Whatever the outcome of the criminal case against Gov. Rick Perry, the events that led to it are a reflection upon him and how he has chosen to govern.
Consider how he and the entire state of Texas arrived at this juncture — the governor charged with coercion and abuse of official capacity. He threatened to veto state funding of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney's office if the district attorney didn't resign. Then he made good on the threat when she didn't.
Let's start with the arrest last year of the DA, Rosemary Lehmberg, on suspicion of drunken driving, her subsequent guilty plea and sentence that included jail time.
Lehmberg did all of the honorable things after her arrest but one: resign. She should have. Here's what we said in April 2013: "Politics aside, we don't see how a DA could hold office effectively while serving jail time, even if it's one of those weekends-only jail sentencing arrangements."
If only politics — and Perry's way of practicing it — could be put aside. Because they can't, Lehmberg had two reasons not to resign:
1. The Travis County district attorney, by quirk of geography and state constitutional law, heads the state's Public Integrity Unit. The unit investigates public corruption by state officials because the Travis County seat also is the state's capital.
Lehmberg and Travis County are Democratic, and Perry, all other statewide officeholders and the Legislature are Republican. Absent public corruption, that shouldn't be a problem. But state government manages to keep the unit busy. It was busy back when Democrats were running the state, but now there's always the specter of a Democrat going after Republicans.
2. Perry would have appointed her successor. The assumption — a reasonable one — was that he'd appoint a crony who would make a mess of the Public Integrity Unit and its investigations.
Urging Lehmberg to resign would have been justified. The veto threat — much less the actual veto — was not. But it was consistent with how Perry has chosen to govern. He claims to have acted on principle. Urging a resignation would have been acting on principle. The veto, which didn't accomplish the resignation, forfeited any claim he had on principle.
And now the governor of Texas is about to be arraigned on criminal charges punishable by as many as 99 years in prison, which would be extreme. Any prison time would be extreme. If a punishment were to fit the crime, it would be removal from office and reversal of the veto.
Were Perry's actions criminal? Maybe we'll find out. Probably we won't. A governor has line-item veto authority, the legal bar for proving abuse of power is high, and Perry's threat sounds like politics as usual, not unusual. But no outcome — quashed indictment, acquittal or conviction — will settle in Texans' minds whether Perry committed a crime. The outcome, whatever it is, will be viewed through the political prism of the beholder.
That's Perry's doing. His actions, legal or not, were driven by partisanship, not principle. The group that lodged the complaint is described as left-leaning. The grand jurors were derived from a Democratic county. It's not fair to assume that they're Democrats or that they considered anything other than the facts or the law. Indeed, the grand jurors, the special prosecutor and the Republican judge who appointed him may be the only ones focused on the law and the facts. But it will be assumed that they acted politically.
Perry, predictably, accused them of it Saturday, the day after he was indicted. He is correct that there is no separating partisan politics from this. He should know: He has made a career of polarizing politics.
The political divisiveness of the past several years, the embarrassment to Texas and to the office of governor, and the divisiveness that this case has yet to cause aren't random events. They are direct results of how Perry has governed.
This editorial was first published in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Distributed by The Associated Press.