Texas Governor Rick Perry responded to the indictment handed down Friday by a Travis County grand jury, calling the action “partisan theatrics.”
He’s charged with one count of abuse of official capacity – a first-degree felony - and one count of coercion of a public servant, a third-degree felony.
Perry vetoed funding for a public integrity unit headed by Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who was convicted of drunk driving but refused Perry’s call to resign. A left-leaning government watchdog group filed an ethics complaint, claiming Perry tried to use the veto threat to force another public official to quit.
Perry has the authority to veto bills passed by the State Legislature, and stands by his decision. His office released the following statement:
As governor, I took an oath to faithfully uphold the constitution of Texas, a pledge that I have kept every day as I've worked on behalf of Texans for the last 14 years. This same constitution clearly outlines the authority of any governor to veto items at his or her discretion. Just as I have following every legislative session during my service as governor, I exercised this authority to veto funding for an office whose leadership had lost the public's confidence by acting inappropriately and unethically.
“I wholeheartedly and unequivocally stand behind my veto, and will continue to defend this lawful action of my executive authority as governor. We don't settle political differences with indictments in this country. It is outrageous that some would use partisan political theatrics to rip away at the very fabric of our state's constitution.
“This indictment amounts to nothing more than an abuse of power and I cannot, and will not, allow that to happen. I intend to fight against those who would erode our state's constitution and laws purely for political purposes, and I intend to win. I will explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter and bring it to a swift conclusion. I am confident we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is, and that those responsible will be held to account.
The indictment of Perry is the first of its kind since 1917, when James "Pa" Ferguson was indicted on charges stemming from his veto of state funding to the University of Texas in an effort to unseat faculty and staff members he objected to. Ferguson was eventually impeached, then resigned before being convicted.