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SPOTLIGHT
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Abuse of power

Published on -8/20/2014, 8:22 AM

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The amount of power granted a governor, in any state, is vast. Recent events in U.S. history seem to indicate that vastness often leads to unchecked abuses that have toppled Democrats and Republicans alike.

Will Texas Gov. Rick Perry be added to the list? We'll have to wait and see. For now, all we know is the former presidential candidate has been indicted on charges of coercion and abuse of power for his role in attempting to oust a county district attorney.

That Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg messed up is without question. She has pleaded guilty to drunken driving charges and apologized for her outlandish belligerence toward the sheriff's deputies who arrested her in 2013. Whether her remorse is genuine is irrelevant. The bottom line is she has no plans to resign her office.

And that fact infuriated the Texas governor. Perry canceled $7.5 million destined for the state's Public Integrity Unit, which Lehmberg oversees. And then vowed to restore the funding if Lehmberg stepped down.

Even though the district attorney's post is an elected one, Perry apparently not only believes his own elected office has the right to undo voter preferences but said the indictments against him are an "outrageous assault on the rule of law."

If Perry's wrong, he could face up to 100 years in prison for the felony charges. And he would join a growing list of governors gone wild.

Four of the last eight governors from the state of Illinois have gone to prison including Rod Blagojevich, who tried to sell President Barack Obama's old Senate seat, George Ryan for racketeering, Dan Walker for bank fraud and Otto Kerner for bribery.

Rhode Island's Edward DiPrete plea bargained down to a mere 18 corruption charges, then spent a year in prison. Louisiana's Edwin Edwards was convicted of extortion, mail fraud and money laundering. West Virginia's Arch Moore Jr. was jailed after charges of extortion, mail fraud, tax fraud and obstruction of justice were filed. Connecticut's John Rowland served time for conspiring to "steal honest service."

Those were just the ones who went to prison in recent memory. Governors who were convicted but didn't don an orange jumpsuit or a black-and-white-striped outfit include North Carolina's Mike Easley, campaign violations; Alabama's Guy Hunt, using inaugural funds for himself; South Dakota's Bill Janklow, second-degree manslaughter; Arizona's J. Fife Symington III, bank fraud; Arkansas' Jim Guy Tucker, fraud; Oklahoma's David Lee Walters, campaign contribution violations; Ohio's Bob Taft, ethics violations; and Missouri's Roger Wilson, illegal political donations.

In the grand scheme of things, New Jersey's Chris Christie appears almost angelic for being allegedly oblivious to the political paybacks his staff members were imposing on mayors in the state who didn't support the governor.

And our own Sam Brownback? We found out a few months ago the FBI was investigating whether former employees of the governor were using their connections with him for their own personal gain. No indictments have been announced, and there might never be.

Still, the lesson stands. Elect the wrong power-hungry person to such a powerful office, and the temptation to abuse that power becomes irresistible.

As the 19th century British historian Lord Acton noted: "Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

It strikes us as an old enough lesson today's governors would have learned by now.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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