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article imageOp-Ed: A veto threat even Vito would appreciate

By John David Powell     Aug 17, 2014 in Politics
Just about the only folks having a good time with the indictment of Texas governor Rick Perry are members of the national media and folks who really don’t understand Texans or politics.
If you had more important things on your mind the past few days, like, say, ethnic cleansing in Iraq, hooligans running amuck in Missouri, or making this month’s mortgage payment, you may have missed the latest melodrama out of the Lone Star State. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lemberg, a Democrat, needed several months and who knows how many thousands of dollars to convince a grand jury to return two indictments against Perry, a Republican. (No word if she indicted a ham sandwich as a backup.)
In brief, no pun intended, Lemberg’s grand jury said Perry broke state laws when he threatened to veto funding for the D.A.’s public integrity unit unless Lemberg resign after her drunk-driving conviction (three times the legal limit), and when he carried through with the veto.
Warning: skip the next few paragraphs if facts and legal mumbo-jumbo bore you to tears.
The grand jury said Perry violated the state law that prohibits a person from influencing or attempting to influence a public servant in carrying out his or her official duties or to try to keep a public servant from performing those duties.
The second law the grand jury says Perry broke defines coercion as, among other things, a public servant taking or withholding action to cause another public servant to take or withhold action.
In this case, Perry said he would veto about $8 million for the D.A.'s public integrity unit if Lemberg did not resign after her DWI conviction. She didn’t, so he did.
(One of the breakfast regulars down at Sparky’s Diner said Perry’s veto threat paled in comparison to the classic Vito threat: “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse.” He had to pay for everyone’s breakfast for that bad joke.)
Anyone familiar with Texas knows the ability or inability of a public official to hold his or her likker doesn’t really matter at the end of the day. What matters is the ability to take care of business, preferably your business.
Former state comptroller and lt. gov. Bob Bullock was an alcoholic who swore off the booze about the time he broke his arm falling out of a deer blind, if my memory serves me after about 30 years. My apologies if that was another state officer holder.
Former Travis County commissioner, state treasurer, and governor Ann Richards (the last Democrat elected to statewide office in nearly a generation) successfully completed rehab while a commissioner. I knew and liked Richards from when she was a guest on a local TV talk show on which I used to be a fill-in host. Sometimes Ann was a bit, shall we say, into her cups. But she was smart, funny, and a great person.
I used to have lunch several times a week in Austin with state legislators, judges, political advisors, and other journalists. Most of them have passed on, so I’m not violating anyone’s privacy when I say that our bartender had few idle moments.
All of that is to say Lemberg’s love of vodka was not the reason for Perry’s veto. No, Perry believed (and you can debate the probity of that belief) that he could not give public money to a D.A. who displayed blatant and violent disregard for the law and for the officers she worked with and was supposed to support as part of her job.
A Travis County sheriff’s deputy began videotaping Lemberg’s booking after she tried to use and abuse her position as D.A. Watch the video and decide for yourself if Perry made the right call.
Texas Democrats say Perry wanted to defund investigators to keep them from digging into his and other Republican political interests. But others say Perry should have been indicted and impeached if he had not draw the line in the ethics sand by saying the top law officer of a county is not above the law.
Withholding state or federal money until a government body, shall we way, sees the wisdom of change is not a new idea. In fact, it is quite common.
The New York state Education Department withheld $36 million in federal aid to give the Buffalo school board a chance to give parents more involvement in improvement plans and in the grant application process.
Maine’s governor Paul LePage threatened to withhold all state funding to communities that provide assistance to illegal immigrants.
Here’s one of my favorites. Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) threatened to block billions of dollars of funding if the Federal Aviation Administration didn’t limit the number of night flights over part of his district.
The whole idea of a veto is threatening by definition. That’s the hammer a chief executive holds over the heads of the legislative branch. It is an implied threat by its very nature. Just like in collective bargaining. Unions use the “threat” of a strike to get management to agree to demands. Chief executives use the “threat” of a veto to get lawmakers to fall in line. And a veto threat is all hat and no cattle if the CEO doesn’t carry through.
And this is why you are starting to hear Democrats, like Obama advisor David Axelrod, say the indictments smell like a cattle barn that needs some serious cleaning. Axelrod tweeted that “Unless he was actually trying to scrap the ethics unit for other than his stated reason, Perry indictment seems pretty sketchy.”
Axelrod is in Chicago and does not have a dog in this hunt, well, other than helping to make sure Democrats continue to occupy the White House. So, yes, these indictments are not happy times for Democrats who do not want anyone to think a chief executive officer can be indicted or impeached for doing his or her constitutional duty.
One would doubt that Texas Democrats will be onboard. How much support do you suppose gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis will give, considering she could face the same charges if elected?
Before this weekend, Perry was riding off into the political sunset (his tortured dreams of the presidency not withstanding). Now, Lemberg has put him behind the wheel of a political steamroller that could start crushing all hopes for turning Texas blue in November.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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