Law & the Courts

Rick Perry Is Not Guilty, but Texas Is

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty)
The Perry case is an indictment of Texas’s culture of corruption.

Rick Perry, arguably the most successful American governor in a generation, is in forced retirement. Rosemary Lehmberg, the vodka-swilling, retribution-promising, drunk-driving human dumpster fire who indicted Governor Perry for exercising the ordinary powers of his office — vetoing funding for her office — remains in power. That, in short, is what is wrong with Texas — and the country.

Puff Daddy, or whatever his name is now, has a friend in Rosemary Lehmberg. The hip-hop impresario is an endorser of Cîroc vodka, and Lehmberg, who in her role at the Travis County prosecutor’s office oversees political crimes statewide, went through about 25 gallons of the stuff — 74 bottles — in the course of a year. She had one of those bottles in her car when she was pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. She was convicted of the crime and went to jail. Texas being Texas, she is not the first prosecutor to have been carted off to the pokey in shackles; truth be told, the state hasn’t imprisoned nearly as many of its prosecutors as it should. Prosecutors in my hometown, Lubbock, collaborated for years with a wildly unethical coroner who was faking evidence in murder cases and who was so addlepated that he once misplaced an entire human head.

Texas doesn’t exactly have world-beating standards when it comes to prosecutors.

But Lehmberg is a special piece of work. Never mind the gallons of booze and the drunk driving. A bad drinking habit is a very nasty thing indeed, and addicts, even those who are Democratic office holders, deserve help. And the rules being what they are, a DUI can happen to almost anyone who both drinks alcohol and operates automobiles. But for the mercy of God and New York City’s unrufflable taxi drivers, I’d likely have one myself. Though, for the record, Lehmberg wasn’t one of those unfortunates a hair over the 0.08 percent blood-alcohol content — at 0.239, she was ready to have Puff Daddy himself embracing her in a magazine advert.

But it wasn’t the drunk driving that bothered me — or, more to the point, that bothered Governor Perry. Upon her arrest, Lehmberg immediately went into “Do You Know Who I Am?” mode and was so abusive that she had to be put in restraints. She demanded special treatment and threatened law-enforcement personnel with legal retaliation for refusing to let her slide. Specifically, she threatened to have them arrested. Amusingly, this is all captured on a hilarious video that never gets old.

To recap:

This is the prosecutor in charge of the statewide task force policing political ethics. Think on that for a minute.

#share#Governor Perry, being a reasonably responsible chief executive, judged this state of affairs to be intolerable. But Lehmberg is not a state employee subject to gubernatorial dismissal; she is an elected official of Travis County. Her office, however, is funded by the state government, and Governor Perry made it clear that he would veto that funding so long as the person in charge of the place was — let’s reiterate — an out-of-control criminal misusing her official prosecutorial powers in an attempt to suborn misconduct from law-enforcement personnel.

Governor Perry carried through on his promise, and Lehmberg retaliated by indicting him on felony charges, alleging that his use of the veto — an ordinary part of his prerogatives as governor — constituted an abuse of power. That Rosemary Lehmberg, of all people, was developing innovative theories about the abuse of official power is the source of some grim mirth. But politically motivated felony prosecution of governors and presidential candidates is no joke.

On Wednesday, Texas’s highest criminal court threw out the charges against Rick Perry, which came as no surprise. Lehmberg’s predecessor, Ronnie Earle, pulled the same sort of stunts, with the same outcome, in his partisan campaigns against Kay Bailey Hutchison, a U.S. senator at the time, and Tom DeLay, who was the House majority leader. The point of such prosecutions isn’t to get convictions — Texas Democrats are a stupid lot, but they aren’t that stupid — but to ruin political careers, as DeLay’s was ruined, and to bankrupt and harass political opponents.

The acquittal of Rick Perry is a victory for the rule of law in the same sense that Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decision not to boil alive a cauldron full of kittens this morning was a victory for the humane treatment of animals. An unthinkable outcome was avoided, nothing more.

But Rosemary Lehmberg remains in office, and Texas remains a deeply, shamefully corrupt state in which such political persecutions are indulged not only by partisan Democrats hoping to debase and humiliate political rivals but also by powerful Republicans such as former state representative Jim Pitts. Pitts is the Republican who until this year chaired the powerful ways and means committee in the state legislature. He backed the impeachment and threatened criminal prosecution of University of Texas regent Wallace Hall, a courageous whistleblower who exposed political favoritism in UT admissions — favoritism that had benefited Pitts’s son, Ryan, who was admitted to the university’s prestigious law school with remarkably light qualifications and who went on to fail the bar exam at least three times.

On and on it goes. Houston’s recently departed mayor, Annise Parker, a lesbian crusader for the right of men in dresses to use ladies’ public toilets, went so far as to subpoena local Christian pastors, demanding to know the content of their sermons before a hotly contested election on her beloved potty bill, which was to be the crowning achievement of her final year in office. She previously had tried, unsuccessfully, to impose her toilet regime ex cathedra, as it were, but the courts stepped in and stopped her.

Rick Perry accomplished a great deal as governor of Texas, but he failed to take on the culture of corruption of which he ultimately was a victim. Governor Greg Abbott, his successor, has the opportunity — and the duty — to do better.

— Kevin D. Williamson is National Review’s roving correspondent.



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