Rick Perry’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad month may have gotten worse. Much worse. Our friends at Forward?Progressives stumbled on some tidbits that cast Perry’s attempt to strong-arm Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg out of office–one that has him facing criminal charges for abuse of power–in a damning light. It seems that on at least two occasions in Perry’s 13-plus years as governor, Republican district attorneys were convicted for driving drunk–the very thing for which Perry is trying to oust Lehmberg. And yet, unlike with Lehmberg, Perry didn’t fall over himself to have these Republican prosecutors removed from office. Later on, a former Republican lawmaker was arrested for DUI–and actually got promoted even though he’d refused to take field sobriety tests or blood tests.
Thursday’s edition of The Dallas Morning News reports that in 2002, Terry McEachern, the DA for Swisher County in the Panhandle, was arrested by police in New Mexico after one of his relatives reported him swerving into oncoming traffic and running off the road. He was convicted of aggravated DWI the following June. There is no record of Perry taking any action to force McEachern from office on this occasion. The Morning News also noted that in 2009, Rick Harrison, the DA for Kaufman County in the Metroplex (west of Dallas), was arrested for hitting a car in Seagoville after driving the wrong way down a street. It was actually his second DUI conviction, a fact which prompted local Republicans to demand his resignation. But Harrison refused to step down–and Perry made no move to push him out. It says a lot about the state of the Republican Party in Texas that the Kaufman County Republican chairman fully supports Perry’s efforts to push out Lehmberg.
What’s the difference? Well, neither McEachern nor Harrison was leading a corruption investigation that was getting very close to Perry. At the time of her arrest and conviction for DUI last year, Lehmberg was investigating possible illicit distribution of grant money from Perry’s signature project, the Texas Cancer Research and Prevention Institute, in her capacity as head of the state’s Public Integrity Unit. And as mentioned above, both McEachern and Harrison are Republicans. Lehmberg is a Democrat.
As if that wasn’t enough stew in the pot, in September 2012 Jack Stick, a deputy inspector general for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, was arrested for DUI in Austin. Earlier in the decade, Stick served a single term representing some suburbs of Austin in the Texas House of Representatives. Texas Dentists For Medicaid Reform got its hands on the police dash cam footage of Stick’s arrest, which shows Stick refused to take a field sobriety test. According to arrest records, he also refused to take a blood test. Fast forward to March 2014, when Stick was promoted to chief legal counsel for the commission. Stick’s DUI hearing has been postponed almost two years; it is now scheduled for August 28. Granted, Stick hasn’t been convicted yet. But the standard for acceptable behavior from a public official is set much lower than the one below which you go to jail–and it doesn’t exactly inspire public confidence when someone can behave in the manner Stick did and not only keep his job, but get a promotion.
Perry is facing criminal charges primarily because special prosecutor Michael McCrum, who investigated the matter, felt Perry’s line-item veto of funding for the Public Integrity Unit amounted to an unlawful act of political retribution. Perry, however, counters that he was acting well within his rights to zero out the Public Integrity Unit’s funding unless Lehmberg resigned. Indeed, ThinkProgress’ Ian Milhiser points out that due to the broad discretion Texas governors have in using their veto power, McCrum will have to overcome a “significant constitutional obstacle” to win a conviction.
That being said, even if Perry does manage to win in a court of law, it’s hard to see how he can win in the court of public opinion. Let’s review. Two Republican prosecutors are convicted of DUI, and yet Perry does nothing. Another prominent Republican is arrested for DUI, refuses to take field sobriety tests or blood tests, and is actually promoted to an important legal post with his case still outstanding. And yet, when a Democratic prosecutor is convicted of DUI, Perry does everything short of moving heaven and earth to push her out. Now add in that the Democratic prosecutor heads an anti-corruption unit that is currently mounting an investigation that’s getting very close to Perry. Does anyone else think there’s a double standard here?
Perry has been an elected official without interruption since 1985–six years in the state house, eight years as agriculture commissioner, two years as lieutenant governor, and over 13 years as governor. In that time, he’s talked his way out of many a sticky wicket. But if he has any hopes of running for president in 2016, he’s going to have to talk his way out of this one–and frankly, I don’t see how he can do it. Even if he manages to stay out of jail, his political career is over.
edited by hl