Texas Gov. Rick Perry was recently indicted on charges of coercion and abuse of official capacity, according to The Economist. While it sounds disastrous at first, could these charges actually benefit Perry in the long run?
The situation began when Rosemary Lehmberg, the district attorney of Travis County, Texas, was arrested for drunk driving. Perry publicly called for her resignation, and according to The Economist, “many Democrats quietly agreed with him, although they publicly backed (Democrat) Ms. Lehmberg.”
Perry then threatened to remove the state’s Public Integrity Unit (The PIU was created to “prosecute insurance fraud, motor fuels tax fraud and government corruption,” according to Austin news network KXAN) funding if Lehmberg did not step down, the Economist continued. Perry followed through with the threat, blocking the authorized $7.5 million.
This is where the indictment charge stemmed from, although the Economist wrote that “The indictment is fairly cryptic, but it seems to be based on those statements and actions. The charges are coercion and abuse of official capacity; at issue, apparently, is the veto itself but also the veto threat.”
Abuse of official capacity is a felony and a serious accusation, but according to Ed Rogers of the Washington Post, “There is little question that the indictment is absurd.”
“But this indictment is bigger than just Texas,” he continued. “Concocted, phony and retaliatory prosecutions serve only to reinforce the public’s skepticism about the motives of our country’s political leadership and undermine the public trust. If we needed further erosion of the public faith in our government, this indictment certainly supplies it.”
Rogers wrote that whether or not this indictment works in Perry’s favor, it is a disadvantage to the country.
“By pursuing Perry’s indictment, the Democrats might actually do Perry some good,” he wrote. “But in the meantime, they are contributing to the further disintegration of the ability of our two-party system to create a government that functions.”
Rogers is not the only one who believes that Perry could benefit from this indictment. Noah Bierman of the Boston Globe wrote that “Perry’s clash with the law may prove to be a valuable selling point in his bid to run for the GOP presidential nomination.”
“This hurts the Democratic Party,” former Republican Governor of New Hampshire John Sununu told the Globe. “It shows how desperate they are to avoid talking about issues.”
In addition to potentially making the Democratic Party look weaker, “Mr. Perry looked strong and tough in his quick reaction to the indictment,” wrote Lawrence Kudlow of the New York Sun. “He’s been doing a lot of that lately.”
Others think that even if the indictment itself is insubstantial, it reflects poorly on Perry.
“No one is arguing that Perry didn't have the right to exercise his constitutional veto authority. He did,” wrote Will Hailer of USA Today. “But when Perry's threats to veto funding didn't work, Perry abused his power and attempted to coerce a public official.”
Saying that Perry’s actions went beyond “hardball politicking,” Hailer wrote that even if Perry “continues his behavior as a bully by threatening that ‘those responsible will be held accountable,’ that doesn't change the fact that a jury of his peers found enough evidence to bring the governor to trial.”
“Gov. Perry has betrayed his fellow Texans,” according to Hailer. “He has created a widespread culture of intimidation and corruption. It's time for him to step down.”
Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2