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POLITICS: PennAve

Rick Perry had a good week, but legal troubles remain

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Politics,Betsy Woodruff,Republican Party,Governor,Texas,2014 Elections,Campaigns,PennAve,Rick Perry

Considering that he was indicted, Rick Perry has had a pretty good week, but it may not last.

After the Republican Texas governor’s Aug. 15 indicted on allegations of abuse of power, he received a tsunami of support, defended by everyone from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Sen. Ted Cruz to the New York Times editorial board and Democratic consultant David Axelrod.

When he turned himself in for booking at the Travis County courthouse in Austin a few days after the indictment, he was surrounded by supporters chanting “Perry! Perry!” and waving signs that said “#StandWithRickPerry.” He then gave a triumphant speech — broadcast live on CNN — defending his record.

“I’m going to enter this courthouse with my held high, knowing the actions that I took were not only lawful and legal, but right,” he said, to boisterous cheers and applause. “If I had to do so, I would veto funding for the Public Integrity Unit again.”

Two days later, he spoke to a packed house at the Heritage Foundation, touting his efforts to fight illegal immigration and tearing into the president’s foreign policy record. The speech drew cheers.

And back in Texas, conservatives — with some notable exceptions — have rallied around the governor.

But the story is not over. And Lone Star State Democrats hope that as the legal case unfolds, the governor and his fellow Republicans will take a political hit that could affect November’s general election results.

“Perry is not out of the woods until justice has played itself out,” said Jordan Berry, a Republican consultant based in Austin. “And so far, we’ve seen how things can go wrong — just the fact that it’s already gotten this far.”

Democrats agree with the first part of that. And they point to fallout from the governor’s line-item veto of funding for the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office, which sparked his legal troubles, to make the case that Perry’s victory in the public relations war might not be permanent.

Gregg Cox, who heads the Public Integrity Unit, told the Washington Examiner that because of the governor’s veto, his staff has shrunk and the unit hasn’t been able to handle as many cases. At the end of the 2013 fiscal year, the unit had 35 staffers, he said. Now it’s down to 19.

He also said his office was unable to handle 44 tax fraud cases and 22 insurance fraud cases. These cases were sent back to the offices that originally referred them.

“Many of them will not get handled,” Cox said.

“All of our cases have been slowed down by the lack of resources and the cutbacks in staff,” he added.

And Deece Eckstein, Travis County’s Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator, said the unit is struggling now that its funds have been slashed.

“They’re holding on right now with bailing wire, chewing gum and the money from the Travis County Commissioner’s Court,” he said.

Texas Democrats will likely make hay of these problems.

“This from a guy that likes to use the phrase that he’s defending the rule of law,” said Glenn Smith, director of the Progress Texas PAC. “It doesn’t quite fit, does it?”

Republicans say Perry’s office will have a simple rejoinder to these criticisms: If Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg — whose drunk-driving conviction prompted the governor’s line-item veto threat — had just stepped down, none of this would have happened.

The public relations fight could get messier. But Republicans are still confident they will come out on top.

"Governor Perry has won the war of public opinion at every turn,” said Tyler Norris, a Republican consultant based in Austin. “Republicans and Democrats alike realize this amounts to political persecution."

The Texas Tribune reported that one of Perry’s attorneys said he will challenge the indictment next week based on First Amendment grounds, as well as the governor’s veto power.

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Betsy Woodruff

Political Writer
The Washington Examiner

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