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Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower
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Rick Perry's Clown Show

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Trial lawyers will tell you that any good prosecutor could convince a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

Well, meet that ham sandwich! Here in my burg of Austin, Texas, grand jury has just indicted Gov. Rick "Rooti-Toot-Toot" Perry, a real ham — only not as smart. He's charged with official abuse of power — specifically, threatening to veto all state funding for a public integrity unit that, among other things, was investigating corrupt favoritism in one of the governor's pet projects. Perry was trying to muscle out of office the woman who is the duly elected head of that unit, presumably to halt its inquiry. Leave office, he publicly barked at her, or I'll take away all your money. She didn't, and he did.

Not smart, for that's an illegal quid pro quo, much like linking a campaign donation to an official favor. This led to a judge, a special prosecutor, a grand jury and now the indictment of the gubernatorial ham sandwich.

Perry and his Republican operatives quickly denounced and even threatened both the special prosecutor and the jurors as partisan hacks who, in Rick's words, "will be held to account." Thuggish as that is, the national media have mostly swallowed Perry's hokum that he's the victim, indicted for nothing more than exercising his veto power. It's crude politics, Rick howled. But political candidates should avoid getting defensive — as old-timers put it, any candidate who's explaining, is losing.

So it's a hoot to watch Gov. Rick "Oops" Perry try to explain away his felony indictment for abusing his gubernatorial power. His first ploy has been to try dodging real questions by turning the indictment into a circus.

He literally mugged for the cameras when getting his mug shot taken as he turned this courthouse moment into a raucous Republican political rally. Image consultants had advised him to ditch the horn-rim glasses that previous image makers had told him to wear so he'd look smarter.

Also, he wore a light-blue tie, for the consultants said that color conveys trust. Of course, he always coifs his trademark hair, but they also told him to apply skin makeup to avert any sweaty look and to put cool packs on his eyes on the morning of the shot so he wouldn't look haggard or ... well, guilty. Think pleasant thoughts as the picture is snapped, they instructed, and smile — but a humble smile, not an overconfident one.

Perry did all of the above, except the humble smile, giving his usual arrogant smirk instead. The day before his courthouse circus opened, Ringmaster Rick brought in the clowns — a whole troupe of $450-an-hour, hotshot lawyers wearing red power ties, came blustering onstage with Perry from out of a back room, as though tumbling out of a tiny clown car. Introduced as the indictee's legal dream team, each tried to outdo the other in a slapstick show of resumes, puffing themselves up as junkyard-tough lawyers who would shred this prosecutor and his flimsy case. Meant to show how strong Perry is, the pack of lawyers only raised another question for Perry in the public mind: If the charges against you are nothing, as you keep saying, why do you need so many heavyweight, extremely pricey lawyers?

Perry has hornswoggled the pundits, but don't let them fool you — Perry clearly abused his power as governor. Again, the issue is not Perry's veto, but his linking of a veto threat to his effort to oust an elected public official. As for his hamming it up about being a poor victim of Democrats, the judge who appointed the prosecutor is a Republican, and the prosecutor himself was nominated to federal office by President Bush I, and endorsed by the Texas' Republican senators. This indictment is not a show. It's way more serious than Perry is, and the real explaining he'll have to do will be in a somber courthouse — under oath. To keep up with Perry's circus, go to Texans for Public Justice at www.tpj.org.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at www.creators.com.

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