Don't call it "Briberygate"


(The Associated Press)
(The Associated Press)

Last Friday, a grand jury in Travis County indicted Governor Rick Perry on two felony charges: abuse of political office and coercion of a public servant. The controversy stemmed from the threat made to Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg, giving her an ultimatum of resigning or facing severe budget cuts as blowback. Lehmberg's controversy started when she was arrested for drunk driving.

There is a great deal to be said about this issue, and it has prompted very different reactions from individuals depending upon their political persuasion. Democrats, thus opponents of Perry, have reacted by saying this indictment is a vindication of what they have claimed all along, that Rick Perry is a nefarious evil-doer. Republicans, who have rallied behind their compatriot in the Governor's mansion, have taken the opportunity to praise Perry as a moral crusader who has defended the public from an irresponsible and drunken prosecutor. Like many other high profile issues, the information gap between the two sides is nearly insurmountable, and this is reflected best in the different names used to describe the scandal.

Democratic activists have settled on the name "Briberygate." If this causes you to scratch your head, you aren't the only one. Their rationale is that Perry attempted to get Lehmberg to resign in exchange for not denying her office funds, which constitutes a quid-pro-quo related to finances. Furthermore, the San Antonio Express-News reported in April that some of Perry's aides allegedly would have offered Lehmberg another job in exchange for resignation.

Accordingly, when the grand jury was seated to consider charges against Perry, one of the allegations was a violation of the bribery statute. Pointedly, the grand jury no-billed Perry on that allegation, though they moved forward on aforementioned two. Still, prominent Democratic organizations have moved forward with the slogan and hashtag. It's hard to find a left-wing Facebook post, be it on Burnt Orange Report or the Travis County Democratic Party, which does not include it.

Such a descriptor is damaging to the case against Perry, which is admittedly tepid at best. While I do believe that Perry violated the coercion statute, and that a fairly well-reasoned case can be made to that point, he did not attempt to bribe anyone. It cheapens all the good arguments in this case to fall back on a catchy, though factually flawed, soundbite.