Always a controversial figure, Rick Perry is stepping into the spotlight in new and interesting ways this month. With only six months left in his term as Governor of Texas, his most recent exploits include getting re-baptized in an historic Texas creek, offering $40 million to Toyota to relocate to the Lone Star state from California, and oh, yeah, being investigated for potential abuse of gubernatorial powers. And according to this article in San Antonio’s local online news outlet, Perry is happy for Texas residents to pay up for his private attorney. Lawyers in San Antonio looking to this new turn of events are about as happy as most Texan are: not happy at all.
The thing about Texas is it dislikes government. Even the government, including the Governor, dislikes government. Bleeding red like a rare steak, Texas is a staunch Republican holdout, and believe it or not, due less to socially or morally conservative issues (though those abide entrenched, too) but for its fiscally conservative policies. Toyota loves that Texas doesn’t have a state income tax—and lawyers in San Antonio do too. In fact, most employed, working professionals love it. What’s becoming interesting for Governor Perry now is that Texans are not loving that they are paying for his lawyer.
Sure, the Governor dislikes government—until he is government, and then he gets to use his power as a means to his own ends. While that can be said of many public officials, working and tax-paying professionals across the state are now questioning how much they’re willing to pay up for Perry’s defense counsel. Lawyers in San Antonio and Dallas and across the state are particularly interested; if Perry is under investigation, does he get the right to pick his own attorney with tax payer money?
Apparently, the answer is yes, to the tune of $450 an hour. The well-known Austin lawyer David Botsford was hired to represent Perry in the nick of time: just before a grand jury began to review Perry’s actions. Why Perry needed a lawyer in the first place has to do with his exercise of political power. He vetoed a budget item that would have given the District Attorney’s office a two-year, $7.5 million allocation, withholding the money after DA Rosemary Lehmberg refused to resign. Threatening to withhold the state money after Lehmberg was arrested for drunk driving unless she stepped down, Perry made good on his threat when she refused.
Whether Perry’s political maneuvering was legal is the key question in his case, and a watchdog group, Texans for Public Justice, filed a complaint charging that the veto was an abuse of power. A judge agreed that there was enough evidence to appoint a special prosecutor to figure out whether Perry could be considered to have coerced a public servant. So he lawyered up for himself. While it’s probable that several lawyers in San Antonio and Houston would have loved the honor of representing the governor, it’s pretty clear that they’re as unhappy as the rest of Texas tax payers that they’re footing the bill.