Contrary to the mainstream media’s portents of political doom, Texas Governor Rick Perry’s indictment could help his presidential prospects if voters see his actions as an effort to stand up for principle and public accountability.
To summarize developments, Travis County (which includes Austin) sheriff’s deputies arrested Rosemary Lehmberg, the Travis County district attorney, in April of 2013 for driving while intoxicated.
It was not a case of someone just a little tipsy; her blood alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit. Though a high-ranking public official, she was uncooperative and abusive as she was hauled in and charged. She pleaded guilty, paid a $4,000 fine and served about half of her 45-day jail sentence. And her law license was suspended for 180 days.
Perry believed Lehmberg had lost public confidence and should step down. When she refused he threatened to veto funding for her department—a threat he acted on. Assuming Perry is criminally exonerated, voters may politically exonerate him for several reasons.
1. The public is ready for some political accountability
Drunken driving endangers the public and is increasingly becoming one of those pariah offenses—like sex offenders—in which culprits get no public sympathy. DAs, who prosecute the public for wrongdoing, must obey the law themselves or they lose any moral credibility.
President Obama’s repeated unwillingness to hold government employees accountable for their actions regardless of how outrageous their offenses—can you say Lois Lerner?—has created a wave of public resentment and distrust.
Lehmberg flagrantly broke the law, and Perry’s action, as the state’s chief executive, was both reasonable and even laudable and will likely be appreciated by the public.
2. Perry used the budget to make his point
Republicans have been looking for ways to put a check on President Obama’s unconstitutional executive overreach. One way to do that—one that congressional Republicans and Democrats have used regularly decades ago—is the power of the purse.
However, even though Republicans talk about it, they have had little success using the budget process to restrain the president. Rick Perry used the budget and his constitutionally allowed line-item veto to restrain Lehmberg.
Plus, just the thought of an executive vetoing some spending provision is liable to resonate with much of a public that is growing increasingly concerned about government spending.
3. Perry displayed some leadership
Politicians too often play it safe; Perry didn’t. Had he dropped the matter when she refused to resign, no one would have said anything—and Perry wouldn’t have been facing an indictment. The country is hungry for principled leadership these days, and Perry’s willingness to take a stand against public malfeasance is refreshing—and unusual.
4. Perry isn’t backing down
At a time when Obama can claim that a red line can’t be crossed, and then cower when it is crossed; at a time when Hillary Clinton can criticize Obama’s foreign policy, and then sheepishly walk back that criticism; it’s good to see a politician who takes a stand and won’t back down. Indeed, Perry has gone on the attack.
It’s too soon to know if Perry will beat the charges; though the majority of speculation, even among many liberals, seems to be that he will do so easily because the case is so weak.
But instead of being a millstone the indictment may turn out to be a badge of honor if it looks like a vendetta, and when an elected official—and potential presidential candidate—is willing to challenge the kind of incompetence and corruption that have so plagued the Obama administration.