Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry sustained a legal and political setback Tuesday when a district court judge refused to dismiss the two-count indictment against him, a decision that could pose complications for Perry's potential presidential campaign.
On August 15, a Travis County grand jury indicted then-Gov. Perry on felony charges of abuse of power and coercion of a public official. The indictment stemmed from Perry's June 2013 ultimatum that Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg resign following her drunken driving arrest or lose access to $7.5 million in state funds. While governors issue veto threats all the time, prosecutors allege that Perry's threat to veto the funds constituted blackmail and served as a means of coercing a political opponent; two other Texas district attorneys faced drunken driving charges during Perry's tenure, but Perry did not cut off funds to either DA's office.
Lehmberg, a Democrat, refused to resign, and Perry duly vetoed her office's funding.
The outgoing governor denounced the indictment as a "farce," and even tried to make political hay of it as he contemplated a second White House bid. Within days of Perry's booking, his political action committee started selling T-shirts featuring his mugshot.
As Perry left office this month and looked toward 2016, his indictment was, remarkably, mostly an afterthought, not least among the political press corps. It helped Perry that even some Democrats, including Obama strategist David Axelrod, cast doubt on the strength of the criminal case against him.
But today's ruling by District Judge Bert Richardson, a Republican from San Antonio, underscores that Perry isn't out of the legal woods yet. Tuesday marked the second time Perry's motion to dismiss the charges was denied, and Richardson's refusal to dismiss the indictment is a boon to GOP special prosector Michael McCrum.
The latest development ensures that Perry's case will continue to drag on for far longer than the former governor had hoped; his best case scenario, at this point, appears to involve having the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals toss out the indictment, although that process could take several months.
Perry said last week that he would decide by June whether to mount a second White House campaign.