When Texas Governor Rick Perry was indicted liberals hurrayed and conservatives yelped. Subsequently liberals assured the world that Rick Perry had a vendetta against Ms. Lehmberg; conservatives opined that Mr. Perry’s gubernatorial authority was being questioned (if the legal shoe pinched the opposite foot the opinions would surely be reversed). In the end, both sides will miss the larger point: Governor Perry acted in an unbecoming and crassly political fashion.
Jonathan Turley, a generally progressive legal scholar, is not convinced of the Governor’s guilt –
“…I have great reservations over the use of a criminal indictment in a case of this kind. In the very least, this should have been a matter for the use of prosecutorial discretion in declining a criminal case given the vague or inapposite character of the underlying provisions.”
The Texas law that underpins Perry’s second indictment (he was indicted on two charges), does not appear to be aimed at generic political intimidation –
“A person commits an offense if by means of coercion he: influences or attempts to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty or influences or attempts to influence a public servant to violate the public servant’s known legal duty” (emphasis mine)
According to Mr. Turley, the statute’s language suggests a “favor” of some sort. In short, Rick Perry’s transgression does not fit the language of the statute. Perry is, however, a political bully: he told a duly elected official to resign or face a substantial budgetary reduction.
Politics is a rough business, and the Texas governor would not be the first elected official to seek a personal goal with a budgetary ax. Nevertheless, voters must demand more. Politicians must act wisely and dispassionately whenever humanly possible. Decency is essential.
A true leader would not threaten another duly elected official, or veto funding for the basest of reasons. It was proper for Mr. Perry to publicly call for Ms. Lehmberg resignation, but it was wholly inappropriate for the governor to misuse his political power. Even so, unless Mr. Perry attempted to bribe Lehmberg, the governor deserves to be exonerated in a court of law, but convicted of being crassly political in the court of public opinion.
If the Texas governor decides to run for President again in 2016, Republican primary voters should demand he apologize for his unbecoming behavior. Instead Governor Perry will likely offer a full-throated defense of a governor’s veto power, and a soliloquy about partisan witch hunts. An anti-apology will reveal the real man: politics first, leadership second.