Rick Perry’s presidential campaign kickoff was well executed and widely praised. But Governor Perry is running under the cloud of a felony indictment in his home state. It’s a fabricated smear that casts a shadow likely to distract some voters from considering Perry on his merits.
Texas Governor Greg Abbot should put a stop to this travesty. Here’s the speech he should give:
My fellow Texans, I am about to take an action that will cause controvery and some people will harshly criticize. So, it’s important to explain myself clearly.
For exercising his absolute constitutional power to veto public spending, my predecessor as governor of the Great state of Texas has been indicted by a corrupt prosecutor acting for corrupt reasons. Politics has always been a rough sport. But in more civil times, that meant critics might write and say bad things about their targets, even unfair and untrue things. It’s not a field for the thin-skinned. Verbal attack was part of the price of getting involved and making a difference.
Today, however, the weapons aren’t just words. Politics is becoming a bloodsport and government power is becoming a weaponized instrument of destruction. Punitive officials use state power to harass, audit, and prosecute their political enemies. These escalating assaults can be aimed at candidates, donors, or even just involved citizens.
Abuse has festered from the highest levels of American government down to obscure state and local offices. A president who loudly proclaimed a philosophy of rewarding friends and punishing enemies delivered on at least that one promise. He unleashed a lawless IRS, EPA, OSHA, Department of Labor and other agencies to oppress, suppress, and stifle the civic engagement of inconvenient Americans—inconvenient to him and his agenda, anyway. There is even cause to question the motivation behind his Justice Department’s abrupt decision to prosecute New Jersey Sen. Robert Hernandez, who had sharply challenged Obama’s policies regarding Iran and Israel.
We saw it, too, in Wisconsin where a rogue prosecutor staged secret midnight raids on conservative activists to stifle and suppress their political activity. His theory of searching for campaign finance violations was so flimsy that a federal court ordered it shut down. It came out the prosecutor was trying to hurt Scott Walker’s chances for reelection, because his school teacher wife was offended by the Governor’s labor reforms.
And now, in robust, prospering Texas, another lawless DA is trying to criminalize his political opponents. When Rosemary Lehmberg was caught driving at three times the legal blood alcohol limit, it cast serious doubt on her fitness to run the Public Integrity Unit that investigates alleged misconduct by public officials. When she berated and abused the arresting officers, wailed about the harm they were causing her political career, and then did the same to jail personnel at the station, she removed all doubt. She is unfit. This was all on videotape.
Governor Perry determined he would not tolerate the travesty of a corrupt official in charge of enforcing public integrity. He asked Ms. Lehmberg to resign. When she refused, he announced his intention to veto funding for her unit until she departs the scene. He followed through on that promise.
Then, a partisan ally of Ms. Lehmberg engineered an indictment against the governor, calling his action felony abuse of power and improperly influencing a public servant. In plain Texas talk, that’s insane. Governor Perry himself was in office as a public official. He didn’t try to bribe or influence Ms. Lehmberg. He used his pen to fire her.
Comparing these actions to the kind of influence buying contemplated by the relevant statutes is a dishonest, morally bankrupt enterprise. This political bounty hunting has got to stop. Our government should not be held hostage to a political sniper’s desire for headlines or hopes to embarrass a political figure. The state of Texas should not have its executive branch hobbled and distracted by flimsy charges that have been widely condemned and even David Axelrod called, “pretty sketchy” and the New York Times deemed "an overreaching prosecution."
It is no answer to say Governor Perry was duly indicted by a grand jury. The issues in this case don’t present the kinds of questions grand juries exist to answer. In normal prosecutions, a clear crime has been committed—a robbery, assault, or homicide, and a prosecutor assembles the evidence and asks the impaneled citizens to decide whether the evidence points at charging a particular suspect. But in this Alice in Wonderland process, the facts and relevant actors were all known from the start. A politically motivated prosecutor sought the cover of grand jury approval to vouch that any crime had been committed in the first place. The absurd question he put to them—judicial in nature--was whether a governor’s threat to veto an agency budget might be the kind of influence covered by the law. And then he reaped his headlines.
I will not stand by and let this charade go forward. Today, I am pardoning Rick Perry of all the corrupt charges related to his discharge of his clear constitutional authority as governor of Texas. And I rebuke the corrupt officials who have made this action necessary. Thank you. I’ll take questions now.