Texas Governor Rick Perry plans to run for president in 2016. He even just started his very own super PAC to gather campaign financing, named RickPAC. And the long time governor plans to hit the campaign trail hard later this month, visiting all the key Republican states, including Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, to name a few. But first, he needs to be arrested and taken to jail. And he will be, in about a week.
That's right. Rick Perry will taken to jail and magistrated in front of a judge on indictment charges for two separate felonies, which I'll get to in just one second. First though, let me walk you through what "taken to jail" means for the governor.
At some point in the very near future, the current governor of Texas is going to be taken into custody and fully processed into the criminal system of Travis County in Austin TX, in what is called a "walk-through procedure". That just means that Perry won't likely serve any jail time (yet). He'll just have to be finger-printed, he'll stand in front of the height measurement backdrop for a crowd-pleasing mugshot (one that I personally hope will be an internet-memed sensation soon afterwards). And then the current governor of Texas will be majistrated in the county jail's courtroom, which means he will officially hear the charges against him for the first time from a judge.
The thought of Rick Perry in an orange jump suit just makes me happy. Sorry to all of you Rick Perry fans out there. But you would feel the exact same way, trust me, if for the last 14 years you had to suffer through countless Rick Perry scandals, controversies, incompetencies, and George Bush-esque word flubs. I personally do not know one other Texan that supports the man. But, alas, he has been re-elected more than once, so he obviously has some support. (cough*Christian right*cough).
But that's beside the point. On to the charges against the man. What exactly did he do?
Well, in a nutshell, here's what happened. Back in April of 2013, a Travis County district attorney by the name of Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested and sentenced to 45 days in jail, after pleading guilty to drunk driving charges. Apparently, she was captured on video being belligerent during the booking process, and basically made a complete fool of herself. She was found in a church parking lot with an open bottle of vodka on the front passenger seat, after local sheriffs' deputies responded to a call about a motorist driving recklessly.
Here's why she is important to the indictment, and why I just gave you that backstory. And I know what I am about to reveal is ironic on both sides, but just consider who is legally at fault here. Lehmberg was called to resign by many after her arrest, but she refused. She plays an extremely important role in Austin, and many that support her do so seemingly in spite of the controversy, for it's Lehmberg's job to oversee the Public Integrity Unit. And here's where the irony hits home: the Public Integrity Unit is a division that is in charge of investigating wrongdoing by local, state and federal officials. Clearly, Lehmberg's hands are not exactly clean herself after being arrested for drunk driving. But, its not a fire-able offense, so she technically didn't have to resign.
And she's also a Democrat. One of just a few, in an otherwise heavily Republican run Austin administration. And hardcore Republican Governor Rick Perry saw Lehmberg's stumble and arrest as a prime opportunity to strong arm and push her out of office, in hopes to usurp her with a chummy Republican. He did this by publicly threatening to veto $7.5 million in state dollars for the Public Integrity Unit, unless she resigned. As this NY Times article outlines: He later carried through on his threat, vetoing the money and stating he could not support “continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”
So he basically gave her the ultimatum of "quit or lose your unit's funding for the next 2 years". And then he followed through with the threat when she didn't quit. Problem is, even though he is legally allowed to veto funding in certain circumstances, he can't do it for that reason. It is in fact illegal to withhold state funding already earmarked and approved by committee vote, for clearly vindictive and political/personal reasons. Or, at least a grand jury thinks so.
And that pretty much brings us to where we are today. For the last few months, an investigation proved that Rick Perry's actions were in fact worthy of indictment by grand jury, on 2 separate felony counts that read as follows:
The indictment claims Perry violated two laws, the first of which prohibits public servants from consciously engaging in “misuse [of] government property, services, personnel, or any other things of value belonging to the government that has come to the public servants custody or possession by virtue of the public servant’s office or employment.” And the second of which bans coercion to influence “or attempt to influence” public officials in either “a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty” or “to violate the public servants known legal duty.”
The height of irony in all this is that Rick Perry tried to bully the very district attorney in charge of the Public Integrity Unit, and is now being indicted because of it. Said another way, it wasn't some random scandal that Lehmberg just so happened to reveal about the governor that might lead him to jail time and loss of power. No no no. Instead, it was the very act of him trying to get her out of office in hopes of replacing her with someone that wouldn't want to see him ousted that did him in. Does that make sense? Does it kinda make you laugh? I hope so.
Mr. Governor Rick Perry could actually go to prison for this. And for a very long time. The felony indictment includes two charges: abuse of official capacity, carrying a maximum sentence of 99 years, and coercion of a public servant, carrying a sentence of two to ten years. At minimum, if convicted on both accounts, he will be sentenced to no less than 7 years.
Attorney and pundit opinions currently differ wildly on just how the case will ultimately go down. In my estimation though, it's likely he won't see much of any jail time. But, hopefully at least his 2016 presidential aspirations are effectively squandered from this indictment. That would be justice enough for me. Well, no, it wouldn't honestly. But, you take what you can get. I don't think he deserves 100 years in prison. That sounds way, way too harsh for abuse of power. But definitely some punishment is in order here. He is the first Texas governor to be indicted on charges since 1917. Way to go Rick Perry.
Sources and good reads for further information on this story:
The Daily Beast article: What the Hell Just Happened in Texas, and Why Was Rick Perry Just Indicted?
The New York Times article: With Eyes on 2016, Perry Is Mired in the Past
Fox News article: Texas Gov. Rick Perry indicted for alleged abuse of power in veto dispute
KXAN local Austin news video: What's next for Rick Perry
KXAN local Austin news video, breaking the story: Texas Governor Rick Perry indicted by grand jury