This one has tied me up in knots.
State Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Spring, has pitched a proposed constitutional amendment that would remove the state’s Public Integrity Unit from the Travis County District Attorney’s Office and place it in the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
It’s a no-brainer, yes?
This has “political payback” written all over it.
The Public Integrity Unit became the source of intense controversy this past summer when a grand jury indicted former Texas Gov. Rick Perry on charges of abuse of power and coercion of a public official, DA Rosemary Lehmberg.
OK. Hang with me. Lehmberg is a Democrat. Perry is a Republican. Lehmberg pleaded guilty to drunken driving and should have quit her office; she didn’t. Perry then issued a public threat to veto money for the Public Integrity Unit if Lehmberg didn’t resign. She stayed in office and Perry made good on his threat.
The grand jury — guided by a special prosecutor — returned the indictment and Perry accused the panel of playing raw politics.
Now comes the Legislature controlled by Republicans, saying that the attorney general, Republican Ken Paxton, should manage the Public Integrity Unit.
The Public Integrity Unit’s major responsibility is to investigate complaints against officials who’ve been accused of misusing their authority. The office has investigated Democrats as well as Republicans. Has it been an inherently partisan political office, targeting Republican officeholders unfairly? I haven’t followed the PIU’s activities closely enough over the years to draw that conclusion.
Riddle’s legislation would amend the Texas Constitution to put the PIU under the attorney general’s purview. Can an agency run by a partisan Republican do a thorough, fair, unbiased and objective job of investigation complaints leveled against public officials?
I think so, just as I believe the Travis County DA’s office can do the very same thing.
Why change? Well, it seems that Riddle and other legislative Republicans are seeking to make good on a campaign promise. As the San Antonio Express-News notes in a blog about Riddle’s proposal: “Republicans prefer that model, in part because the current set-up gives power for investigating mostly GOP state leaders in the hands of a prosecutor elected by one of the most liberal parts of the state.”
Here’s a possible third option: How about creating an independent agency led by someone approved by a bipartisan panel of legislators?