Though it is vital to maintain professionalism while serving in any public office, people slip sometimes. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s recent scandal is one distinct case. It involves what Perry believes to be a justified act that falls under the basic right to freedom of speech — but that doesn’t make it any more forgivable.
On Aug. 15, Perry was indicted on two felony counts for abuse of power. He allegedly tried coercing Democratic District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg into resigning by publicly threatening to dismantle a public corruption unit she headed — all because she had pleaded guilty to drunk driving in 2013. In his attempts to control the unit and force a public servant to step down, Perry crossed an ethical line.
At first glance, Perry’s move is common for any governor seeking more power for his or her party. It became ethically abominable, however, when Perry attempted to use Lehmberg’s DUI charges to accomplish this goal. According to the Associated Press, after his indictment, Perry defiantly told reporters, “Americans and Texans who have seen [Lehmberg’s DUI arrest footage] agree with me that that is not an individual who is heading up an office that we can afford to fund.” Feeling that he needed to take care of Lehmberg himself, Perry threatened to drain the public corruption unit of millions of dollars unless she stepped down from her post because he could not support “continued state funding for an office with statewide jurisdiction at a time when the person charged with ultimate responsibility of that unit has lost the public’s confidence,” according to KVUE News.
Ironically, Perry, not Lehmberg, seems to be the one who has truly “lost the public’s confidence.” Though his supposed intentions for wanting Lehmberg to step down seem moral, his actions say otherwise. By threatening to eliminate an important governmental unit just to force a public official to resign because of her personal past, Perry went too far. He not only abused his power as governor, but also lost the country’s trust — a dire misstep if he hopes to run for president in 2016.
According to David L. Botsford, Perry’s lawyer, the veto was “lawful, appropriate and well within the authority of the office of the governor.” Beyond Perry’s apparent rights to such threats as governor, Tony Buzbee, another attorney on the legal team, even argued that the governor’s actions are protected under the “right to free speech under the First Amendment.” Though Buzbee does make a valid point in that Perry has the right to free speech, he fails to understand the true magnitude of the crimes. Perry essentially blackmailed a public official into resigning by claiming that it was on moral grounds when it was, in actuality, about compliance with his demands for personal gain. According to the Los Angeles Times, if Lehmberg stepped down, Perry would have had the ability to assign a Republican to take her place, which could have further helped his political career.
The use of taxpayer money to fund Perry’s defense furthers the immoral aspects of this case. According to The New York Times, the governor’s office has paid almost $80,000 since June to Botsford, marking “one of the first times Texas taxpayers were paying the bill.”
Perry’s actions not only speak for the immorality of political agendas in many cases, but also question the basics of freedom of speech and the use of resources. Perry has disappointed with his actions, and, even worse, betrayed the people of Texas.
Chelsea Hernandez is a senior majoring in English (creative writing). Her column, “Foot in Mouth,” runs Wednesdays.