In Czarist Russia, it was common for people out of favor with the czar to be put in prison or sent to Siberia—or just summarily executed. When the Bolsheviks took over in 1917 and set up the U.S.S.R., the practice was carried forward by the Communists.
In dictatorships around the world, this practice has also been common. The most sure-fire method for quieting opposition has been to imprison or execute anyone who causes trouble for those in power.
Throughout history, it’s been much safer to be a peon keeping one’s head down than a prince losing favor with the king. No one worries about the person with no power or platform. It’s the rising stars, the members of the opposition’s power structure, that paint targets on their backs for those in power to aim at.
Supposedly, our country is a free, constitutional republic. Our forefathers came over here at great risk in order to escape the oppressive power structures so prevalent in other parts of the world. In the United States, prosecution for the purpose of silencing those with whom we disagree is strictly a no-no. Well, in theory anyhow.
Not so here in Texas. Sometime back in history, it was decided that the district attorney of Travis County, home of our state capital, should have the power to bring charges against political officeholders. I suppose this made sense at the time because of that D.A.’s proximity to the centers of state government.
This system worked well until a man named Ronnie Earle was elected to fill that office in 1976. Realizing that his constituency was overwhelmingly Democrat—his party—despite the growing Republican majority in the state, he decided to use his office as the czars and other tyrants used theirs.
For the first 15 or 20 years he was in office, state government was solidly in the hands of his own party, so he just did his job of prosecuting criminals. When his party began to lose its grip on power, however, Earle saw an opportunity to aggrandize himself by using his office to throw monkey wrenches into the Republican juggernaut.
The first major act he took to abuse his office for political gain was an ill-fated attempt to prosecute Kay Bailey Hutchison. The charges were so obviously trumped-up that the judge instructed the jury to return a “not guilty” verdict so double jeopardy would prevent Earle from pursuing the matter any further.
His most famous abuse occurred after the 2002 elections. Tom Delay became the Majority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives after that election, and Earle decided he could harm his opponents by getting this man removed from office. His
persecution prosecution of Delay was more successful than that of Hutchison. This time he found a more favorable judge, and the jury from the Democrat stronghold found him guilty. An appeals court, not subject to the political pressures of Travis County, reversed the conviction, but by then Delay had had to give up his position in Congress..
In 2010, the county’s voters elected Rosemary Lehmberg to succeed the retiring Earle. This stalwart was arrested in 2013 for drunk driving. A video showed her to be unquestionably inebriated and exhibiting extremely aggressive behavior toward the arresting officers, and she was sentenced to 45 days in jail.
Our governor, whom the people of Texas have kept in office for four terms, made the imminently reasonable request that this woman resign her office in light of her behavior. When she refused to do so, Governor Perry, exercising his authority under our state constitution, vetoed part of the state appropriation for her office.
Once more, this lady became an aggressor. This time she sought an indictment of the governor for doing his job. A grand jury filled with her partisans gave her the indictment she sought, and our governor is now forced to defend himself in a criminal case.
This isn’t Imperial Russia. This isn’t Maoist China. This isn’t some banana republic. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave. Except when some tinhorn politician manages to abuse a position of power to persecute his or her opponents.
What raw abuses of power have you seen in your state?
We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.
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Hello David. Please clarify for me. I live in Australia but have read about this case on the internet. Is it in fact Rosemary Lehmberg who has empanelled the grand Jury that bought the indictment against Gov Perry? And is it acceptable for a politician to defund the unit that investigates corruption cases against politicians? Also I would have thought you need a clear criteria for when public officials should resign. I.e. is two DUI conviction an office disqualifier? Surely there should be a clear “must resign or not” criteria. .In Australia there are clear criteria about what offenses cause a politician to become ineligible to continue in office and it’s absolutely clear cut. Isn’t the lack of a clear criteria part of the problem here? Any clarification welcome.
Unfortunately, there are no clear criteria for a case like Lehmberg’s. The reality is that her constituency is so overwhelmingly in the hands of her party that she could do just about anything she wanted with impunity.
You captured the history of this court case so very well, David. Thank you. Cheers, Ashley
Thanks, Ashley. I just hate such abuses of power.
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