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Rick Perry, Rosemary Lehmberg and the Sport of Texas Politics

Texas Governor Rick Perry is about to be under investigation by a special prosecutor for alleged abuse of office and coercion.  A San Antonio judge ruled Thursday the investigation should proceed into whether Perry violated the law by taking millions of dollars out of the budget meant for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit.

The facts of the case are rather tricky and take some explaining.  The Travis County Public Integrity Unit is charged with investigating cases of political corruption.  The unit itself is run by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg.  The Public Integrity Unit launched a criminal investigation into favoritism allegations against the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas last year.  The state is also investigating.  CPRIT was championed by Perry as an institute which would “save lives and provide millions renewed hope.”  It was his vision, which almost fell apart because of mismanagement.  And it’s being investigated by the same Rosemary Lehmberg who spent 45 days in jail earlier this year following an arrest on drunk driving charges, and who refuses to resign.  The same Rosemary Lehmberg who could end up getting kicked out of office anyway, because of a civil trial seeking her removal.

Her reasons for not resigning are probably political.  Perry would appoint her replacement if Lehmberg stepped down, and it would either be a Republican or a conservative Democrat.  In fact, the head of the Texas Democratic Party told the Texas Tribune she shouldn’t resign because of this reason.  He doesn’t like Perry and doesn’t want him to get a ‘victory.’

It’s the sport of Texas politics.  It’s dirty, sometimes nasty, and often fun.  It’s like Michigan vs. Ohio State in a football game, but crazier.  And without Brent Musberger.

But it doesn’t mean Perry should have denied the funds for the Public Integrity Unit.  The governor can claimit was because of the arrest itself and the public’s “lost confidence in Lehmberg,” but not everyone will believe it.  It can easily be interpreted as political payback for Lehmberg’s refusal to resign or for her investigation into CPRIT.   Does it mean Perry did it for payback?  The only person who truly knows is Perry.

The special prosecutor, whoever they may be, is going to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Democrats want Perry out of office as quickly as possible and his political career over.  Some Republicans suffering from “Perry Fatigue” may want this as well.  Perry supporters want him to keep fighting, possibly all the way to the White House.  The investigator is will have to stay nonpartisan and avoid all outside influence, concentrating solely on the facts of the case.

In this situation, Perry should be investigated because it gives off the air of malfeasance, even if none exists.  It’s the right thing to do, even if it turns up nothing.

But the fact is, Perry should know better.  Things like this tend to come back and bite people when they least expect this.  Lehmberg’s time as Travis County DA could hopefully be coming to an end.  If she’s found guilty in the civil trial, she’s out.  The same could happen during the 2016 election.  She should have resigned when this happened, but again…sport of Texas politics.

 In the end, it shows how much of a mistake it was for Texas to create the CPRIT.  As important as it is for cancer to be snuffed out, it’s something best left up to the private sector.  Not politicians.  The private sector can get things done more quickly as technology develops.  The government isn’t needed unless laws are being broken.  That’s the lesson from the Rick Perry-Rosemary Lehmberg fight that’s sadly being lost.