In Texas politics this month, one subject and one mug shot dominated the local and national headlines: the criminal indictment of Governor Rick Perry.
The Texas governor was indicted by a Travis County grand jury on Aug. 15 and charged with two felony counts: abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant. According to the indictment, each of these charges are related to his efforts last year to remove District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg from office after her arrest for drunk driving by vetoing funding for the Public Integrity Unit under the Travis County district attorney’s office.
“Nobody is questioning his ability to veto the funding to the Public Integrity Unit,” said Blake Farrar, political science professor. “That’s completely acceptable. If he would have just come out and said he didn’t think she was fit for office, he would have been just fine, but him threatening her is where he got into trouble.”
Supporters of the governor believe he was working well within his constitutional rights and have come to his defense, claiming he is the victim of Democratic politics.
“I believe that there has to have been some sort of Democratic lead behind the indictment charge,” said Westley Halbardier, chair of the Texas State College Republicans. “I know you’re supposed to toss all of your political ideas out during grand jury duty, but my thought was that if the Democrats understood that they could take this opportunity to try and have governor Rick Perry removed from office, they would do so.”
However, others feel this is simply another one of Perry’s political stunts.
“Do I think that Perry did it for political motivation? Yes,” said Josh Martinez, events coordinator for College Democrats at Texas State. “He will support his political reasons either because the DA was a Democrat or because she received a DUI.”
This scandal highlights an underlying issue in regard to who should be in control of the Public Integrity Unit, Farrar said.
It is a topic that has sparked arguments from both parties. Some feel it is the responsibility of the Attorney General’s office, while others believe it should be kept out of state officials’ hands while remaining at the DA’s office, Farrar said.
“In the current situation you have the local government providing a check on state governments, but given the political dynamics, you also have Democratic politicians that check on Republican politicians who run the state,” Farrar said. “So, you kind of have a local/state issue and a Democrat/Republican issue.”
Farrar said there has been tension between the Travis County DA’s office and state Republicans for some time now as a result of Republicans attempting to move the Integrity Unit from the DA’s office to the Attorney General’s office.
“There is definitely political undertones to this whole thing,” Farrar said. “However, I don’t think that this is without legal merit. The group that brought this complaint and these charges forward has brought forth several other complaints in the past, and they have a good track record.”
The public will not know the details surrounding this case until it goes to trial.
“I think if he is found guilty, he’ll probably be given a suspended sentence,” said Thomas Doyle, political science assistant professor. “I’m not even sure that there would be a jury in Texas that would sentence him to jail time. So even if he was found guilty, he might be let off on probation.”
Part of the difficulty of talking about the issue before the trial occurs is that people are inclined to pass judgment before facts are known, Doyle said.
“The way it typically runs is that only juries will have all of the facts at hand,” Doyle said. “I prefer to suspend judgment and not think of it one way or the other.”