Hard ball politics or an abuse of power? That question will be presented to a Travis County Grand Jury that was sworn in Monday. The case dates back one year when Travis County's District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg was busted for drunk driving near Lake Travis. The video of Lehmberg blitzed and being belligerent to deputies, as well as county jailers, was a big embarrassment at the time for the DA. Governor Rick Perry called for her to resign and said if she wouldn't, he would veto funding for the state Public Integrity Unit. Lehmberg manages and operates the unit out of her office.
The DA did a little jail time after her arrest but she didn't resign. Lehmberg also survived a trial to remove her from office. As all of that was playing out, Perry made good on his promise and with a Line Item Budget Veto, he eliminated $7.5 million that the legislature appropriated for the integrity unit. Not long after that, an Austin based watchdog group filed a complaint claiming the Perry veto was an illegal act. To consider the issue about 30 people were called Monday afternoon, for a Grand Jury selection process at the Criminal Justice Center. The group was reduced to 14.
Twelve jurors, with two alternates, will be presented details of an investigation into the Perry veto by Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum. In a recent interview with the San Antonio Express News, McCrum said he did not know yet if the Governor committed a criminal act, but he did say he was "very concerned about certain aspects of what happened." When he left the Grand Jury selection Monday Afternoon, McCrum was asked if he still had concerns. He responded by saying, "I am preceding forward with the investigation."
The makeup of the Grand Jury is seven men and seven women. The term is for three months, although it may not take that long for the probe. If more time is needed the grand jury term can be extended.
A defense attorney, hired by Governor Perry, David Botsford, sat in on the Grand Jury selection. He left Monday afternoon without speaking to reporters, but the Governor's office, in confirming the hiring of Botsford, issued a statement. It read in part;
"The facts will show this veto was made in accordance with the veto power afforded to every governor under the Texas Constitution. As we have from the beginning, we remain ready and willing to assist with this inquiry."
Political analyst Brian Smith, From St. Edwards University, told FOX 7 the grand jury review, depending on how long it takes, could have a political ripple effect. The fallout, according to Smith, could not only hurt the Governor, but also for other Republicans running for office.
"In a worse case scenario for the Republicans it's this, this is the tip of a much broader iceberg that we could see, Gov. Perry has over-stepped his bounds not only in this case but in many, many cases, and a lot of Republicans could be brought down this way, if that's the case," said Smith.
Perry is not the first Texas Governor to have his Veto power challenged according to a story submitted by the Associated Press. In 1917, then-Gov. James E. Ferguson was convicted of 10 charges, impeached and removed from office for vetoing appropriations for the University of Texas. Ferguson objected to several members of the faculty at the University and the disputed prompted an investigation into his office. In a summary of Baylor University's "The Texas Collection," the probe of Ferguson turned up "several questionable business dealings." Members of the Texas Senate voted to impeach Governor Ferguson and to also prohibit him from ever holding political office. The day before the vote was announced, according to the Baylor summary, Ferguson resigned.