Perry case puts a new spin on more than one campaign

08/16/2014 3:30 PM

08/16/2014 3:31 PM

In the 1950s, Houston police made great sport of arresting gays, gamblers, anyone offending the local social mores.

Once, they nabbed a bookstore owner in possession of 800 copies of the sex novel Peyton Place.

The vice squad captain then, J.F. Willis, is credited with a famous saying about how officers considered the arrests and trip downtown their own brand of justice:

“You may beat the rap,” he was quoted in 1963, “but you won’t beat the ride.”

Gov. Rick Perry, under indictment over budget arm-twisting with the Travis County district attorney, might beat the rap.

But he won’t beat the ride, not if he spends a year awaiting trial when he’d rather be in Iowa campaiging before the August 2015 presidential straw poll.

Ironically, Perry is accused of illegally vetoing the state budget for, of all things, corruption investigations.

Whether he vetoed the $7.5 million in June 2013, after urging Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to quit over an embarrassing DWI arrest, is not in doubt.

A special prosecutor from San Antonio will ask the jury whether punishing Travis County was illegal coercion, and whether Perry thus misused state funds.

Sure it was coercion.

So the Travis County grand jury — including two Republicans, according to Austin’s KVUE/Channel 24 — found probable cause for the indictment.

But the question is whether any jury will convict Perry in a felony trial over what is basically committing politics.

To Texas A&M Law School professor Lynne Rambo, one count of the indictment is logical under the statutory language, but the second alleging misuse of funds is a “real stretch.”

“If what is said is true — that he said ‘resign or I’ll defund your office’ — that does seem to qualify as coercion of a public servant under the statute,” she wrote Friday by email.

He can’t claim that’s part of his executive role, Rambo wrote: “He could have just as easily defunded her office without making any statement to her … if he’d really thought it was so horrible.”

But vetoing a budget item isn’t misusing money, she wrote.

For starters — what money?

The $7.5 million is only a line on paper until the budget passes.

Since Reconstruction, when Texas voters OKed the Constitution of 1866, our governors have wielded a line-by-line veto.

Perry’s Austin defense attorney, David Botsford, called the indictments “political abuse” and a “dangerous precedent.”

But Austin-based Texans for Public Justice, the original complainant, issued a statement saying Perry’s “bullying crossed the line into lawbreaking.”

Either way, the indictments become another get-out-the-vote tool for Democrats already sniping at Republican gubernatorial nominee Greg Abbott’s role with a scandal-plagued cancer research agency, and attorney general candidate Ken Paxton’s $1,000 securities fine for not telling investors he was earning commissions.

But Texas Democrats always think they can outsmart Rick Perry.

They never do.

About Bud Kennedy

Bud Kennedy

@budkennedy

Bud Kennedy is a homegrown Fort Worth guy who started out covering high school football here when he was 16. He went away to the Fort Worth Press and newspapers in Austin and Dallas, then came home in 1981.

Since 1987, he's written more than 1,000 weekly dining columns and more than 3,000 news and politics columns. If you don't like what he says about politics, read him on barbecue.

Email Bud at

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