WASHINGTON – Rick Perry is doing all the things people do as they prepare to run for president: talking to donors, attending candidate cattle calls in early-voting states — including last weekend’s Lincoln Day Dinner in Iowa — and glad-handing voters.
The former Texas governor has set June 4 in Dallas for an announcement about his intentions to run. But unlike the more than a dozen other Republicans who are either in the presidential race already or on the verge, he has another factor at play.
Hanging over his head is an indictment in Texas on charges of abuse of power when he was governor.
Perry, who says the charges are baseless and politically motivated, had expected to be able to kill the indictment by now. His high-powered legal team has been engaged in a frenetic effort to have the two-count indictment, handed down last August, thrown out.
But the presiding judge, a Republican, has repeatedly refused to do so, and lawyers are waiting on a recently empaneled Texas appellate court for a hearing. In addition, there’s speculation in legal circles on whether one of the three judges, a close Perry ally, might recuse himself.
At issue is a threat Perry made as governor in 2013 to veto funding for the state’s public integrity unit, part of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, unless county District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, resigned after being arrested for drunken driving. She pleaded guilty — the arrest and booking videotape shows her being belligerent to officers — but refused to resign, and Perry vetoed the funding.
He’s charged with two felonies: abusing his office and coercing a public servant. The special prosecutor charged in a February filing that Perry wanted “to stymie” the integrity unit, which was investigating some of the governor’s programs.
“The case is meritless and should have never been brought in the first place,” said Anthony Buzbee, Perry’s lead attorney, via e-mail. “It has been a huge waste of time and resources.”
It’s also been a distraction, although Perry has recently been focused on campaigning and his RickPAC spokesman, Travis Considine, said “it hardly ever comes up” in meetings with voters. “When it does come up, it’s, ‘Governor, we stand with you and you’re standing up for constitutional principles,’ ” said Considine. RickPAC is Perry’s political action committee.
To some Republican primary voters, the indictment is something of a badge of honor, coming from prosecutors in liberal Travis County, a Democratic enclave where the state capital, Austin, is located. Texas is largely Republican.
“Once the context within which the indictment has occurred is understood by Republican caucus and primary voters, it should not have an adverse impact on these voters’ preferences and behavior,” said Mark Jones, chairman of the political science department at Rice University. “But as a result of the indictment Perry must at times spend precious time explaining the indictment, as opposed to presenting the principal planks of his campaign and introducing himself to potential voters.”