Digging into Perry’s ‘partisan political theatrics’ claim

FILE - In this April 23, 2014 file photo, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks to the media after meeting with business owners in New York. Gov. Perry says Tuesday, May 6, 2014, that he never tried making a deal with an Austin district attorney about vetoed state funding that is now the focus of a grand jury investigation. Perry said Tuesday that he would let the case “play out its course” as a grand jury in Austin considers whether the possible 2016 Republican presidential candidate abused his power last summer. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens, File)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Travis County is perhaps Texas’ most Democratic spot, and – when it comes to politics – it is no secret its voting base has never cared for Rick Perry as governor.

If Perry’s political career survives the criminal case, in his future he will have to continue chalking up his indictment to a left-leaning attack – especially if he indeed has aspirations for another White House run.

No doubt, Perry will continue reminding us of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s role in this saga. In his eyes, Lehmberg – a Democrat – lost the trust of many Texans by her drunk driving and combative behavior after her arrest last year.

Add that to a Travis County grand jury handing down his indictment, and Perry calls the case a “farce of a prosecution” – blaming it on “partisan political theatrics.”

Tension between the Travis County district attorney’s office and Capitol Republicans is nothing new. Over the years, there has been ample effort to move the state watchdog power – the Public Integrity Unit – from the DA’s office to another agency like the Texas attorney general’s office – which has been led by a Republican for 15 years.

Perry called on Lehmberg to resign following her arrest, then eventually vetoed $7.5 million in state funding for the PIU. The allegation is that he tried to force her to step down by withholding that money. Her absence would give him the chance to appoint her replacement, quite possibly a Republican.

Some Republicans say the indictments against the governor are directly related to a PIU investigation led by a DA’s office run by Democrats – the same office that prosecuted former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom Delay, also a Republican. Two years ago, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) became the focus of a financial probe involving Perry’s donors.

Still, corruption is tough to prove in court.

Lehmberg and other Travis County officials recused themselves from the case, and the matter soon went to a state district judge – appointed by Republican George W. Bush when he was governor. Judge Bert Richardson then picked San Antonio lawyer Michael McCrum as special prosecutor.

McCrum was a federal prosecutor under President George H.W. Bush. He was also backed by Congressional Democrats and both of his GOP homestate Senators as the “consensus” choice for U.S. attorney under President Barack Obama (before he withdrew his name) – giving him stronger bipartisan credentials.

Critics of the indictment have accused the watchdog group behind the complaint against Perry – and DeLay, for that matter – as being on a liberal mission against Republicans. Texans for Public Justice points out it has been in existence for only 16 years, during which time the GOP has controlled every statewide office.

“We have in the course of our history filed complaints against Democrats – similar complaints for abuse or corruption – so we’re bipartisan in that respect,” said Craig McDonald, TPJ director. “For the governor to say that this is just politics being played doesn’t square with the facts.”

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