Last week a judge in Texas brought some common sense to the politically motivated criminal charges against former Governor Rick Perry.
To recap from last summer, via the Washington Post:
He had called on Rosemary Lehmberg (D), the district attorney for Travis County, which includes Austin, the state capital, to step down after she was arrested in April 2013 for drunken driving. Lehmberg pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated — an open bottle of vodka was found in her car — and was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
Perry threatened to veto $7.5 million in state funding for her office unless Lehmberg resigned. She refused, and Perry followed through on his veto threat, saying that he could not provide the money “when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence.”
Recall also that, at the time, Gilberto Hinojosa, the Chair of the Texas Democratic Party called on Perry to resign because he has “brought dishonor to his office, his family and the state of Texas.”
Yes, he actually said, “his family.” I’ve yet to see a video clip of Hinojosa calling on Lehmberg to resign, but I’ll keep looking. Congressman Joaquin Castro also called upon the Governor, who by then was not running for reelection, to resign based upon the indictment.
The Governor didn’t resign and left office early this year. Last week a Texas court threw out one of the trumped up charges. The other is unlikely to survive the judicial process. That’s a good day if you believe, as I do, that the politics of criminal investigations and prosecution is bad for the health of our republic.
Benjamin Ginsberg and Martin Shefter called this Politics by Other Means, the replacement of elections with ongoing lawsuits, special prosecutors, and investigations.
As I noted last year, “We’re no strangers to it in Massachusetts in all of its forms: a complaint filed to keep Mitt Romney off the ballot in 2002, the prosecution of Tim Cahill ten years later, federal prosecutors naming Speaker Bob DeLeo as an unidicted co-conspirator this year, and the routine filing of complaints by both parties against their political opponents.”
Criminalizing routine politics leads does down a rabbit hole of ever expanding calls for investigations. Those who engage in these incessant calls might reread the Boy Who Cried Wolf. When partisans of every stripe routinely seek investigations into their opponents, voters ignore their cries. When everything is corrupt or an abuse of power, then nothing is.
Case in point: last week the Massachusetts Republican Party has “called for an investigation” into the ethics of state representative Michael Brady. Brady is seeking the Democratic nomination in the second Plymouth & Bristol Senate district.
Somewhat clumsily, Brady, in response to a question about how voters can get in touch with his campaign, gave out two phone numbers. One was his office number and the other his cell phone.
In response, the Republican party called this a “brazen attempt to improperly use taxpayer resources” and asked the state’s ethics commission to investigate Brady to “determine any other instances of Brady improperly using state resources for political purposes.”
This is more than just click-bait politics. Using investigatory powers is the replacement of politics.