Saturday, August 16, 2014


Rick Perry has been indicted:
A grand jury indicted Gov. Rick Perry on two felony counts on Friday, charging that he abused his power last year when he tried to pressure the district attorney here, a Democrat, to step down by threatening to cut off state financing to her office....

The long-simmering case has centered on Mr. Perry's veto power as governor. His critics asserted that he used that power as leverage to try to get an elected official -- Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney in Travis County -- to step down after her arrest on a drunken-driving charge last year.
Lehmberg is a Democrat; because her office is in Austin, the state capital, it oversees public corruption cases, which means, in a Republican state, it's a thorn in the side of Republicans:
As the Texas Tribune notes, "Dismantling the unit is a perennial platform plank of the Texas Republican Party." The unit dates back to the 1980s and watches state politicians to make sure they don't violate election and anti-corruption laws. One of the highest-profile investigations by the unit is the ongoing criminal case against former Rep. Tom DeLay, who has been accused of money laundering to hide corporate donations to state GOP candidates. "Given that most public officials in Texas are Republicans," Texas Monthly's Dan Solomon writes, "that means that the unit frequently investigates Republican officeholders -- and some say the fact that the people responsible for the unit are elected by voters in the Democratic stronghold of Austin makes it unpopular with Republicans." If Perry had been successful in strong-arming Lehmberg out of the job, he would have been able to name her replacement to serve through the next election.
And yet the counterargument is that Perry has the authority to use the veto in the way he did -- a point even many liberals concede. Here's Ian Millhiser of Think Progress:
In a statement released Friday evening, Perry's attorney claims that "[t]he veto in question was made in accordance with the veto authority afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution." She may have a point.

The Texas Constitution gives the governor discretion to decide when to sign and when to veto a bill, as well as discretion to veto individual line-items in an appropriation bill. Though the state legislature probably could limit this veto power in extreme cases -- if a state governor literally sold his veto to wealthy interest groups, for example, the legislature could almost certainly make that a crime -- a law that cuts too deep into the governor's veto power raises serious separation of powers concerns. Imagine that the legislature passed a law prohibiting Democratic governors from vetoing restrictions on abortion, or prohibiting Republican governors from vetoing funding for Planned Parenthood. Such laws would rework the balance of power between the executive and the legislature established by the state constitution, and they would almost certainly be unconstitutional.
As Colin Campbell of Business Insider notes, there's skepticism about this indictment among some liberals. (Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money: "I'm as contemptuous of Perry as anyone, but this seems really thin." Jonathan Chait: "I don't understand what law he broke.")

As for me, I'd take this a step back and ask why we live in a country where a governor can veto the funding for a legally constituted office, as Perry has tried to do here, or the legislative branch of the federal government can threaten to defund programs it doesn't like (e.g., Obamacare), or can routinely refuse to allow parts of the government it doesn't like to be fully staffed (not just executive-branch agencies but the federal courts). It's not the way a First World country ought to operate. It may be the way the absurdist Texas described by Molly Ivins has always operated, but government here is a joke if, more and more, at every level it's like Ivins's Texas Lege and partisan impasses can never be resolved.

I'm not sure I'll live to see this situation get better, unless the whole damn country is partitioned, and I don't know how we'd even do that geographically. I'm feeling as if we live in the country described in Max Fisher's brilliant Vox parody "How We'd Cover Ferguson If It Happened in Another Country":
... Missouri, far-removed from the glistening capital city of Washington, is ostensibly ruled by a charismatic but troubled official named Jay Nixon, who has appeared unable to successfully intervene and has resisted efforts at mediation from central government officials. Complicating matters, President Obama is himself a member of the minority sect protesting in Ferguson, which is ruled overwhelmingly by members of America's majority "white people" sect....
That's who we are now.


Philo Vaihinger said...

The indictment proves grsnd juried will swallow anything.

Tom Blue said...

It's cute how all the punditry are scrambling to weigh in in the Perry indictment -- is Chait some kind of lawyer or something that we should be interested in his puzzlement?

Those of us Juanita Jean's aficionados have been following this grand jury thing for a while now. You can start here and work back through the links in Susan Bankston's piece to better understand exactly what the felonies are, instead of relying on Rick Perry's lawyer and Jonathan Chait.

Start here:

Victor said...

"It's not the way a First World country ought to operate."

Ok, more proof that we're not that anymore.

Outside of our military, and our billionaires, what's First World about the US anymore?

Unknown said...

I'd like to remind folks of the partisan prosecution of a Democratic Alabama governor by Republicans for simply appointing a contributor to a state cause to manage that cause. The governor received no benefit whatever, even that (like Perry) of getting rid of a Democratic investigator so he could replace her with a Republican of his choice (or, in the alternative, shutting down the investigations) That Al governor went to jail.

Incidentally, the federal judge who presided over that trial was just removed from 11th Circuit cases for assaulting his wife in Atlanta.

Ken_L said...

The notion that any single individual can veto a decision of a duly elected legislature is absurd - a hangover from the days when the aristocracy was not willing to trust the masses with complete political power. It's crippled effective governance in Washington and apparently causes serious problems in the states as well. As a non-American, I have always been nonplussed at the lack of enthusiasm in the US for constitutional reform. The deficiencies embedded in an 18th century system of laws and institutions are just going to get worse and worse as time goes on.