Considering the blatant, almost entirely legal corruption that has been the hallmark of the Perry years in Texas, it’s ironic that the allegations which finally led to his indictment are complete horseshit. Perry is being accused of using threats and a Legislative veto to depose a DA who had been a thorn in his side.
The Travis County DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, had been arrested for drunk driving in an incredibly embarrassing incident. Lehmberg refused to step down prior to the upcoming election because doing so would have allowed Perry to select her successor. Had Perry been able to select her successor, he would have been able to single-handedly kill the increasingly dangerous investigation into the political slush fund Perry operates for “technology investments.”
Perry used Lehmberg’s DUI as cover for a campaign to get her removed and finally gut the public integrity unit she oversees. He succeeded, and by shutting off funding to the DA’s investigation unit, he effectively cut off the DA’s ability to build the case against him over the slush fund.
Dirty politics? Of course. Illegal? Probably, but not in a way that could ever be effectively prosecuted.
By trying to take Perry down on the tenuous grounds of “abuse of power,” the Travis County DA is unintentionally obscuring a far more important investigation. Her reasoning, probably, was that this was the only way to rescue the Public Integrity Unit’s inquiry into the Governor’s other activities. Unfortunately, Lehmberg is up against two miserable problems.
The first problem is that she is utterly compromised. The only lasting images likely to emerge from this complex mess are the pictures of her making an ass of herself during her arrest. The larger problem is that prosecuting public corruption in Texas is nearly impossible because of the shape of the legal and political landscape. By playing this desperate gambit, Lehmberg is not only likely to lose. Her actions may finish off Travis County’s public integrity unit, effectively snuffing out what little light of scrutiny still shines on the art of Texas political corruption.
Trying to take down Rick Perry on a such a trivial, clearly political matter is an embarrassment. This is a guy who let a major campaign donor, Bob Perry, write his own regulatory scheme to regulate his own industry. The Governor then appointed Bob Perry to head the “watchdog” agency that the legislation created.
Perry appointed the head of one of Texas’ most powerful payday lenders to head the agency that regulates payday lending. He presides over a half-billion dollar “investment fund” fueled by state money which he hands out to well connected friends with no oversight. And the best that the Travis County DA’s Office can do is indict him for hounding a prosecutor with a criminal record?
Ultimately, why is Perry being charged with something so seemingly trivial? Just as in the DeLay case, it is very difficult to find a form of public corruption in Texas that actually breaks a law. The core of the problem is that virtually nothing that passes for public corruption elsewhere in the western world is illegal in Texas.
Under Perry’s influence and with little legislation or oversight to stand in the way, Texas has become America’s champion of blatant, unapologetic, and remarkably uncreative public corruption. No one ever goes to prison for it, not even Tom DeLay. Perry is unlikely to be an exception.
Texas has an unpaid Legislature. Think that over for a minute. Just as every new prisoner supposedly must fight for his life or become someone’s bitch, each new Legislator has to immediately decide which collection of donors and lobbyists is going to pay his rent in Austin. How do you prosecute public corruption in a system built on those rules?
The Travis County courts can do whatever they will. It doesn’t matter. Just as in the DeLay case, Perry would appeal any conviction into a system of Appellate Judges he constructed. Many of them he hand-picked across his record 15 years in office. The rest of them owe their livelihood to the Texas Republican machine.
The charges against Perry might be a minor factor in his Presidential ambitions, but no one was going to take him seriously at that level anyway. It will cost Perry some of the money which has been donated by the people he takes care of. It is unlikely to force him to dip into the millions in wealth God has granted him over the course of his public service career. You can bet that appearances at a few prayer breakfasts will shake loose whatever cash he needs to earn vindication.
This indictment is little more than a frustrated prosecutor spitting defiantly in the wind. She should have passed on this. By doubling down on a compromised investigation she is gambling the future of Texas’ only major institution for public integrity on a very bad hand.
This will all probably peter out within a year or so after his Presidential campaign fizzles. It will be fun to watch, but probably not much more.
From 2011, an old post on corruption in Texas. This stuff never gets old:
Why Texas Governors Don’t Go to Prison
Rick Perry’s aide gave a beautifully roundabout answer to a recent question about the blatant quid pro quo that marked his reign as Governor. The spokesman explained, “There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.”
Nor will there be. Remarkably, Perry’s probably done nothing illegal in his tenure. One of the benefits of living in a state with hardly any rules is…well, it’s hard to break the rules.
The unique system of payola that makes Austin run is not only legal, it is startlingly public. A politician in Texas can, and for all practical purposes really must, franchise himself to a set of well-financed individuals or interests and become their representative in Austin. It is how the system is designed to work.
There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.
Home-building tycoon Bob Perry (no relation to the Guv) is the poster-child for this system. He is arguably the most successful legislator of the past fifteen years and he has never held public office. Bob Perry’s tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions have somehow coincided with remarkable success at getting complex, controversial, and significant legislation passed that benefits no one other than himself and his allies. The one Perry sheds light on the other.
One of Bob Perry’s boldest achievements was to have an entire regulatory scheme created and implemented to serve his needs. In the late ’90′s many Texas municipalities started trying to tighten construction regulations. They were responding to waves of complaints regarding the poor quality of the sprawling new construction being hastily stamped onto the Texas landscape.
Governor Rick Perry, the enemy of “job-killing regulation,” decided entirely on his own, not inspired at all by the millions in contributions to himself and nearly everyone in the Lege from Bob Perry and the builders, to take the remarkable step of implementing an entire new state agency to regulate housing construction.
The law creating the agency was drafted by Bob Perry’s attorney, who Governor Perry then appointed as the first head of the commission. The new agency’s rules would pre-empt any new local regulations and block new local professional competence requirements. Along the way it would severely limit the ability of a home-buyer to sue their construction company. The “regulations” it implemented were an obscene joke that shielded builders from common-law liabilities. The law allowed the industry to literally appoint its own “regulators” and arbitrators.
This was one of the most unapologetically corrupt political arrangements I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime and I’ve spent seven grueling years in Chicago. It happened entirely out in the open for everyone to see.
Again, the millions of dollars handed to Gov. Perry had absolutely nothing to do with his decision to let home-builders write their own legislation. Likewise the money used by Bob Perry and the industry PAC’s to grease the legislature (almost every legislator in both parties – let’s be clear) had no influence at all.
There’s never been any wrongdoing substantiated.
Governor Perry and the Legislature just happened to recognize, entirely on their own, that the people of Texas needed a new fake regulatory body completely controlled by the construction industry to “protect” said citizens from poor quality home-building.
Texas, you’re welcome.
The Sunset Commission eventually recommended that the agency be dismantled explaining, “No other regulatory agency has a program with such a potentially devastating effect on consumers’ ability to seek their own remedies.” But it took two more Legislative sessions to get that accomplished.
The same serendipitous political process explains why in the hell payday lending is legal and why Texas always needs more tort reform. It helps you understand who gets grants from the state’s Emerging Technology Fund (The Prominent Donor’s Kickback Fund). And it’s the same purely coincidental process by which Rick Perry became a multi-millionaire during a career as a state employee.
Texas is not the only place where political officials are sometimes…influenced…by money from donors. It’s the crass blatancy of Texas’ system that might cause complications for Rick Perry as he tries to take his very local show to a larger audience. No one will accuse Perry of being the sharpest knife in the drawer and he’s used to hiding his pay-for-play in plain sight. He probably has no clue what his deals are going to look like when exposed to national scrutiny.
I live in a state where the exit to the Governor’s mansion leads straight to federal prison. It saves some much-needed money on pensions. But even here the free hand a guy like Perry enjoys is at a minimum going to inspire some envy.
As the campaign winds on Perry will need to schedule a lot more prayer meetings if he wants to distract people from what really happened on his watch back in God’s Country.