Strange Doings in Austin (Prosecutors Gone Wild!)

As the Bob McDonnell trial reaches its shambolic denouement, it’s interesting to note a newly hatched parallel proceeding in Austin, Texas, where current Governor Rick Perry (R-Texas) has been indicted by a Travis County jury for “abuse of office.”

In an earlier life, I spent a fair amount of time in Texas.  If Fairfax County is a small state, then Texas is basically a medium-sized country.  It has regions which are very different culturally and politically — and Austin (Travis County) is the most different of all.  It’s as if someone took Arlington County, Virginia, and air-dropped it into Southside.

Which brings us to Governor Perry …

He’s been in the Governor’s office for fourteen years.  Before that, he was Lt. Governor to Bush.  He’s actually been around so long that he was originally a Democrat (and state chairman of Al Gore’s Presidential campaign in 1988).  Until now, he’s been called a lot of names, but never “corrupt.”

Which takes us to the recent indictment.  The facts appear to be undisputed:  the legislature passed a $7.5 million appropriation for an  ethics commission (sounds familiar).  The head of that commission, the Travis County District Attorney no less, was arrested after a drunk driving stop and subsequent confrontation with police.  The Governor said he would veto the appropriation unless she stepped down as the head of the commission.  She refused.  He vetoed the appropriation.

There is no evidence that Perry had any financial stake in the veto or that he acted from any motive other than he thought she was a bad choice — or the public money was not well spent if she remained as head of the office.

And we’re supposed to consider this a felony?

This is a joke.  A Governor is a public official.  The right to veto legislation, especially for the spending of public funds, is an inherent part of the office.  That veto power is absolute, as long as the Governor does not act from a corrupt motive.  If the legislature disagrees with the veto, it has a constitutional ability to override.  Otherwise, it stays.

To assume that the prosecuting attorney acted from a partisan, if not personal, motive in bringing the indictment is merely to note the obvious.  It’s not an especially original political strategy. (I’ve written previously about Democratic officeholders in the Deep South who were pursued by Republican prosecutors for legal violations that were marginal or even fabricated).

But I doubt that the Perry prosecution is going to do any favors for Democratic candidates in Texas, by making a conservative hero of a Governor who should be fading out of the spotlight.  Nobody likes a bully or the wasting of judicial resources on a case that clearly is about political, not criminal, choices.

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