As a committed Democrat and former Democratic lawmaker, I am appalled at what is going on in Texas.
While I have always been willing to reach over to the other side of the aisle to work in a bipartisan fashion for good schools, clean streets, job creation, economic development and the protection of seniors, I have always believed that the Democratic Party’s commitment to social justice, equality and equal justice made it the best vehicle for pursuing the advancement of our community.
I am therefore all the more shocked and outraged at the clearly political indictment of former Republican presidential candidate and current Texas Gov. Rick Perry by Texas Democratic prosecutors.
This is a new low and Perry is right to call this a political stunt by Democrats, but I will go one step further and state that it is a dangerous precedent to use a prosecutor’s office as a political tool.
Perry was indicted for vetoing $7.5 million in funding for state public corruption prosecutors after the district attorney of Travis County, Texas, Rosemary Lehmberg, was arrested, convicted and sentenced to 45 days in jail for drunk driving and refused to resign.
Drunk driving is a serious offense. Hundreds of people are killed in auto accidents each year because of drunk driving offenders. How can the people of Travis County have confidence that drunk driving offenses, or any other crime, will be dealt with seriously if the chief law enforcement officer holds the office of district attorney and is convicted of a crime?
It is clear that her light sentence was due to the influence of her office. What kind of example and message is being sent to the public at large? Lehmberg must resign.
Perry thought that a career law enforcement official should be honor-bound to obey the law and exerted his influence to send a message. Perry is the chief law enforcement officer of his state. It was his duty to use all his influence and power to remove a convicted district attorney from office.
This policy determination and action by Perry was constitutionally permissible. It was not behavior beyond the pale and certainly nothing warranting prosecution.
I am glad to say I do not stand alone in this assessment. Renown constitutional scholar and well-regarded liberal defense expert Alan Dershowitz blasted this indictment as purely “a political act” and noted that one of the statutes under which prosecutors convinced a grand jury to indict was simply “an abuse of office.”
Dershowitz asserted that this vague term is wholly inappropriate to be used to settle political vendettas and said, “When we start trying to indict people for ‘abuse of office,’ there is no limitation.”
Dershowitz also took to task prosecutors for claiming that Perry supposedly violated a statute prohibiting coercion, where one public official tries to influence another public official.
Dershowitz said that what is happening in Texas is dirty politics “in which criminal law is now being used as a major weapon and a major wedge. That makes it much, much more dangerous.”
Dershowitz noted that politics has been dirty since this country’s founding but that he “thought we had put [… political prosecutions] behind us and that we had moved to a situation where we resolve political disputes at the ballot box and not the grand jury. I mean, this is a statute that carries a 99-year prison sentence for abuse of power and coercion! Don’t you think we should be reserving the criminal law for rape and murder and robbery and out-and-out fraud that has victims?”
As a committed and registered Democrat, a former Democratic lawmaker and someone who works regularly to vindicate the rights of those wrongly accused, I stand with Dershowitz and Perry in decrying this egregious abuse of power.
District attorneys, special prosecutors and the U.S. Justice Department must never engage in partisan vendettas or the public’s faith in the impartial administration of law will be forever shaken. We need to look carefully at what government prosecutors are doing and ask at times why they are engaging in what appear to be targeted prosecutions.
Lehmberg is doing exactly what she is accusing Perry of: abusing her power and using the office of district attorney for a personal vendetta and political purposes.
Dershowitz is right in that criminal law should not be used as a political weapon or stunt.
Allan Jennings Jr.
Former Democratic City Councilman
South Ozone Park