Gov. Rick Perry and his defense team have characterized his recent two felony abuse of power indictments by a Travis County Grand Jury as “banana Republic politics.” The governor, and his defense team, is giving “banana Republic politics” a bum rap.
Please let us context “banana Republic politics.” Rick Perry has been the Governor of Texas for fourteen years. His three terms as governor have been rife with corruption, cronyism, and favoritism. He has ruled the state with an iron fist, riding roughshod over his Democratic opponents and exiling fellow Republicans who dared oppose his dictatorial style of rule. While not as malevolent as Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, Perry rivals the dictator’s style of rule (namely, all power emanates from the top) while laying Alamo-like siege to sophomoric claims of benevolence.
Consider for example the charges the liberal group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) has leveled against Gov. Perry:
• Allegedly disregarded campaign finance laws and aided a business that was especially generous to his campaign.
• Refused to operate transparently, and has blocked access to information related to a death penalty case.
• Rejected federal stimulus funds in a manner that appeared to put partisan politics ahead of the interests of the citizens of Texas.
• Has perpetuated the revolving door between government and special interests.
• Accepted trial and campaign donations from a business that received benefits from his official actions.
• Used campaign funds for a personal trip with questionable relevance to his campaign for office.
It is difficult to fathom how the governor and his allies can remotely characterize his August 15 felony indictments as “banana Republic politics.” The governor vetoed a legislative appropriation designated for the Travis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit (PIU). He had publicly threatened the veto if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg did not resign following her April 2013 arrest and conviction for DWI. Gov. Perry made much ado about the District Attorney being unfit to oversee an investigative unit charged with the responsibility of protecting the public trust while his political operatives presented her with an under-the-table job offer bribe if she would only step aside.
Talk about “banana Republic politics!” Think about it. The governor and his political machine offered an unfit public official a high-paying junior level job in her own office if she would just resign while it was investigating one of Perry’s favorite “pork-barrel” state programs, the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute of Texas (CRPIT).
That is, or is pretty close to being, bribery in Texas. Bribery is defined by Section 36.02 of the Texas Penal Code which prohibits “any benefit as consideration for the recipient’s decision.” The benefit offered by Perry (or his operatives) was a paying position in the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, if Lehmberg would make a decision to resign as DA. Perry tells the national media that this case is about upholding the “rule of law.” Well, the governor should try it sometime.
Besides CRPIT, the Governor’s Office controls two other funds that have a history of doling out hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to Gov. Perry’s political donors and benefactors—the Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund (TETF). All three funds were created at the request of Gov. Perry—TEF was created by the legislature in 2003, the TETF in 2005, and CRPIT in 2007. The TEF was in news this past April when the story broke that it had given Toyota $40 million dollars to move its U.S. headquarters from California to Texas.
In a similar vein, the Governor’s Office reports that TETF has given more than $295 million to over 145 “early stage companies”—many of which have connections to the Governor’s donors and benefactors.
And that bring us to CRPIT—a $3 billion cancer research agency which, under Gov. Perry’s leadership and direction, has morphed into nothing more than a “corporate gifts” program for the governor’s donors and benefactors.
Corruption and political influencing in the agency got so bad that in 2012 the entire “scientific review team” resigned in protest because of the corrosive atmosphere of commercialization-over-research projects. CRPIT became nothing more a billion-dollar “slush fund” to take care of the political donors and benefactors of not only the governor but other state leaders like Attorney General and now gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott.
For example, a 2013 state audit of CRPIT’s grants revealed that political donors of Abbot received $42 million in grants approved without proper scientific review. At the time, the Attorney General, by law, was a member of CRPIT’s Oversight Committee even though he did not attend any of the committee’s 23 meetings.
That same audit revealed that a $20 million grant for an “incubator”—a joint venture between Houston’s M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and Rice University—did not undergo a scientific review. This “incubator” venture has been described in media reports as an attempt to link business experts and scientists together so they can better market “new technologies and therapies.”
After revelations about the grant were published in media reports, CRPIT rescinded the award in May 2012. That alone speaks volumes about the impropriety of the grant.
Problems at CRPIT surfaced in a major way in spring of 2012 (just three months after Gov. Perry dropped out of the presidential campaign). Fed up with the corruption, underscored by complaints from nationally prominent medical researchers that cancer research had been bulldozed over by commercialization projects sponsored by political insiders, the Progress Texas Political Action Committee filed a criminal complaint against CRPIT with the Travis County District Attorney’s PIU.
This complaint ultimately led to the indictment in December 2013 of CRPIT’s former chief commercialization officer Gerald “Jerry” Cobbs who is accused of improperly giving an $11 million grant to a politically connected Dallas-based biotech firm. Specifically, the indictment accuses Cobbs of the first degree felony of “securing execution of a document by deception” in 2010. It is alleged that he deceived CRPIT’s former executive director and general counsel by failing to inform them that the Peloton Therapeutics grant had not undergone review or secured approval through proper committee channels.
At the time of the indictment, Progress Texas’s director Glenn Smith told the media that “those responsible for the corruption at CRPIT are being brought to justice. But we still don’t know how high the rot goes. Greg Abbott, who was on the CRPIT board as the corruption took hold, never has explained his failures of leadership at CRPIT.”
Because of the Cobbs indictment, the CRPIT corruption scandal has now become a major political issue in the current gubernatorial campaign between Abbott and Texas State Senator Wendy Davis.
And that’s what Gov. Rick Perry did not want to happen in spring 2013. It forced him to pressure then attempt to bribe DA Lehmberg into resigning. It was an escalating political nightmare: indictments of CRPIT officials, a fellow Republican and gubernatorial candidate linked to the corruption, and CRPIT losing all its cancer cure credentials in the nation’s cancer research community. Little wonder the governor had to get new glasses to see through the “fog of war.”
Had Lehmberg resigned, Perry would have appointed her successor—a political hack who would have managed and ultimately eliminated the PIU’s investigation into corruption at CRPIT.
And the governor wants to accuse someone else of engaging in “banana Republic politics?” To politically smear him?
This whole notion that “banana Republic politics” were behind Gov. Perry’s criminal indictment is ridiculous. Here’s why.
After Texans for Public Justice filed a criminal complaint in June 2013 against Gov. Perry, the case was assigned to a Travis County Democratic district court judge named Julie Kocurek. She immediately stepped aside and forwarded the case to Republican Judge Billy Ray Stubblefield. This Perry appointee then assigned the case to fellow Republican judge and candidate for election to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Bert Richardson. Judge Richardson then appointed an independent special prosecutor to investigate the case, a San Antonio criminal defense attorney named Michael McCrum. Richardson also oversaw the selection and impaneling of the grand jury that would hear the evidence presented by the independent prosecutor.
Gov. Perry’s political machine charges that the special prosecutor led the grand jurors by their noses to an indictment. While the Texas grand jury system is rife with problems and a prosecutor enjoys inordinate power in determining who will and who will not be indicted, the governor is not the average defendant. The special prosecutor had to bend over backwards to present the evidence accumulated from his year-long investigation in an impartial manner. Likewise, the grand jurors felt an extraordinary duty to look at the evidence in a fair and neutral light and determine if there was probable cause to indict, not whether there was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the governor committed a crime. The fact that McCrum presented the grand jurors with four charges upon which they could indict the governor and the jurors chose to indict on only two of those charges is some evidence that they acted in a fair and impartial manner.
Gov. Rick Perry is recharging for a second presidential run. His office controls three funds with $19 billion in appropriations Those funds have effectively granted “corporate gifts” of hundreds of millions of dollars to some of the very people financially supporting the governor’s bid for the presidency. In effect, the Governor’s Office is doling out money through the front door, some of which will undoubtedly find its way through the back door into Perry’s war chest for the presidency of the United States of America.
While there is no precise definition of “banana Republic politics,” the term is usually associated with corruption in government. In other words, Gov. Perry would have the public accept that his two felony indictments are the product of a corrupt government in Travis County. Let us recap: Democratic Judge Julie Kocurek recused herself from the case. The case was assigned to Republican Judge Billy Ray Scofield who got his judgeship through Rick Perry appointment. Judge Scofield passed the case off to Republican Judge Bert Richardson, who not only appointed an independent special prosecutor but also selected and seated the grand jury that indicted the governor.
The picture is clear. If there were any politics involved in the Rick Perry indictment, it was Republican inspired, Republican choreographed, and produced a Republican result. The simple truth is: Gov. Perry was not indicted because of banana republic politics;” he was indicted because he engaged in “banana Republic politics” and to say otherwise is to give “banana Republic politics” a bad name.