Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, October 27, 2016

By Mark Z. Barabak, Los Angeles Times

It’s been nearly three years since Rick Perry stood on a debate stage in Michigan and fumbled fruitlessly for the name of the third federal agency he vowed to eliminate as president.

Since then, the Texas governor has worked assiduously to restore his once-platinum political reputation — the Republican had never lost an election before his failed White House bid — and to position himself for another try in 2016.

There were issue tutorials and appearances on national talk shows, travels to burnish his foreign policy credentials and visits to key political states, in particular the money-lode of California and early-voting Iowa.

All that threatened to come undone with Perry’s indictment Friday on charges that he abused his office by eliminating funds for the state’s ethics watchdog, an office overseen by the Travis County district attorney, a Democrat and persistent irritant.

In a brief yet fierce appearance Saturday before reporters in Austin, Perry denied any wrongdoing and said he was the victim of a partisan persecution — a notion that drew not just Republican support but the backing of some Democrats and legal analysts.

“I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto and will continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor,” said Perry, who punctuated his vigorous defense with a frequently wagging finger and sordid details of the arrest of his nemesis, Dist. Atty. Rosemary Lehmberg, for drunk driving.

It was Lehmberg’s conduct and Perry’s subsequent threat to veto funding for her office that resulted in Friday’s grand jury indictment.

“I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes, and I intend to win,” the governor said.

By portraying himself as a wrongful target, Perry sought not just to deflect the damage of the indictment but to turn the episode to his political advantage, rallying Republican donors and activists aggrieved at the perception of yet another arrogant government overreach.

“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry said, echoing a cry that allies took up shortly after the indictment was unsealed. “It is outrageous that some would use partisan theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution.”

It will take considerable time before the political effects of the indictment and Perry’s aggressive defense are known; still ahead is the prospect of booking, fingerprinting and a requisite mug shot, which seems destined to appear in campaign ads by Democrat and Republican alike.

Other GOP presidential hopefuls — Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin — face their own potential legal jeopardy involving alleged government misconduct, so Perry is not alone in that regard. (Walker, unlike others eyeing a 2016 run, is also in the midst of a stiff November re-election fight.)

Against that backdrop, Perry’s political skills over the next days and weeks will determine whether he climbs back into the top tier of candidates, where he resided until his collapse in the 2012 campaign, or remains an afterthought or, worse, a lingering joke with the punchline, “Oops.”

In Texas, where Perry’s third and final term ends in January, the governor has been a formidable campaigner, commanding the political agenda and shining in one-on-one encounters. Lately he showed flashes of his old home-state luster, winning positive reviews from activists in Iowa and vaulting himself into the national debate over immigration with a strong stand against the rush of Central American youth to the U.S.-Mexico border.

But there have been signs as well of the more cavalier Perry, who by his own admission entered the race the last time ill-prepared and insufficiently serious.

In San Francisco in June, he tossed a bouquet to Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton — “great secretary of State, first lady” — a line unlikely to win friends in a GOP primary. After appearing earlier this week at the Iowa State Fair, he exulted in his performance, telling The Des Moines Register, “I’m awesome!”

His indictment, of course, poses a much sterner, more consequential test.

Perry was charged with two felony counts that stemmed from his threatened veto of $7.5 million in funding for the public ethics unit in Lehmberg’s office, which oversees state and federal lawmakers. After her arrest, the governor had said he would zero out the money unless she quit.

“I exercised … authority to veto funding for an office whose leadership had lost the public confidence by acting inappropriately and unethically,” Perry told reporters Saturday.

Lehmberg served about half of a 45-day jail sentence but refused to resign, and Perry followed through on his veto threat, prompting a government watchdog group to file a complaint saying Perry’s actions amounted to improper intimidation. A special prosecutor was appointed and several top aides to Perry appeared before the Austin grand jury for questioning. The governor did not testify.

Critics of Perry note that at the time funding for Lehmberg’s office was cut, its public corruption unit was investigating one of the governor’s pet projects, the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas. Questions have surfaced regarding the institute’s funding and the role of some of Perry political allies.

The governor did not address the matter in his eight-minute appearance Saturday, but rather laced into Lehmberg for her belligerent behavior after her arrest.

“Stopped for a DWI with a blood-alcohol level almost three times the legal limit,” Perry said. “An individual who, when booked in, had to be restrained, was abusive to law enforcement, was kicking the door. I think Americans and Texans who have seen this agree with me, that that is not an individual who was heading up an office that we can afford to fund.”

Many of Perry’s fellow Republicans — including several potential 2016 rivals — rushed to agree.

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who has not had the warmest relationship with the governor, called Perry a “friend … a man of integrity” and used a Twitter hashtag to say he was “proud to (hashtag)StandWithRickPerry.”

Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana posted a series of tweets defending Perry and calling the indictment “a blatant misuse of the judicial system by liberal activists who couldn’t defeat him at the polls.” Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, whose son is running for state office in Texas, called the indictment “politically motivated and ridiculous.”

Far more surprising was the support of many Democrats, who also questioned the case against Perry. Among them was David Axelrod, a longtime Democratic strategist and adviser to President Barack Obama.

“Unless he was demonstrably trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason,” Axelrod stated on Twitter, “Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy.”

AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan

  • adp3d

    Perry was indicted by a non-partisan grand jury, all politics aside…

    • Garmin Woods

      The partisan affiliation of jurors was 7 Democrats, 4 Republicans, and 1 Independent.

      • Independent1

        You mean something like the PARTISAN affiliation of the Supreme Court which has a ton more authority??? We have to honor what IT SAYS!!!

      • Independent1

        A couple caveats on setting up a grand jury from Cornell Law (it doesn’t seem like 12 is enough which is what you posted for the partisan affiliation):

        (1) In General. When the public interest so requires, the court must order that one or more grand juries be summoned. A grand jury must have 16 to 23 members, and the court must order that enough legally qualified persons be summoned to meet this requirement.

        f) Indictment and Return. A grand jury may indict only if at least 12 jurors concur. The grand jury—or its foreperson or deputy foreperson—must return the indictment to a magistrate judge in open court. To avoid unnecessary cost or delay, the magistrate judge may take the return by video teleconference from the court where the grand jury sits. If a complaint or information is pending against the defendant and 12 jurors do not concur in the indictment, the foreperson must promptly and in writing report the lack of concurrence to the magistrate judge.

  • The lucky one

    At the least Perry was abusing his political power by removing the funding for a needed process. That Lehmberg should be removed from office is immaterial to his action.

    • johninPCFL

      She was elected; the governor can’t fire her. Removing her is either impeachment or voting her out at the next election. “I’ll Defund your office unless you quit”? Not quite “I’ll kill your kid unless you quit”.

      • This looks like another liberal attempt at character assignation against someone they fear.

        • jmprint

          Trust me there’s no fear on Perry, he is a total ass. Nobody wants him as president except of course those t-party puppets that are waiting on the sidelines.

        • highpckts

          Yep you are so right! That’s all we do is tear down everyone! You are a blind Asshat!! Perry is an arrogant, he thinks he knows it all, fake with his glasses and no cowboy boots! He thinks if he changes his look he’ll look smarter! NOPE! It isn’t working!!

        • The lucky one

          Oh you mean like the “swift boaters”, but that’s right that was a republican attempt at character assassination. No one outside of Texas fears Perry. There they refer to him as someone who is all hat and no cattle, or maybe in his case all hair and no cattle.

        • Independent1

          Oh!! You mean like the almost 6 year straight 24/7 character assassinations of Obama by the GOP with it creating one fake scandal and lie after another; running bogus congressional hearings almost nonstop since Obama was inaugurated to do nothing but waste time and millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars in trying to destroy his presidency!!

          Given the non stop character assassinations of Obama since he’s been elected you have some nerve suggesting the liberals have even done a fraction of what the GOP has done in trying to destroy the character of someone. Despite the millions of dollars and years of time the GOP has wasted they haven’t made one of their fake scandals stick because they were bogus to begin with; my guess is Christie, Perry and Walker aren’t going to be so lucky. The GOP governor of Virginia and his wife won’t be so lucky either.

        • Carolyn Stine

          That’s what you think! There is no reason to fear Perry! He didn’t make it to the Republican convention in 2011, and he won’t make it again.

      • The lucky one

        No, it’s more like I’ll beat up someone else’s kid if you don’t quit. Impeachment would be appropriate.

  • sleepvark

    Gee, an elected executive is facing legal challenges for his actions in office. Sounds familiar somehow. Only these involve criminal charges and have passed the first step in the legal process, an actual indictment. A bit of boomerang I would think.
    Paybacks are . . . painful sometimes.

  • highpckts

    They probably won’t find him guilty but I believe he’s capable of anything! Just like his bro Chris Christy! This will get buried and never spoken of again. The sad thing is, these two will probably run for the Presidency, regardless of what’s happening and the people will vote for them!

  • ExRadioGuy15

    Yosemite Sam can cry foul all he wants. The thing he and the rest of the GOP should remember: all of them are guilty of Insurrection or Sedition, with many of them being guilty of BOTH….sadly, the USDOJ hasn’t the balls or spine to indict, arrest and prosecute them for their crimes. 🙁 ssmdh

  • herchato

    Court is the last place governor Perry wants to be. There are way too many things that might come out during testimony that would be very exposing for him.