By Robert Mann
Can’t I believe that Texas Gov. Rick Perry is a wretched person and a terrible governor without also wishing to see him behind bars?
For some reason, with some political partisans, the two opinions are not mutually exclusive.
For those not paying attention in the past 24 hours, a Texas grand jury has indicted Perry, the outgoing Republican governor who appears to be running for president. The charge: public corruption.
It’s a complicated case and you can read all about it on the web. Long story short: a county district attorney who also runs a Texas public corruption unit got arrested for drunk driving in 2013. She spent 45 days in jail, but refused to resign. This DA was also investigating Perry for some unrelated potential criminal activity. Perry tried to force her to resign. She wouldn’t, so Perry vetoed her budget in an attempt to force her from office.
Perhaps the DA should have done the right thing and stepped down. Perhaps the allegations she was investigating would have led to Perry’s indictment on other charges. We may never know. Perhaps Perry could have found another way to push her from office.
But this case is not merely about criminal activity. It’s about a disturbing trend in American politics. To sum it up: I can’t beat you at the polls, so I’ll indict you. I may not send you to jail, but I’ll send you into political purgatory.
This story, sadly, is about the criminalization of American politics.
I’m not suggesting that politicians never commit crimes for which they should be imprisoned. Richard Nixon comes to mind, as does Louisiana’s own Richard Leche, a corrupt governor convicted and imprisoned in the early 1940s.
I think Gov. Bobby Jindal is an awful governor who falsely professes to care about our children and who tolerates unethical behavior within his administration. I think Sen. David Vitter is a disgraceful hypocrite. His election as governor in 2015 would sully the office, which is saying quite a lot.
But I don’t believe either man should be thrown into jail.
Is it possible that a public official could so poorly represent his constituents that some of them actually die (Jindal’s refusal to accept Medicaid expansion has almost certainly resulted in deaths) and yet shouldn’t be sent to prison?
In fact, in our political system, that’s exactly the case. In the end, I’d rather see the voters of Iowa and New Hampshire reject Perry for president because he was a terrible governor. In our system of government, we should find that kind of judgment much more satisfying than seeing someone tossed into jail after being tried on politically motivated charges.
Steal, commit perjury or murder? Go to jail. Veto a bill or a budget because you took a bribe? Go to jail.
Try to push out a reckless district attorney who was arrested for drunk driving (she had a .239 blood alcohol level upon arrest)? To many people, that’s called common sense.
I know, there’s more to the story. Perry may have wanted this particular prosecutor out of office before she could indict him on other, more-serious charges. This was his chance to do get rid of her and he took it.
I agree with those who think Perry went too far. He should have found other more ethical ways to push our the prosecutor. But do his actions, deplorable as they might be, constitute public corruption? I don’t believe they do.
Does Perry really deserve to spend time in prison for pushing out a district attorney who was arrested and jailed for endangering the public? Unless you think it’s a good idea to send Texas politics further down a partisan rat hole, the answer is no.
As residents of the state next door, we should treat this criminalization of politics like Ebola. Texas is a cesspool of partisan political maneuvering. The partisan divide in that state makes Louisiana’s Legislature look like a church picnic, by comparison.
Don’t let this toxic virus cross our borders.
You think Louisiana politics is rotten and disgusting today? Just wait until we adopt politics, Texas-style.