Texas Governor Perry's legal fight casting shadow on possible 2016 run

By Jon Herskovitz
Texas Governor Rick Perry denounces felony charges by a Travis County grand jury during a press conference at the State Capitol in Austin Texas
Texas Governor Rick Perry denounces felony charges by a Travis County grand jury during a press conference at the State Capitol in Austin, Texas August 16, 2014. REUTERS/Rodolfo Gonzalez/Austin American-Statesman

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN Texas (Reuters) - Texas Governor Rick Perry will fight a two-count felony indictment brought against him last week for abuse of power by a state grand jury, his lawyers said on Monday, calling the prosecution "outrageous."

The indictment has cast a shadow over a possible 2016 Republican presidential run for Perry, with experts saying the legal wrangling is expected to be lengthy and coincide with the election cycle.

Perry was indicted on Friday by a grand jury in Travis County, a Democratic stronghold in the heavily Republican state, over a funding veto he made last year seen as being intended to force a local prosecutor to resign.

"Governor Perry will fight this indictment 100 percent," lawyer Tony Buzbee told a news conference, adding the veto was lawful. "This is nothing more than banana republic politics," he added.

A probe was launched last year after Perry vetoed $7.5 million in funding for an integrity unit that is part of the Travis County district attorney's office.

The veto was seen as hardball politics to force out county District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, after she pleaded guilty to drunken driving and remained in office.

If convicted of the more serious felony charge, Perry could be sentenced to between five and 99 years in jail.

Democrats have said Perry may have been looking to put his own person in charge of the unit, extending what they see as crony capitalism in his administration.

The indictment may not have much influence in the Republican primaries, where Perry could try to build support by portraying himself as a conservative victim of a partisan legal attack launched by Democrats, analysts said.

But it could hurt him among major donors and party heavyweights who see the legal case as hurting the chances of a candidate, who is now in the back of the pack, in the general election.

After flaming out in the 2012 presidential race in a gaffe-strewn campaign, Perry had been mounting a political comeback that gained him national attention for attacking President Barack Obama by saying he had not done enough to secure the border with Mexico.

"Because of the context of his 2012 run, there is already some trepidation about how electable is this guy. This could reinforce this reticence, and that would be a problem for him," said Daron Shaw, a political science professor at the University of Texas.

(Editing by Eric Walsh)