I get that a lot of people want Texas Gov. Rick Perry to be convicted and see the bespectacled buffoon go straight to jail, not pass go, and not collect $200. But here’s the thing: That’s not going to happen. He’s not going to jail. And no amount of internet-fueled hatred of the man is going to change that fact.
In the last couple of days, the blogosphere has separated into two categories when it comes to Texas politics: Partisan hacks, and people who actually know what the hell is going on. It’s been informative.
Look, I get that Perry is an asshole. He’s almost certainly abused power, and there are any number of examples that you can point to and say, “He should be in jail!” or something. The real problem here is that he hasn’t been indicted for any of those things, and what he has been indicted for is flimsy at best.
But, why should you listen to me? I’m just some dumb girl from Texas who’s probably going to get shat on in the comment section for “defending” Perry, or not recognizing how “blue” Texas is or something melodramatic like that. To wit, Texas politics professor at Southern Methodist University, Cal Jillson, who has already been widely consulted about this issue, says the charges don't stand a chance.
“I certainly do not expect him to be convicted and so I think we will be denied that potentially iconic photo of Perry's new designer spectacles peering out between the prison bars,” Jillson told us, adding that he doesn’t think this is politically motivated, as many Republicans are claiming. “But I do think the charges are thin and so I suspect his well-paid legal team will be able to shred them.”
That’s right, y’all: “shred.”
Let’s break it down: An influential public employee who is part of the Public Integrity Office of Travis County got caught on video drunkenly fighting cops and making a fool of herself before ultimately being arrested for a DUI. Perry, unsurprisingly, asked her to resign. She refused. He threatened to veto their funding as a result.
Let’s stop there: Because, as I said in a previous post, the threat is the thing. This is what makes it — potentially, but probably not — illegal. The fact that he actually vetoed their funding has little-to-no bearing on this case, because it’s totally legal for governors to veto things.
The law Perry stands accused of violating in this regard is a statute that prohibits “misusing government property.” The “misuse” here is the veto threat. The other statute involved in this rickety indictment prohibits anyone in the government from “influenc[ing] or attempt[ing] to influence a public servant in a specific exercise of his official power or a specific performance of his official duty.”
Here’s the problem: The Texas Constitution explicitly gives the governor authority for this kind of veto: He can veto funding if he wants, and it really doesn’t matter why he vetoes it. And, that second statute specifically exempts “an official action taken by the member of the governing body.”
Then, under both the Texas and U.S. Constitutions, political speech protects talking about why you vetoed something. It’s political speech. So, it’s pretty flimsy to assert that because Perry talked about why he was going to veto something before he vetoed it, he’s done something illegal.
Another obvious problem is that this indictment requires you to prove Perry’s motive: That instead of simply wanting someone to resign because she made a fool of herself, he wanted to manhandle the office for political gain or some other less-than-savory purpose. Even if that’s true, and maybe it is, proving it is pretty problematic. We aren’t talking about Perry straight up selling a political office (like Rob Blagojevich), or violating campaign finance laws (Jesse Jackson Jr. style). We’re talking about his unclear motivations for doing something he’s legally allowed to do.
Let’s all also stop pretending Perry is this dopey politician who got to the governor’s office with a wish and some luck. Perry is the longest-serving governor of Texas, and has made himself more powerful than the Texas Constitution ever intended. Even if he isn’t well spoken or particularly quick witted, he’s at least got the brains to surround himself with smart people. And this time around, those smart people include a slew of badass lawyers.
Houston lawyer Tony Buzbee, who won the largest jury verdict against British Petroleum in history, will lead a team that includes Ben Ginsburg, former national counsel to George W. Bush (including that bit during the Florida recount); Bobby Burchfield, who was general council for George H.W. Bush and is on the leadership team of Crossroads GPS; Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips; and David Botsford, one of the best criminal defense attorneys in the state.
So, really, the only way Perry is going to get convicted is if Botsford somehow allows this to get to trial — which he probably won’t — and then the jury hates Perry enough to convict him, a la Tom Delay (who, we’ll remember, was eventually acquitted and wound up on Dancing With the Stars).
But, that’s not going to happen. This isn’t going anywhere. Best-case scenario is that this totally derails any chance he had at a successful 2016 campaign (which wasn’t ever going to be successful to begin with) and that it distracts his office long enough for other Republican candidates to pull ahead.
In the meantime, Perry will stay out on the road campaigning for 2016 and basically ignoring this indictment. And he should.
Because it’s stupid.