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October 25th, 2014

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The assault on Perry is an assault on America

Jay Ambrose

By Jay Ambrose

Published August 22, 2014

The assault on Perry is an assault on America
Disagree with someone's politics? Forget the ballot box, indict the bum and stick him in prison if you can. It's a dangerous, totalitarian-threatening, un-American trend, says the wonderfully worthy Alan Dershowitz, a Harvard law professor who told Newsmax he was nothing short of outraged by recent doings in Texas. Everyone else should be, too, he said, whether liberal or conservative.

He was talking about the indictment of Republican Gov. Rick Perry of Texas on two felony counts for things that are neither felonies nor misdemeanors nor even bad manners. He has been indicted for first threatening a veto and then delivering it.

Think about it for a minute. Perry is now facing up to 99 years in prison for criminal charges stemming largely from the constitutionally correct, indubitably legal act of saying no to a legislature that could still have overridden him. My advice to the rest of you governors who have ever vetoed anything is watch out.

But surely, you say, there's concern about a real crime here such as taking a bribe, maybe, or some other form of outright corruption. Not really, though there are pretenses of something akin to extortion if you make it mushy enough to compete with oatmeal. Sadly, what this fanatical assault on fundamental principles is really about is politics and more politics and then, wait, did I mention politics?

There are some surprises in the package. Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor who manipulated a grand jury into disregarding common sense, had been known as an even-handed, bipartisan kind of guy. The reputation is now doomed forever because of the manufacture of absurdly illogical allegations boosting the cause of officials in a snarling fight with the governor.

So was Perry also playing politics when he vetoed a $7.5 million budgetary line item for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney's office? To some extent, maybe. This is a Democratic-dominated agency with statewide reach, and it is seen as a particular danger to some Republican-friendly groups. But keep in mind that, without really needing one, Perry had a perfectly legitimate veto excuse. Despite his own defunding threats, the DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, refused to resign her position after a drunk-driving conviction, meaning that this public integrity enforcer could be seen as failing to enforce her own integrity.

The specific charges against Perry? One was his supposed illegal coercion of a public servant, which he is said to have done by promising the veto minus a Lehmberg resignation. His words could otherwise be described as free speech, as I am not the first to note. The other legal prohibition is misusing public property and is meant to prevent such things as an official using state highway equipment to pave his private drive. For someone to say a veto amounts to such misuse is to alter the legal meaning of the terms, not to identify a crime.

Let's get back to Dershowitz, who is surely right that the sort of thing we are seeing in this assault on Perry is equally an assault on our whole system of rights and liberties promised by democratic, constitutional governance. Dershowitz is a liberal who, as he wished, has been joined in his denunciation not just by conservatives, but by a number of other liberals condemning what is transpiring in this case. Some are as upset as Dershowitz while others just see a mistake, but here's my message to all of them: Welcome, welcome, welcome.

The Perry case ought to go away in a hurry. If it doesn't, I suspect Perry will win, but it could be through courtroom travail costly in far more than monetary ways while still leaving some with tyrannical hope. If Perry should lose, it would be a horror not only because of the grotesque injustice to an extraordinarily accomplished governor, but because of the indication of a dismayingly diminished American future.

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Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.

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