University of Texas police lead a protester away from a demonstration outside UT-Austin President Bill Powers' office Wednesday afternoon.
Mikaela Rodriguez
University of Texas police lead a protester away from a demonstration outside UT-Austin President Bill Powers' office Wednesday afternoon.

Update at 7:18 p.m.: Leading the students out three-by-three, University of Texas Police arrested the eighteen students this evening, ending their sit-in. UT spokesman Gary Susswein said students would be charged with criminal trespass, a class B misdemeanor.

Update at 5:54 p.m.:

Update at 5:31 p.m.: 

Published 5:23 p.m.: Eighteen students at the University of Texas at Austin staged a sit-in Wednesday in the foyer outside President Bill Powers’ office, demanding the university cut ties with the consulting and outsourcing firm Accenture and halt a proposed “shared services” plan that puts 500 staff jobs on the chopping block over the next several years.

Members of many different student organizations orchestrated a “takeover” of UT’s iconic tower—the administrative nerve center of campus—late in the afternoon, chanting against the “corporate attack.” The students said they were prepared for the possibility of arrests.

“Despite them [the university] closing every door, we’re committed to our faculty,” said Bianca Hinz-Foley, president of United Students Against Sweatshops said. Students said they were concerned the university has already begun and will continue to lay off staff members as a part of the proposed streamlining of the university’s operations.

In an email to an internal listserv yesterday, Kevin Hegarty, UT’s chief financial officer, wrote that reports of layoffs were incorrect. It “remains our goal to have no layoffs as a result of the transition of services during the pilot phase,” Hegarty wrote.

The staff consolidation plan, devised by a committee that includes several Accenture executives, purports to save the university $490 million within 10 years. President Bill Powers endorsed the plan in late March.

Although the Tower—the term used to describe the university’s top administrators—is enthusiastic about the plan, more than 100 faculty members sent Powers a letter on April 8, expressing dismay that the university would seek a corporate interest to help cut costs, particularly when the $4 million already paid out to Accenture “could have been used to meet our core missions and enhance staff services and staff support.”

Accenture has a checkered past in Texas. The company was put in charge of administering the Texas’ Childrens Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) in 2005—to disastrous results. The company’s bungling of the system caused delays in applications and the state terminated its contract with the company in 2007, losing about $100 million as a result.

“I see the university as having a choice,” Hinz-Foley said. “We hope Powers will do the right thing.”

Stay tuned for updates from the sit-in.

UT-Austin students stage a sit-in to protest a job-elimination plan.
Mikaela Rodriguez
UT-Austin students stage a sit-in to protest a job-elimination plan.

Greg Abbott Proposes Statewide District for Struggling Schools

In other states, the school turnaround strategy has meant major charter school expansion
Attorney General Greg Abbott
Patrick Michels
Texas gubernatorial hopeful Greg Abbott

One of the Texas Legislature’s more entertaining moments in 2013—before, well, you know—was the late-session fight in the House over a bill creating the “Texas Achievement School District,” to centralize school turnaround efforts across Texas under a single superintendent.

Sen. Royce West and Rep. Harold Dutton, both Democrats, authored the bill, which would create a sort of intervention program for struggling elementary schools. Elementary schools with a track record of low performance would be temporarily removed from their local districts, and placed under a state superintendent, who’d have broad authority to replace staff, begin new programs or hand control over to someone else. Or, as Dutton explained on the House floor in late May, “We let a school get so sick we basically take it to the cemetery. … Let’s take it to the emergency room, where we can diagnose it and then fix it.”

The bill had already passed the Senate at that point, but it was killed by a procedural move that night in the House. What made the debate so interesting, as the Tribune‘s Morgan Smith pointed out at the time, was that Dutton’s effort was stymied by a group from within his own party, led by Houston Democrat Armando Walle.

The concern, voiced by teacher groups as well, was that schools placed in the Achievement School District—though they’d remain nominally under state control—would be handed off to charter school operators; that the “emergency room” Dutton alluded to would be staffed by “doctors” from KIPP, Harmony or some other big charter chain, while elected school trustees and public employees at the school district were pushed aside.

That’s exactly what happened in Tennessee, which has its own achievement school district, and Louisiana, where a “recovery school district” covered New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In both cases, school “recovery” has been accomplished with sweeping charter-school takeovers. Michigan and Virginia have their own versions now, too.

West and Dutton’s bill anticipated that possibility in Texas, naming the conditions a charter operator would have to meet before assuming control of a public school in the achievement school district.

Though clock ran out on their effort last year, today Greg Abbott has revived the proposal, by including the Texas Achievement School District in the second half of his campaign’s education platform. As governor, he says, he’d embrace the “innovative reform” laid out in the bill last session—West and Dutton must be gratified to hear that!—with a provision that any reforms, like new teachers or charter school operations, could remain in place even after the school is returned to its home district.

(Sen. Wendy Davis, Abbott’s Democratic opponent in the governor’s race, voted for West’s bill in the Senate last session.)

Abbott credits the recovery district in New Orleans with raising that city’s graduation rate, and says the Tennessee district “has had a profound effect on the public school system, particularly in Memphis,” going on to quote from a 2013 story in the Atlantic. He does not quote that story’s sub-hed: “Tennessee’s new Achievement District gives control of some public schools over to charter networks, with mixed results.”

Get ready to hear a lot more about the Achievement School District idea here in Texas. It’s already been a banner week for the idea, after it came up Tuesday in an interim House committee hearing on school turnaround ideas. Representatives from Texans for Education Reform—the new group with deep pockets and close ties to the better-known Texans for Lawsuit Reform—turned up to make the case for an achievement school district there, too. As the Dallas Morning NewsTerrence Stutz reported:

“We have to think about morally responsible timelines for intervention at low-performing schools,” the group’s executive director, Julie Linn, told the panel. “We want to create opportunities rather than close down these schools.”

As Stutz notes in his story, Texans for Education Reform spent almost $650,000 on lobbyists last session, and has spread around nearly $1 million in campaign contributions this cycle. West and Dutton each got $10,000 of that.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry
Patrick Michels

Last night brought new developments in the investigation into Rick Perry’s meddling in the affairs of the Travis County district attorney’s office. County officials revealed that Perry’s office was trying to dislodge Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg even after his veto stripped her office of funding. That seemingly strengthens the case against the governor currently being considered by a grand jury.

We know that Perry last spring had threatened to (and later did) veto funding for the Travis County DA’s anti-corruption unit unless Lehmberg resigned following a DWI arrest. But now we know that wasn’t the end of it. (If you haven’t been following the investigation, read this explainer I posted last week.)

First, the Texas Tribune’s Terri Langford got confirmation from Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe that the governor’s office had reached out to certain Travis County officials to make explicit an offer that the governor would restore funding to the Travis County DA’s Public Integrity Unit, which he had previously vetoed, if Lehmberg resigned. That would’ve allowed Perry to appoint her replacement. Shortly after that story broke, the San Antonio Express-News’ Nolan Hicks got Gerald Daugherty, the lone Republican on the five-member Travis County Commissioners Court, to say the same.

We knew that Perry had tied Lehmberg’s resignation to the cut in funding before his veto, but now we know that he reportedly did so after the veto as well. The essence of the thing is the same—if the latter is illegal, it’s hard to see how the former could be legal—but the optics are worse. In effect, he offered to provide funds to a local government body if its leader quit, and his office made the unwise decision to make clear it was a quid pro quo.

In short, this thing—Perry-gate? Lehmberg-gate? Vodka-gate?—is growing legs. “This isn’t really news to us, but we’d never seen anyone go on record,” said Craig McDonald, the director of the left-leaning watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, who filed the complaints that resulted in the grand jury investigation.

The new revelations make it clear Perry “continued to meddle in local affairs after the veto,” McDonald said. “After the veto, he continued to offer things to make her step down.”

That’s important because Perry’s spokespeople have stated repeatedly that the governor did nothing wrong, that he was simply acting in accordance with his constitutionally granted veto power.

But if Perry’s office made the money-for-resignation offer again weeks after the veto,  that blows a major hole in the governor’s public defense so far.

“That certainly strengthens the case for bribery,” McDonald said.

The charges that the Austin grand jury are considering against Perry include bribery, which, under the Texas Penal Code, involves accepting or offering to provide any “benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision [...] or other exercise of discretion as a public servant, party official, or voter.”

It is “no defense to prosecution under this section that the benefit is not offered or conferred,” the code continues, until after “the public servant ceases to be a public servant.”

The Tribune reported that Perry’s second offer was communicated by intermediaries to Lehmberg, who “rejected the proposal outright because of concerns that such an offer may be illegal,” presumably because of fears she’d be violating this exact statute. (And presumably because she’d rather keep her job.)

In the report, we also see some of the outlines of the governor’s defense strategy forming. Perry’s spokesperson Lucy Nashed told the Tribune that “neither the governor nor any member of staff met with or spoke with Ms. Lehmberg.” Between the lines, the suggestion is the fact that Perry’s threat came through intermediaries insulates him from criminal charges.

litcrawlsOn Thursday, April 24, a slew of Austin artists, writers and performers will take the stage at The North Door for a performance of the comedy show “Way Behind the Music” to benefit Lit Crawl Austin. The show, pioneered by San Francisco’s Litquake Festival in 2010, features a series of bizarre and presumably hilarious excerpts from the autobiographies of musicians including Justin Bieber, Flavor Flav, Jewel, Barry White, David Cassidy, Liberace, Miles Davis, George Jones, Vince Neil, and many others.

Austin’s “Way Behind the Music” cast includes author Owen Egerton, writer and performer Jodi Egerton, KGSR radio personality Andy Langer, performer Annie La Ganga, songwriter and actor Nakia, Austin American-Statesman culture writer Joe Gross, and musicians Jesse Dayton, Nick Tangborn, Kathy Valentine, Carolyn Wonderland, John Wesley Coleman, and Akina Adderley of Akina Adderley & the Vintage Playboys.

Austin Lit Crawl, which takes place October 25, is a collaborative effort on the part of the Texas Book Festival and the Litquake Foundation to take literature to the streets and put writers into conversation with readers and each other. Tickets for “Way Behind the Music” are $10. You can buy them here.


Texas Senate Districts
Texas Almanac

A new redistricting lawsuit filed by a national conservative group aims to make sweeping changes to the way Texas does politics, effectively diminishing the representation of non-white voters in the Texas Senate. It’s a bold effort, and while it might not win success this election cycle, Texas election law expert Michael Li says it could prove to be an important “test case” that foreshadows “one of the coming battles we’ll see in the next redistricting cycle.”

The lawsuit was filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Austin by the Project on Fair Representation, a one-man outfit based in Virginia that’s scored a number of high-profile legal victories in recent years, including a successful effort to strip a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The suit seeks to overturn the longstanding method by which the Texas Legislature draws state senate districts. Texas, like all other states, draws districts that contain the same total population, using the last available round of census data. After the 2010 census, the Legislature aimed to draw 31 districts that each contained about 811,000 people.

The conservative group’s legal challenge objects to the fact that that number includes many people who can’t vote, including children, convicted felons and, most important, non-citizens—both undocumented migrants and permanent residents who are foreign nationals. The suit argues that counting people who aren’t eligible voters is a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Project on Fair Representation wants the Legislature to attempt to draw senate districts that have an identical number of eligible voters, or citizen voting age population (CVAP.) Under that method, each senate district would be drawn to have about 502,000 eligible voters.

That might sound like a relatively innocuous change, but it would dramatically alter the political landscape in Texas. Redrawing districts under the new rules might decrease the political polarization in the state Senate—creating more ideologically-similar districts—but at the same time it would dramatically lessen the voice non-white voters have in the political process. Those who are too young to vote, or legally unable to vote, wouldn’t be counted as people when it comes to distributing representation in the state Senate. And urban areas like Houston, which have a large number of non-voting residents, would be effectively disadvantaged in the Senate.

The state senate districts with the highest number of non-voters are represented by state Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and state Sen. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville), all of whom currently represent both a large number of children and non-citizens. They’re also among the most progressive members of the Senate.

If the conservative group’s plan were adopted today, all three would have their districts redrawn to include more eligible voters. That would mean, especially in Houston, likely pulling from the region’s pool of Anglo voters, according to Li. And those senators would also represent more people than others. Poor and young residents of the district would effectively have their voices in the Senate diluted, as their elected senator found themselves with many more constituents than before.

Meanwhile, the senators who represent districts with fewest non-voters would include state Sen. Bob Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) who have whiter electorates. Their districts might not change much.

Li says the conservative group’s effort, if successful, might make certain Democratic-leaning districts more politically competitive. But asked specifically about Ellis’ and Garcia’s districts—the biggest outliers—he said the changes might be less about political affiliation than which voices are represented. “I don’t think the risk is that it becomes a Republican district per se,” he said. “But there clearly is a political benefit here, and the benefit doesn’t favor African-Americans and Hispanics.”

Moreover, he says, such a plan would be difficult to implement. The true number of voting eligible residents in a given area would be “very difficult to tabulate.” The Census doesn’t ask about citizenship status. And to exclude voting-age felons, you’d need to ascertain and track their status. “It’s really hard to do this on a state level,” he says, “especially in a state that’s as complicated as Texas.”

No state has implemented such a system, though Li says an increasing number of people on the right are giving it more consideration. He says he expects the Project on Fair Representation’s Texas suit to become “sort of like the big test case on this.”

Asked if he thinks the effort could be successful, Li hedges his bets. “It remains to be seen. I would think it would be a hard sell,” he says, “but then again I had thought that some of the other things that they’ve tried were hard sells too.” The Project on Fair Representation provided counsel to Shelby County, Alabama, which served as the plaintiff in a lawsuit that successfully voided important provisions in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The lawsuit will be considered by a three-judge panel, and could be combined with other redistricting cases currently being considered in San Antonio. If appealed, the case will go directly to the Supreme Court for review.

thunderstruckElizabeth McCracken will be at Austin’s BookPeople at 7 p.m. tonight, Tuesday, April 22, to speak and sign copies of her new book, Thunderstruck & Other Stories. McCracken holds the James Michener Chair of Fiction at the University of Texas at Austin, and is the author of one previous collection of short stories (Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry), two novels (Niagara Falls All Over Again and The Giant’s House), and the memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination.

McCracken’s new book contains nine stories that explore family, love, loneliness and loss. “Property,” which details a young man’s grief after his wife’s death, was selected for The Best American Short Stories of 2011 anthology. In the title story, a mother and father struggle to be good parents. And in “Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey,” the subject of said documentary revisits the filmmaker’s house and comes to terms with his betrayal.

McCracken’s writing is often heralded as both magical and askew, and Kirkus Reviews has called Thunderstrucka powerfully if quietly disturbing volume.” Thunderstruck also marks McCracken’s return to short fiction after 20 years, and demonstrates her power to, as Publishers Weekly puts it, “transform life’s dead ends into transformational visions.”


The header from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's new attack site
The header from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's new attack site

David Dewhurst is Texas’ second-longest serving lt. governor. He’s shaped the state like few other public officials in modern history. But though he’s wielded an enormous amount of power for a remarkably long time, for the last several years he’s been in a constant state of free fall. The beginning of the end was his humiliating loss to Ted Cruz in 2012, which quashed his hopes to move up through the political ranks. Then there were the indignities of the 2013 legislative session, where he was pushed to take up a special-session abortion fight that was never a Dewhurst priority, then got slammed for its failure. His re-election campaign this year has seen embarrassing scandals alternate with groveling before tea party groups. Indignities piled upon each other, weighing down a candidate who never seemed to have a lot of political acumen even when times were good. (This is a guy who once included a Luftwaffe pilot in a post-9/11 ad celebrating the American armed forces.)

But we might have finally arrived at the last chapter. After a lopsided primary loss, he’s stuck in a runoff with state Sen. Dan Patrick and is unlikely to win. Would Dewhurst finish his political career standing up, using the time to burnish a tarnished legacy that seemed to be slipping away from him? Or would he write himself a huge check and go nuclear, doing as much damage to Patrick as he could?

Dewhurst seems to be pursuing the latter path, with a blitz of negative TV ads across the state that might have cost as much as $1 million, and an attack site——that seems to mimic Patrick’s own sites from earlier in the primary. But it’s an odd push, in part because it seems like it’s too little, too late. It follows a month of apparent dysfunction in the Dewhurst campaign—several high-level campaign aides jumped ship two weeks ago. (One wonders if the operatives didn’t want to be affiliated with the push to go negative on Patrick, the likely victor and a potential future leader in the state GOP.)

The ad blitz, which focuses on Patrick’s bankruptcy and past business practices, began late last week, which leaves the Dewhurst camp a little over a month to get the message out before the May 27 runoff. But the issue of Patrick’s past debts—he walked away from more than $800,000 when he declared bankruptcy—are not new to primary voters. The issue has been raised repeatedly, including during January’s televised debate. The ad claims that Patrick changed his name from Danny Goeb to escape debts: In reality, Patrick had used the name since 1978, long before his bankruptcy. PolitiFact rated the claim “pants on fire.”

But the strangest thing about the ad’s emphasis on Patrick’s bankruptcy is that it let Patrick’s campaign remind voters that Dewhurst did exactly the same thing:

Dewhurst also experienced a 1980s bankruptcy and also never paid off unsecured creditors, Patrick’s campaign notes. It highlights Dewhurst’s recent failure to pay more than $1 million in debts to his 2012 U.S. Senate campaign’s vendors. That was an event related to a longtime Dewhurst aide’s alleged embezzlement of campaign funds.

Meanwhile, Dewhurst’s attack machine is going off the rails a bit.

So Dewhurst decided to go negative, but came to the game slow, without attacks that resonate, and with a weird, easily-disproven falsehood about Patrick’s personal history. The best politicians know how to lose just as well as they know how to win.

"Jesus Christ on Killing" by Sgt. Charlie Eipper
"Jesus Christ on Killing" by Sgt. Charlie Eipper

We’ve found it, the mother of all WTF. We have found Peak WTF. After this one, we may have to retire WTF Friday, just hang it up in recognition that nothing will ever top this.

But, first, let’s look at the runner-ups this week.

The Texas Nationalist Movement—”The state’s leading independence organization”—had themselves a meetin’ down in San Antonio and resolved to redouble their minority outreach. But first, they had to run Kanye West out of town.

“We are defending our culture because some rap singer from Los Angeles wanted to show his video on the walls of The Alamo, and a bunch of blue shirts (Texas Nationalists) showed up and said, ‘Nuh-uh!’” Belmore said.

That is a kind of charming image: A bunch of heavily armed far-right secessionists chasing off an extremely wealthy and successful rapper by going, “Nuh-uh!” (And Kanye retreats, with echoes of “na-na, na-na, boo-boo/stick your head in doo-doo” ringing in his diamond-encrusted ears.)

Oh, and “blueshirts”? Guys, if you’re rebranding to appeal to a more mainstream audience, perhaps it’s best not to refer to yourself with the same term used for multiple fascist causes around the globe.

Anyway, Texas’ leading independence organization is trying to bring more minorities into the cause.

“I’m not talking about pandering, let the other side do that,” he said. “We have much more in common with minorities than they (liberals) do.”

Suggested slogans: “Secession: It’s Not Just for Slave-Owners Anymore” or “This Ain’t Your Grandaddy’s Secession Movement” or “Secession: Second Time’s the Charm.”

If and when Texas does secede, I know who could be head of the FBI, or maybe poet laureate: Sgt. Charlie Eipper of the Wichita Falls Police Department. Eipper once killed a man in the line of duty. Then he was troubled that the indiscriminate killing in Rambo IV would give Christians the wrong idea… that there’s anything wrong with a high body count. As he told the Wichita Falls Times Record:

“[Rambo] didn’t want to, but finally did. Their boat got taken over by river pirates. He had to kill them to save everybody,” Eipper recalls. “When Rambo was dropping the missionaries off at their destination, the lead missionary was stepping off the boat and turned to Rambo. ‘I know you think what you did is right,’ the missionary said, ‘but it’s never right to take a life.’”

Eipper cringed. “I thought, ‘What if there’s a young believer in Christ watching this? What if it’s somebody who is in the Marine Corps? Or an officer? They’re going to be so confused. They’ll think, ‘Surely this guy is speaking on authority of Scripture.’”

So, he wrote a book—self-published on—called Jesus Christ on Killing. Which is only a slightly-less disturbing title than Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Christ, IMHO. Eipper’s book contains chapters such as “Thou Shall Not Kill?” and “Jesus the Man of War.” As the Times Record describes it, “he is articulate on the subject of Jesus Christ and killing.”

“The Scriptures are clear that God condones the use of deadly force in killing whenever we are threatened,” Eipper said.

Stand your ground, boys. That’s what Jesus would do.

Turns out that Jesus is coming back and boy is he pissed. Says Eipper:

“When Jesus comes back, he will be the man of war. When he comes back, there will be a whole lot of killing going on.”

Happy Good Friday, everyone!

Rick Perry at The Response prayer rally, August 2011
Patrick Michels
Gov. Rick Perry in happier times

These days, we’re hearing increasingly less from Gov. Rick Perry. It’s his last year in office, and he’s been taking it easy—having fun in the South Pacific while his would-be competitors in the 2016 presidential primary flame out in spectacular fashion.

He may not keep that low profile for that much longer, though. A little scandal from the doldrums of last summer is roaring back to life, and Perry faces the threat of criminal charges over accusations that he tried to force the Travis County district attorney to resign. There’s the added intrigue over the allegation that Perry’s aim was to kill an investigation into the scandal-plagued Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT). It’s one little thread in the well-worn sweater of Gov. Perry’s long tenure in office, but it threatens to damage his presidential ambitions.

With stories like these, which build up and fade over long periods of time, it’s difficult to follow what’s really going on. Many people—including more than a few national reporters—seemed surprised to learn this week that the longest-serving governor in Texas history may be facing indictment. We hope this primer helps catch you up on the story so far.

So how’d all this start?

Like many schemes, it started with vodka. Rosemary Lehmberg had been serving as Travis County DA for a little more than four years when, late on the night of April 12, 2013, she was pulled over near Lake Travis, west of Austin. Police found an open vodka bottle in the car and arrested her. She verbally berated the arresting officers, and she didn’t stop the verbal abuse when she got to jail. Lehmberg was strapped into a restraining chair. Hours after her arrest, she blew a .239, almost three times the legal limit.

Lehmberg’s jailers starting filming her, as they sometimes do with uncooperative detainees. That footage quickly found its way into the hands of media outlets. It’s incredibly embarrassing stuff—from Lehmberg’s thinly veiled threats against sheriff’s deputies, to her repeated requests to call Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton (“He’s not going to let me sit in jail all night”) to the placement of a hood, commonly known as a “spit mask,” on Lehmberg’s head. She ultimately pleaded guilty and served about half of a 45-day jail term. Calls for Lehmberg to resign started circulating immediately. She didn’t.

Why didn’t Lehmberg resign?

In a word, politics. Lehmberg is a Democrat, and if she stepped down, Rick Perry would be the one to appoint a replacement. Moreover, the Travis County DA—as the prosecutor in the state’s capital—has special responsibilities over a variety of statewide legal issues. Foremost among these powers is the DA’s control of the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates the ethical breaches of state politicians, among a number of other charges.


The Public Integrity Unit might be the most important office in state government run by a Democrat. Gov. Perry has been in office for 14 years—every nook and cranny of state government is filled with his appointees. The Public Integrity Unit is the rare piece that he doesn’t control. In 2005, the work of the Public Integrity Unit led to the indictment of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. So naturally, for years, Republicans in the state have tried to strip that power from the Travis County DA and fold it into Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office.

What’s more, the Public Integrity Unit was in the process of conducting an investigation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT received a ton of money from the Legislature to award grants to high-level medical research projects. The problem: a lot of that money was going to people who shouldn’t have gotten it. And some of those folks had close ties to Perry. Just a few months ago, Lehmberg’s office indicted CPRIT’s former director over his allegedly improper disbursement of an $11 million grant. But when Lehmberg got pulled over with the potato juice in her car last spring, the investigation was just underway.

When Lehmberg’s DWI went public, Republicans saw a way to get rid of a pesky, entrenched foe. (Though they couched this in terms of their deep, abiding concern for the office’s integrity.) Meanwhile, Democrats who would have happily seen Lehmberg canned if the Travis County Commissioners Court could have appointed her replacement rallied around Lehmberg as if she was the last warrior for righteousness on Earth.

But what did Perry do, exactly?

He threatened, publicly, to use his line item-veto power to zero out the Public Integrity Unit’s budget. Since that part of the Travis DA’s office played a statewide role, it was funded by the state. This kind of threat isn’t unusual. Executives use veto threats all the time to get what they want. The difference this time was that Perry had the audacity to do it all publicly. It’s unusual for an elected official to bully another elected official into resigning. And when threats didn’t work, he followed through on it. At the end of last year’s legislative session, Perry eliminated the entirety of the Public Integrity Unit’s funding–some $8 million over two years. Money that was going to investigate, in small part, his own party’s mismanagement of state government agencies, including alleged corruption in CPRIT.

That seems pretty slimy.

It does. The Travis County Commissioners Court pitched in to restore about half of the Public Integrity Unit’s annual budget, which allowed the unit to continue operating at a reduced pace and continue the CPRIT investigation. Residents of the Austin metropolitan area remain very grateful that money didn’t go to road maintenance or a library or whatever.

Couldn’t this whole fight have been really easily avoided if Perry had offered to appoint another Democrat to replace Lehmberg, or ask Travis County to nominate possible successors?

Sure. But Perry really wanted his own person there. We even know, according to some media reports, who it would have been: former Republican state Rep. Terry Keel, someone with excellent ties to the state GOP’s political apparatus.

OK, but that’s how politics goes, right? It’s not beanbag, as they say. What’s illegal about this?

Some charge that Perry’s threat basically constituted blackmail—the state seeking to unduly interfere in local affairs. Lehmberg was elected by the voters, after all. In June of last year, Craig McDonald, the director of the left-leaning watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint (PDF) against Perry in a Travis County court. He charged the guv with a number of criminal acts, including coercion of a public servant, bribery, and abuse of official capacity.

The judge appointed a special prosecutor, Michael McCrum. By most accounts, McCrum is tough and relatively nonpartisan. The investigation ambled along for a couple months until last week, when McCrum broke his silence. He told the Austin American-Statesman that the case had left him “concerned.”

Concerned? By what?

“I cannot elaborate on what exactly is concerning me,” he said to the Statesman. “But I can tell you I am very concerned about certain aspects of what happened here.” When asked if his concerns related to Perry’s actions, he said that they did.

With that, last year’s news came roaring back. The prospect of criminal charges suddenly seemed to become real. A few days ago, Perry hired a very expensive criminal defense lawyer to represent him to the ongoing inquiry. A Travis County grand jury began hearing evidence in the case this week.

Does this hurt Perry even if there’s ultimately no criminal charges?

Maybe. Perry sure looks like he intends to run in 2016. Thanks to Chris Christie, being a “bullying governor” isn’t exactly a hot stock right now. This is a sad little episode all around, and despite the length of this article, it’s relatively easy to explain—Perry blew up something called the “Public Integrity Unit” to undercut a DA he didn’t like. That’s the line Democratic groups are leading with, Lehmberg’s foibles be damned. It undercuts his friendly, down-home image.

But what dinged Christie so bad about Bridgegate was that his victims were innocent—people waiting in traffic, an ambulance delayed. When Christie’s scandal expanded to the even more shocking allegations of a Democratic mayor, there was strangely less outrage. If a conflict is between two political actors, a lot of people think it’s par for the course. One political scientist told The New York Times recently that the case represented an “attempt to criminalize politics.”

There’s an extra layer of irony in this. Perry’s gotten really comfortable with power over the last 14 years. He controls many of the levers of state government. He’s built up large slush funds inside the governor’s office, disbursing them at his discretion to attract businesses and other projects to the state. He’s been accused of cronyism and patronage numerous times, including perhaps corrupting an agency designed to fight cancer.

Yet it’s this Lehmberg thing—a relative afterthought—that’s tripping him up just nine months before he leaves office. He’s like the guy in a cop movie who gets pulled into a firefight on his last day on the job. Or, maybe, The Sopranos’ Silvio Dante, quoting yet another defender of public order and integrity: “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.”

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