Wednesday

October 22nd, 2014

Insight

Brutal politics in a not-so-gay place

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published August 19, 2014

It's finally happened!

Somebody has finally indicted the famous ham sandwich that an infamous judge once said any prosecutor so inclined could indict. No offense here to Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, but this particular ham sandwich has no taste, no calories and no protein. It's all fat.

Mr. Perry was indicted last week of doing his constitutional duty in Austin, the capital and a lively and spirited island of deep blue Democrats of the most partisan persuasion, marooned in a sea of red-state Republicans. The isolation often inspires something bizarre.

The indictment by a Travis County grand jury, covering a scant two pages to detail the first indictment of a sitting Texas governor in more than a century, charges Mr. Perry with abusing his office by "threatening to veto legislation that had been approved and authorized by the Legislature" to fund a public-integrity section in the district attorney's office, unless the district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg, resigned.

The governor wanted the D.A. gone because she had become the town drunk, and not only a drunk, but a drunk who gets in her car and tears down the street, weaving into opposing traffic, and fighting with the cops when they arrest her. And not just once. The governor thought she was not quite the district attorney to pass on the integrity of others, particularly other public officials.

So 16 months later, as the governor was preparing for another run for the Republican presidential nomination, the D.A. convened her grand jury and demanded the indictment. The grand jury complied, as grand juries nearly always do when the D.A. cries "jump."

Other governors, correctly perceiving the indictment as an attempt to criminalize political disagreements with constitutional authority, leaped to Mr. Perry's defense. Two of them are governors who would try to keep a presidential nomination away from him. Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, called the indictment "politically motivated" and "a major overreach of his veto authority." Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana said it was "a blatant misuse of the judicial system by liberal activists who couldn't defeat him at the polls."

Alan Dershowitz, the distinguished constitutional- and criminal-law professor at Harvard, says he is "a liberal Democrat who would never vote for Rick Perry," but is nevertheless outraged. "This is another example of the criminalization of party differences," he says, and the indictment "is an extremely dangerous trend in America." The Wall Street Journal calls it "Texas chainsaw prosecution."

Rosemary Lehmberg clearly needs help from her friends. One of them should give her a ride to Alcoholics Anonymous. Her well-known mean streak invites the equally mean reactions of those who bear no gallantry. One Texan calls her "fat, drunk and vindictive."

But those who know Texas and Travis County are not surprised by the partisan vindictiveness. Austin, the seat of both the state government and the University of Texas, is unique. The people who live there fancy themselves cultured, wise and refined, but the politics are brutal and unforgiving, all the more partisan for its political isolation from the rest of Texas.

A fine political novel, "The Gay Place," drew Austin accurately 50 years ago, before the word "gay," once a synonym for "merry" and "festive," was appropriated by homosexuals. Billy Lee Brammer's take on a city that was then pleasant as well as merry and sometimes festive, was that it was "clean and quiet, with wide rambling walks and elaborate public gardens and elegant old homes standing ruined in the shadow of arching poplars."

The resemblance to a town out of F. Scott Fitzgerald was not a coincidence. Billy Lee Brammer lifted the title of his book from a Fitzgerald poem: "I know a gay place/Nobody knows."

Now Austin has become a big city that everybody knows, still dominated by the university and the Capitol, having traded its innocence for the harsh and pious politically correct. The district attorney's office reflects an attitude, that deep-blue Austin is better than bright-red Texas, and the rubes and yokels must be brought to heel.

Rosemary Lehmberg is popular in Austin because she needles Republicans, and occasionally indicts one, like Tom DeLay and now Rick Perry. She's usually not lawyer enough to convict a big one. She's a party girl, buying her vodka by the gallon. She prefers Ciroc, suitably French and a favorite of hip-hop artists, popular for "getting your thug life on."

Mr. Perry, never a favorite of the Austin party crowd, repeated his assessment of Ms. Lehmberg over the weekend as someone who can't be trusted to police anyone's ethics. He stands by his veto. "Given that choice again, that is exactly what I would do."

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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