Rick Perry to en­ter GOP pres­i­den­tial race

Ex-Texas gov­er­nor, who bowed out in ’12, is hum­bler — and un­der in­dict­ment.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Mark Z. Barabak mark.barabak@la­times.com Twit­ter: @markzbarabak

AUSTIN, Texas — When Rick Perry made a late en­try into the 2012 pres­i­den­tial race, he quickly surged to the top of the crowded Re­pub­li­can field.

It turned out to be the high point of his can­di­dacy.

Less than three weeks af­ter the vot­ing started, the Texas gov­er­nor un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously quit the con­test, be­com­ing an ob­ject of de­ri­sion for a bum­bling de­bate per­for­mance and the flail­ing ex­cla­ma­tion — “Oops!” — that served as a punch­line to his hap­less cam­paign.

As Perry of­fi­cially launches another try for the White House on Thurs­day, he has be­come some­thing of an af­ter­thought, trail­ing another large pack of 2016 hope­fuls even though, by most ac­counts, he is a muchim­proved can­di­date from four years ago.

Rather than jump­ing head­long into the con­test and swag­ger­ing his way through ap­pear­ances, he has set about a se­ri­ous course of study in do­mes­tic and for­eign af­fairs. No longer peer­ing down from atop opin­ion polls, he has waged a hum­bler, more ac­ces­si­ble cam­paign, fo­cused in par­tic­u­lar on Iowa, where Perry has shaken hands and back­slapped his way from one small town to the next, win­ning strong re­views in the process.

“This is a guy who hon­estly ad­mits the mis­takes of his last race,” said Craig Robinson, whose web­site, the Iowa Re­pub­li­can, closely chron­i­cles events in the state that will cast the first 2016 bal­lots. “I think that goes a long way.”

But there is one other sig­nif­i­cant and po­ten­tially more consequential dif­fer- ence from the last time Perry ran: Even as he takes the stage out­side Dal­las to an­nounce his can­di­dacy, he re­mains un­der in­dict­ment here in the state cap­i­tal, ac­cused of abus­ing his power as gov­er­nor to un­der­mine Texas’ po­lit­i­cal ethics agency.

At­tor­neys for Perry, who left of­fice in Jan­uary, have fought hard to have the two felony charges tossed out of court, say­ing they were po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated and wrongly seek to crim­i­nal­ize Perry’s le­git­i­mate con­duct. But the pre­sid­ing judge — a Re­pub­li­can — has re­fused to dis­miss the case, leav­ing the in­dict­ment to hang men­ac­ingly over Perry’s cam­paign.

“It’s not on peo­ple’s minds at this point,” said Jim Hen­son, who di­rects the Texas Pol­i­tics Project at the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin. “But the fact it hasn’t been dis­missed does sug­gest that the idea that it was friv­o­lous and com­pletely man­u­fac­tured has not been per­sua­sive in court thus far.”

The case re­volves around Travis County Dist. Atty. Rose­mary Lehm­berg and stems from her April 2013 ar­rest on drunken driv­ing charges.

Lehm­berg pleaded guilty to a mis­de­meanor, paid a $4,000 fine and served about half of a 45-day jail sen­tence. She said she would not seek re­elec­tion in 2016. But she re­fused Perry’s de­mand that she im­me­di­ately re­sign; he, in turn, fol­lowed through on a veto threat and slashed $7.5 mil­lion in fund­ing for the state’s pub­lic in­tegrity unit, which is housed in the Travis County district at­tor­ney’s of­fice.

The of­fice has a his­tory of tense re­la­tions with Repub­li­cans who run the state — Lehm­berg is a Demo­crat — and a num­ber of po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions were even­tu­ally dropped for lack of fund­ing.

A govern­ment watch­dog group, Tex­ans for Pub­lic Jus­tice, filed a com­plaint, and an in­de­pen­dent pros­e­cu­tor was ap­pointed to in­ves­ti­gate. Perry was in­dicted in Au­gust on charges of abuse of of­fi­cial power and co­er­cion of a pub­lic ser­vant.

Af­ter a blaze of pub­lic­ity — in­clud­ing a na­tion­ally broad­cast news con­fer­ence in which the gov­er­nor de­fended his ac­tions and fiercely de­nounced the charges — the case has set­tled into the worka­day grind of the le­gal process.

In Jan­uary, U.S. District Judge Bert Robinson re­jected a de­fense bid to dis­miss the case on con­sti­tu­tional grounds, though he ques­tioned some of the word­ing in the crim­i­nal charges. At­tor­neys for the former gov­er­nor have ap­pealed the de­ci­sion.

The case rarely seems to come up as Perry cam­paigns be­fore Re­pub­li­can au­di­ences around the coun­try.

“I haven’t heard two peo­ple men­tion it,” said Tom Rath, a long­time GOP strate­gist in New Hamp­shire, which im­me­di­ately fol­lows Iowa on the 2016 elec­tion cal­en­dar. “I think most con­sider it some kind of po­lit­i­cal tug of war and don’t ex­pect any­thing to come of it.”

That is not to say, how­ever, the in­dict­ment has not ex­acted a toll; Perry has so far spent more than $1 mil­lion in cam­paign funds on his le­gal de­fense.

Joe Raedle Getty Im­ages

RICK PERRY will off icially launch another run for pres­i­dent Thurs­day. He’s won strong re­views cam­paign­ing in Iowa.

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