Bloomberg View

The Perry Indictment: A Texas Farce


Rick Perry’s booking photoCourtesy APD Public Information OfficeRick Perry’s booking photo

Rosemary Lehmberg, the Democratic district attorney in Travis County, Texas, spent three weeks in jail last year for drunken driving, prompting Republican Governor Rick Perry to call on her to resign. She refused—and now her supporters hope to have the last laugh by sending Perry away for a lot longer. The criminal case against him is a farce. The state should work faster than a prairie fire with a tail wind to dismiss it.

Lehmberg’s run-in with the law drew public attention not only because she had an open vodka bottle in her car and a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, but also because video exposed her acting belligerently toward the officers. The judge in the case called her behavior “deplorable.” Perry, who misses few opportunities to engage in grandstanding, vowed to veto funding for the DA’s public integrity unit unless she resigned. He argued that, because of her conduct, Lehmberg was not fit to oversee a unit that investigates possible ethics violations. Partisan motivations aside, it was fair to call her judgment into question—and Perry followed through on his vow with a line-item veto.

A liberal advocacy group, Texans for Public Justice, persuaded a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Perry’s veto threat constituted an abuse of power. He now faces two indictments for abusing the powers of his office. Few give the prosecution much chance for success in court. But conviction isn’t the goal here. Harassment and humiliation are.

Political disputes should be resolved in political venues, not in criminal courts. Perry is guilty of partisan behavior, not felonious conduct. There’s been no evidence to support the claim that he vetoed the funds to prevent the public integrity unit from investigating allegations of impropriety by the state’s Cancer Prevention and Research Center.

Some liberal pundits seem gleeful about how the indictment may damage Perry’s presidential aspirations. Don’t be fooled. This is more likely to rally Republicans and new supporters to his side and to make Texas Democrats look as craven as the Republicans who are seeking to impeach President Obama.

To read Peter Orszag on what we know about suicide and Clive Crook on long-term economic growth, go to: Bloomberg.com/view.


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