WASHINGTON, August 16, 204 — Angry and defiant, Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry vows to fight a criminal indictment while continuing his quest to remake his image for a potential 2016 presidential run.
Calling the two felony counts of abuse of power issued by an Austin grand jury “outrageous,” Perry says he will finish his term. He says the investigation against him, and not his veto of funds, is the real abuse of power.
A Travis County grand jury indicted Perry on Friday for vetoing state funds to a Travis County district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, an elected Democrat. With the veto, Perry cut $7.5 million in funding to the Public Integrity Unit, a watchdog committee housed in the Travis County district attorney’s office in Austin. Austin, home of the University of Texas and most of the remaining hippies not in captivity in California zoos, is without doubt the most liberal city in Texas, and not just by Texas standards. This blue haven in a red state reliably elects Democrats to serve as district attorney, and Texas Republicans believe the PIU is simply a Democratic Malleus Maleficarum, a tool for hunting Republican witches.
A Texas state judge assigned a special prosecutor to investigate the veto following a formal complaint which accused Perry of trying to leverage his power to force Lehmburg’s resignation.
“We don’t settle political differences with indictments in this country,” Perry told reporters outside his office in the Texas Capitol. “It is outrageous that someone would use political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution.”
Perry dismissed the charges as “nakedly political.” He also said he would not hesitate to execute a veto under the same circumstances again.
Democrats are criticizing Perry’s aggressive reaction to the indictment, accusing him of trying to shift the blame by reigniting the controversy surrounding Lehmberg’s arrest.
“The details of my decision-making were very clear. I said early on that I was going to clearly veto those dollars as long as they had someone in that office who I had lost confidence in,” Perry said. “And I had lost confidence.”
Tensions between Republicans and the PIU have been long-running. Former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and former U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, both Republicans, are among the past targets of Travis County grand jury indictments on ethics charges.
Hutchison was acquitted, and an appeals court overturned a guilty verdict against DeLay.
Sen. Wendy Davis, the face of the Democratic Party in Texas who’s running a high-profile campaign for governor, took a more cautious tone Saturday.
“The charges that were brought down by the grand jury are very, very serious,” Davis said, adding that she trusted the justice system to do its job.