After a whirlwind weekend beginning with Gov. Rick Perry’s indictment on two felony charges, most state officials and local party heads said the whole ordeal is “just politics.”
“I think it’s a joke; it’s evident it’s driven politically. This is why people get upset with politicians,” said U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, who represents Coryell County and parts of Killeen and Fort Hood.
Nancy Boston, chairwoman of Bell County’s Republican Party, agreed.
On Friday, a Travis County grand jury arraigned Perry on two felony charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant.
Special prosecutor Michael McCrum, of San Antonio, an attorney largely seen as a bipartisan choice, will be spearheading the case. The charges are associated with Perry’s $7.5 million decision to veto the Travis County Public Integrity Unit’s biennial funding last year.
Perry vetoed funding after Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, whose office houses the anti-corruption unit, refused to step down after a 2013 drunken driving arrest.
State Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, said Lehmburg’s drunken driving arrest was a disgraceful situation that made it obvious more ethical leadership was needed in the Travis County office.
A video of Lehmburg’s arrest showed the apparently intoxicated district attorney being restrained by local law enforcement so they could take a blood sample.
The video also showed Lehmburg asking for Greg Hamilton, the Travis County sheriff.
“I would support moving more venues away from Travis County, if they continue this sort of behavior,” said Aycock, referencing the state’s Public Integrity Unit’s location.
However, Louie Minor, an Army Reserve captain and Democratic challenger to U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said if a grand jury indicted Perry, it means the case has probable cause. Carter’s district includes much of Bell County.
“As a former policeman, I think everyone is innocent until proven guilty,” Minor said, explaining the public integrity unit was important for policing government corruption. “There were other ways to handle the removal of the DA, though. He called two special sessions for abortion issues, and they could have voted on articles of impeachment then.”
Perry is the longest-serving governor of Texas, holding the office since 2000.
At the time of Perry’s veto last year, public integrity unit prosecutors also had their hands full investigating the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, one of Perry’s signature initiatives, after state lawmakers blew the whistle on its corruption and mismanagement.
As a result of the unit’s investigation, Jerry Cobbs, former institute official, was indicted in December 2013 when he failed to disclose that an $11 million grant to Peloton Therapeutics did not undergo a required business or scientific review.
The Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas, created in 2007, is in charge of distributing up to $3 billion in research funds.