Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) legal troubles started over a year ago, when Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving. After an ugly scene in April 2013, Lehmberg, a Democrat, pleaded guilty, apologized, and served 20 days behind bars.
Despite the fact that this was the district attorney’s first offense, Perry called for her resignation. Lehmberg refused. As we discussed over the weekend, this set a series of steps in motion: the governor announced that if she did not resign, he would use his veto power to strip her office of its state funding. When Lehmberg ignored the threat, the governor followed through and vetoed the funding, in the process scrapping resources for the Texas Public Integrity Unit.
Now, for those who are skeptical of the case against Perry, the governor’s actions hardly seem unreasonable. Indeed, it’s not exactly outrageous to think a governor would want to see a district attorney step down after she spent a few weeks in jail.
But the Dallas Morning News added an interesting wrinkle to this argument.
Rick Perry was outraged at the spectacle of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s drunken-driving arrest last year. But he didn’t feel that strongly when two other district attorneys faced the same charges under similar circumstances.In those cases, he said and did nothing.
This is no small detail. If Perry was convinced a DUI was a disqualifier for a district attorney, why did the governor apply this standard so selectively?
Democratic strategist Jason Stanford put it this way: “The key difference was that one of the DAs was investigating his administration for corruption and the other two DAs weren’t.”
In 2009, for example, a Kaufman County D.A. was convicted of drunk driving, his second offense. Perry’s office said nothing, dismissing it as a local issue.
In 2002, a Swisher County district attorney was found guilty of aggravated DWI, which came against the backdrop of a scandal involving the prosecutor and a sting operation gone wrong. Again, Perry said nothing.
So why would the governor rely on different standards? Jason Stanford, the Democratic strategist, added that Perry treated Lehmberg differently “in a way that makes you question what his motives were. And he had a real clear motive because she’s investigating him for corruption” in connection with a cancer-fund scandal.
I realize many on the left and right have been quick to dismiss this case on the merits. That said, I can’t help but wonder if they were a little too quick in their judgments.
Update: I heard from Gov. Perry’s press secretary this morning, who passed along an affidavit from Chris Walling, a former investigator with the Public Integrity Unit, who said the governor was not a target in the cancer-fund scandal.