Rick Perry, Second Coming or Poker-Cheating Cannibal? Who the Hell Knows?

This is a first. In an editorial this morning The New York Times is defending Rick Perry. Sort of.

They offer major caveats, calling him, "one of the least thoughtful and most damaging state leaders in America, having done great harm to immigrants, abortion clinics and people without health insurance during his 14 years in office."

But then they say, "bad political judgment is not necessarily a felony," leading them to conclude that, "given the facts so far," Perry's recent indictment on criminal charges, "appears to be the product of an overzealous prosecution."

They're actually willing to give the Perry indictment a little more credibility than I have been. Based on reporting I have been doing on an unrelated Austin story, the impeachment of Texas university system regent Wallace Hall, I figure it's not possible to come to any conclusion at all about the legitimacy of anything that happens in Austin, good, bad or interplanetary.

Hall is a Dallas man appointed by Perry in 2011 to the board of regents over all of the state's public universities and medical and health institutions, and the bottom line on the Hall story is absolutely stunning. In fact I can't think of a case in my own personal memory where the truth turned out to be so totally and overwhelmingly contrary to the original narrative.

Hall was absolutely vilified for what detractors said was a series of ginned-up, phony-baloney, unjust and even treacherous assaults against University of Texas at Austin President William Powers Jr. Almost every big newspaper in the state at one point was calling for his head (The Dallas Morning News, always cautious, said it was struggling with the question whether he was a "pain-in-the-neck").

A bipartisan junta in the Legislature convened impeachment proceedings against him. The Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney's Office, the same outfit at the center of the Perry indictment story, announced it was looking at criminal charges.

I will save the details for later, but the bottom line in the Hall story is truly stunning. Hall has been utterly and totally vindicated on every single charge he brought against the university. The impeachment junta in the Legislature includes several legislators who were personally implicated in the matters Hall had uncovered and were obviously going after him to cover their own hides.

And they accused him of what, again? The main accusation against Hall, enthusiastically endorsed by the Texas mainstream press in all of those editorials, was that he had asked the university for too much public information. The Texas press despised Hall (or worried he might be a pain in the neck). The sole reason the real guts of the matter ever got exposed was that two independent journalists, one in Washington and the other in Austin, took the story in their teeth like dogs with bones.

Wait a minute. Did I just say the major newspapers in the state wanted to see Hall kicked out of office because he was doing too much reporting? Yes. I did.

What did Hall uncover? Oh, not much. Just a secret slush fund in the University of Texas School of Law that was granting six figure gifts to an inside gang of professors in a scheme that was hidden from public view. Fraud in the reporting of contributions to the UT endowment fund. And, let's see, what else? Oh yeah, a backdoor black market admissions racket for the law school in which legislators, including the impeachment junta, were able to get their own unqualified kids admitted or the unqualified kids of politically wired persons admitted, producing an unusually large contingent of UT law grads who later couldn't pass the bar exam.

In my business, if you came up with stuff like that, they're supposed to give you a Pulitzer. For Hall it was impeachment.

The bottom line on all of it for me, when I saw the Perry indictments, was even more consternation than what the Times seems to expressing this morning. They say they actually doubt the legitimacy of the charges. My feeling is that I have absolutely no idea what's really going on, one way or the other, because the Perry charges come out of the same snake-pit loony-bin that produced the Hall impeachment proceedings.

As far as I'm concerned, the range of possibilities here is between two polarities: 1) By the time this is all said and done, we will find out that Rick Perry is the second coming of Jesus and the people behind the indictment are fiends from another planet, or 2) Perry is a cannibal and a poker cheat.

That's about what you can tell from Austin. If I were the Times, I wouldn't go betting any more money than that, yet.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze