This seems to be the season for investigations of governors. New Jersey’s Gov. Chris Christie has his “bridgegate.” The U.S. attorney is investigating New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s potential interference with the Moreland Commission—a commission he created himself to investigate corruption. State prosecutors in Wisconsin have been investigating Gov. Scott Walker’s involvement in potentially illegal coordination of campaign finances between his political campaign and outside groups. And then, of course, there are McDonnell, Perry, and Blagojevich, as well as Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who went to jail for graft, and Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, who went to jail for bribery and fought his conviction (unsuccessfully) all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. At least the endless prosecutions appear to target both Democrats and Republicans.or folks are just missing the point—>
But the problem facing prosecutors, in the Perry case and the others noted above, is this: State officials have tremendous power, and many of them abuse that power for personal benefit. But many state officials also engage in unseemly conduct and hardball politics that do not clearly cross the line of illegality.
Among elite commentators, this seems to be the emerging consensus—that the pursuit of Perry somehow was a fundamental departure from legal norms and represents an attack on the very practice of politics. Incidentally, this is precisely the line that Rick Perry is taking. On Saturday, he called the prosecution a “farce” and lamented that “some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state’s constitution.”More politics and policy below the fold.
Since uninformed speculation is apparently the coin of the realm, allow me to opine on what I think is going on. In the last few months, political reporters have begun writing the Rick Perry 2.0 Comeback story. National Journal had a particularly credulous piece—titled “The New Rick Perry”—that spent more than a thousand words allowing Perry to explain his decision to adopt those MSNBC glasses. More significantly, the piece basically chucked out almost everything we’ve learned about Rick Perry over his decades in politics to posit that he’s suddenly, mutatis mutandis, some sort of serious “bipartisan uniter” who’s shucked off the focus groups and polling and is finally just being his charming, fun-loving awesome self. It’s at best meta-level campaign bullshit, but this is how political journalism is practiced. The indictment—and the possibility that Perry could be knocked out of the running and even facing prison time because he’s a corrupt bully—blows a giant hole in the script.
There’s also a tendency on the part of political journalists to criticize anything that sanitizes the bloodsport of partisan politics. Like those football fans who belly-ache about new safety-conscious rules that “sissify” the game, political junkies are wedded to the idea that all’s fair in politics. That’s one reason, I think, why the press outside of Texas has been so incapable of seeing this through anything other than a partisan lens. The zealousness with which that line has been pursued—and reinforced by Perry’s allies—has led to some serious factual blunders and misconceptions. In the interest of trying to bring this episode back to reality, here are a few things to keep in mind.
See also Christopher Hooks:
But what did Perry do, exactly?Dallas Morning News:
He threatened, publicly, to use his line item-veto power to zero out the Public Integrity Unit’s budget. Since that part of the Travis DA’s office played a statewide role, it was funded by the state. This kind of threat isn’t unusual. Executives use veto threats all the time to get what they want. The difference this time was that Perry had the audacity to do it all publicly. It’s unusual for an elected official to bully another elected official into resigning. And when threats didn’t work, he followed through on it. At the end of last year’s legislative session, Perry eliminated the entirety of the Public Integrity Unit’s funding–some $8 million over two years. Money that was going to investigate, in small part, his own party’s mismanagement of state government agencies, including alleged corruption in CPRIT.
Perry’s prosecutor isn’t prone to partisanship, say those who know himAlec McGillis:
These sorts of dealings—so at odds with the conservative movement’s avowed scorn for “crony capitalism”—would have gotten far more scrutiny had Perry’s 2012 presidential campaign not disintegrated so quickly. But now they are back in the public eye, because they are at the heart of the showdown between Perry and the Travis County district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg. At the time of her drunk-driving arrest, the Public Integrity Unit under her command had been investigating Perry’s appointees at the state’s Cancer Prevention Research Institute, another favored dollar-disburser of Perry's, for making an improper $11 million grant to a Dallas firm. In making his righteous demand for Lehmberg’s resignation and then revoking the funding for the Public Integrity Unit when she refused to quit, Perry was undermining one of the few entities in the state with the ability to expose the taxpayer-funded web of influence and favor-peddling that he has constructed. He may well avoid conviction on the charges that have now been brought against him a result of that maneuver, and who knows, may still resume his post-2012 comeback and mount a second run for president. But if he does so, we will as a result of this case have a clearer sense of who Rick Perry is than we did last time around, and what questions need to be asked about him.Erica Greider:
Worth considering is an alternative account of Perry’s political motivation. In June 2013, when he vetoed the PIU funding, he was signing the overall budget for the 2014-2015 biennium—a budget that restored billions of dollars of funding to public schools and expanded funding to worthy priorities such as higher education and mental health care. It was a budget that had been passed by the legislature with widespread bipartisan support and that was opposed only by a handful of tea partiers, who accused the Legislature and the governor of taking the state on a California-style spending spree. They were wrong, but they were clamorous, and Perry’s defense of the budget risked costing him some standing with the Republican base. My impression, at the time, was that the governor was aware of those risks. On a Monday, he said that his critics needed remedial math lessons; he then turned around and added abortion to the call for the special session that was already in progress. And on the day he signed the budget, to widespread applause, he made a point of using his line-item veto to remove state funding from a unit overseen by a Democratic district-attorney who had just spent several weeks in prison.Walter Pincus:
If my thinking is correct—if his goal was to cover his right flank rather than to gut the PIU—it’s not hard to believe that months later, Perry (or his people) would let Democrats know that he was open to replacing Lehmberg with a Democrat, that he would help find another job for Lehmberg, and even that he would restore funding to the PIU if they proceeded with such a deal. In such negotiations, though, the governor may have extended his constitutional authority, and so if Perry did have such discussions, I suspect that the prosecutor’s evidence will have more to do with those backroom agreements than with a public warning about his intention to exercise his constitutional powers. If so, the legal case against Perry might be more serious. The ethical case against him would potentially less so, though.
Read the [Jeffrey Goldberg-Hillary] transcript and make up your own mind about Clinton’s views.Max Fisher:
I fear the interview’s treatment so far illustrates a concern about journalism that former Washington Post editorial page editor Meg Greenfield noted more than a dozen years ago.
In her book “Washington,” she wrote that journalists “in so many cases [have] ceased thinking of the people they write about as people at all, thinking of them instead as opportune props and raw material for use in their stories and in opinion pieces.”
There will be many efforts in the coming days to derive meaning from [journalist James Foley's] death. Some will say ISIS had him killed to punish the US for its recent air strikes against them in Iraq, some will say it was to egg the Americans on, and others will attribute it to simple madness.HuffPost on the Ferguson McDonald's:
I would rather derive meaning from Jim's life. As a journalist, I want to celebrate his dedication to truth and understanding. But that would sell him short. It is clear even just by secondhand accounts from the family that would do anything to help him, even when he insisted on returning to a war zone, and from the friends who were so enriched by knowing him, that Jim's value was so much more.
It’s a little hard to tell whether we should be glad that McDonald’s is serving a useful public cause, or utterly depressed that traditional meeting places like libraries and local sandwich shops have been replaced by a corporate behemoths like McDonald’s and Starbucks.Jamelle Bouie:
“When a McDonald’s is becoming your primary gathering place, that might suggest that there’s a shortage of appropriate public spaces that allow for people to exercise their First Amendment rights,” Bernardo said.
When the public spaces are overrun with a heavily militarized police force, perhaps we should be glad for an alternative.
To residents of Ferguson, in other words, the situation is simple. Michael Brown was executed by an angry cop. You can hear their shock and fear in a video recorded just after the shooting. “They killed him for no reason … they just killed this n---er for no reason,” said one man. “Do you see a knife? Do you see anything that would have caused a threat to these motherf--kin’ police? They shot that boy because they wanted to shoot that boy in the middle of the motherf--kin’ day in the middle of the motherf--kin’ street.”
A forthright police department could have calmed these nerves. They could have answered basic questions: Who was the shooter? How many times did he fire? What was Brown stopped for? And why did officers let his body sit in the street for four hours?
Instead, led by Chief Thomas Jackson, the Ferguson Police Department stonewalled at every turn, refusing cooperation and transparency.