis County District Attorney’s office has for decades been led by Democrats, including Lehmberg.

Had Lehmberg resigned, Perry would have named her replacement.

Travis County deputies arrested and charged Lehmberg with DWI in April 2013. She later pled guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail – an usually harsh sentence for a first-time drunken driving charge. She later prevailed in a civil lawsuit to remove her from office.

Remember, that's a first-degree felony if he's convicted.  And his 2016 career?  Done.

Bye, Rick.

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