by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Rosemary Lehmberg, the Democratic district attorney in Travis County, Texas, spent three weeks in jail last year for drunken driving, prompting Republican Governor Rick Perry to call on her to resign. She refused—and now her supporters hope to have the last laugh by sending Perry away for a lot longer. The criminal case against him is a farce. The state should work faster than a prairie fire with a tail wind to dismiss it.
Lehmberg’s run-in with the law drew public attention not only because she had an open vodka bottle in her car and a blood-alcohol level three times the legal limit, but also because video exposed her acting belligerently toward the officers. The judge in the case called her behavior “deplorable.” Perry, who misses few opportunities to engage in grandstanding, vowed to veto funding for the DA’s public integrity unit unless she resigned. He argued that, because of her conduct, Lehmberg was not fit to oversee a unit that investigates possible ethics violations. Partisan motivations aside, it was fair to call her judgment into question—and Perry followed through on his vow with a line-item veto.
A liberal advocacy group, Texans for Public Justice, persuaded a judge to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate whether Perry’s veto threat constituted an abuse of power. He now faces two indictments for abusing the powers of his office. Few give the prosecution much chance for success in court. But conviction isn’t the goal here. Harassment and humiliation are.
Political disputes should be resolved in political venues, not in criminal courts. Perry is guilty of partisan behavior, not felonious conduct.