Texas Gov. Perry Indicted on Felony Charges: Abuse of Power, Coercion

By:  Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.
08/18/2014
       
Texas Gov. Perry Indicted on Felony Charges: Abuse of Power, Coercion

A Travis County, Texas, grand jury on Friday indicted Governor Rick Perry on two charges of abuse of power — a first degree felony — and one charge of coercion, a third degree felony.

Although the story had received very little attention until the indictments were handed down, the events that led to this historic event began in 2013 and may reverberate through the 2016 presidential contest, in which many speculated Perry would be a player.

Now, however, Perry becomes the first sitting Texas governor to be indicted on criminal charges since 1917, when Governor James E. “Pa” Ferguson was indicted by a grand jury in the same county on charges of extortion and other crimes.

On Saturday, Perry responded to the indictment, calling it “nothing more than abuse of power,” vowing that he “will not allow that to happen.”

The story is convoluted and doesn’t have the instant headline-grabbing cachet of other political scandals, and that may explain its unfamiliarity. Over the weekend, however, the New York Times reported the particulars of the frankly bizarre scenes of the drama, scenes that include drunk public officials, police partisanship, and white masks used to protect identities.

In its simplest terms, the indictment charges Perry with abusing his power by vetoing a bill to fund a Travis County investigation of public corruption “because the Democratic official heading the office refused to resign after being convicted of drunken driving.” The official was Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney in Travis County. After she was pulled over for suspicion of drunk driving, Perry reportedly vowed to veto a bill allocating $7.5 million to the public corruption unit headed by Lehmberg unless she resigned. She didn’t. Perry vetoed the bill, and therein lies the controversy and the basis of the charges.

The details of the story, however, are much more baffling. Here’s the synopsis of Lehmberg’s run-in with the law that triggered the showdown, as told by the New York Times:

One Saturday night in April 2013, Ms. Lehmberg was found by sheriff’s deputies with an open bottle of vodka in the front passenger seat of her car in a church parking lot in Austin and was arrested on a drunken-driving charge. She pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.

Click here to read the entire article.

Photo of Gov. Rick Perry: AP Images

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