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SMU’s Cal Jillson Reaches a Bit Too Far in the Rick Perry Imbroglio

I’m going to let longtime FrontBurnervian Jackson Williams take this one because he’s the one who brought it to my attention. I agree with everything he says:

You surely know widely quoted SMU political science prof Calvin Jillson. I don’t know him, but a Thursday New York Times story about Rick Perry, involving the Travis County DA, concludes with a quote from Cal. I usually find his quotes in political news stories about Texas to be innocuous, never earth-shattering but within the realm of my understanding and generally agreeable. They began appearing in the late ’90s/early 2000s, and he’s become a go-to guy for reporters covering the beat. Well, I read this story in the Times and was struck by an acclamation he made.

Perry, as you may know, is the subject of a criminal investigation for the way he handled the drunken driving arrest of the Travis DA. Here’s what Jillson said about the matter: “This is one of those cases where you’re trying to criminalize politics. [Perry] thought that he saw a political opponent weakened and that he would tip her over. It was hardball politics, but it was by no means criminal activity.” Jackson went on in his email(s) to me:

Analysis and opinion is one thing, and he’s a decent quotemeister, but concluding in advance that something isn’t legally criminal is quite another. He literally makes a declarative statement on a legal matter that a) isn’t adjudicated, and for which b) he’s not trained.

The more I think about his quote, the more irked I am. You’ve got a state district judge taking it seriously, a special prosecutor taking it seriously (“I can tell you that I am very concerned about certain aspects of what happened here”), and a poli-sci guy from SMU who professes to know more about their jobs than they do. Yes, an Austin-based watchdog group filed the initial complaint against Perry last year, but it would have been tossed if it was much ado about nothing. As for Perry, one doesn’t usually hire a high-profile defense lawyer to rack up lots of billable hours for things that are “by no means criminal activity.” It would be like hiring Frank Branson to handle your parking ticket.

Jackson sent Jillson a note this morning to which Jillson has not replied.

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22 comments on “SMU’s Cal Jillson Reaches a Bit Too Far in the Rick Perry Imbroglio

  1. Jillson hasn’t replied yet? Shocker. The guy is being quoted in the New York Times. I bet he couldn’t care less what some commenter to the D Magazine blog thinks.

  2. I am not a lawyer, nor I play one on television. I do have friends at various levels of the political machinery in Texas, blue and red. The majority of them privately comment that the Governor may have left his mouth in gear when he should not have done so. In short, he may have stepped into a heaping pile of it.

  3. So you’re saying I overpaid by hiring Frank Branson to get my parking ticket dismissed?

  4. Curious. Does it seem odd to anyone else that Austin and Dallas are playing attack dogs with respect to a governor who has ensured their economic prosperity in the worst of times, while the rest of the nation unravels, cities declare bankruptcies, and foreign enemies escalate their actions with impunity?

    Rosemary had a mega-budget and mega-power over triple levels of government, statewide. Her behaviour was not rational, nor likely an isolated incident.

    Leaving that kind of power in the hands of someone who cannot behave as well as a high school basketball player who knows when she has fouled and raises her hand and accepts the consequences, would have been the height of irresponsibility on the governor’s part.

    That he gave her the option of resigning was a gracious gesture. Had he failed to follow through on his warning of appropriate fiscal consequences, as Obama has done with Syria, Russia, and Iran, an emboldened and drunken DA would have been rewarded for her actions and Texans would pay the price.

    If Texas doesn’t wake up and support its own governor, in particular, Austin and Dallas, it is going to get a good dose of what Nevada is getting, down the road.

    Time for a reality check, folks. And, if you really like your standard of living and quality of life, it would be a real good idea to let the appropriate parties know that you think calling good governance ‘criminal activity’ is UNACCEPTABLE.

  5. Curious. Does it seem odd to anyone else that Austin and Dallas are playing attack dogs with respect to a governor who has ensured their economic prosperity in the worst of times, while the rest of the nation unravels, cities declare bankruptcies, and foreign enemies escalate their actions with impunity?

    Rosemary had a mega-budget and mega-power over triple levels of government, statewide. Her behaviour was not rational, nor likely an isolated incident.

    Leaving that kind of power in the hands of someone who cannot behave as well as a high school basketball player who knows when she has fouled and raises her hand and accepts the consequences, would have been the height of irresponsibility on the governor’s part.

    That he gave her the option of resigning was a gracious gesture. Had he failed to follow through on his warning of appropriate fiscal consequences, as Obama has done with Syria, Russia, and Iran, an emboldened and drunken DA would have been rewarded for her actions and Texans would pay the price.

    If Texas doesn’t wake up and support its own governor, in particular, Austin and Dallas, it is going to get a good dose of what Nevada is getting, down the road.

    Time for a reality check, folks. And, if you really like your standard of living and quality of life, it would be a real good idea to let the appropriate parties know that you think calling good governance ‘criminal activity’ is UNACCEPTABLE.

  6. The judge in the Perry case has appointed a Special Prosecutor, a lawyer from San Antonio, to investigate. The SP has a fine pedigree. He was recommended in ‘09 by the state’s congressional Democrats AND both Republican U.S. senators (Hutchison and Cornyn) to serve as U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, but later opted to withdraw his name from consideration. A former federal prosecutor, he’d previously served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office as San Antonio’s Chief of the Major Crimes Division.

    His investigation is ongoing, but hey, Cal Jillson has already discerned that Perry’s action “was by no means criminal activity.” I guess the great legal minds involved should just close up shop and head out for drinks.

  7. I guess when Rick Perry is President, Manny Fernandez and the New York Times can count on being audited by the IRS.

  8. Anytime someone hires a high-flyin attorney they a) know they are in deep $4/& and / or b) know the PR response will act as if they are in deep $4/&. IMHO the common denominator is simply .. deep $4/&

  9. You posted your comment twice, Martha, so I had to pick one to reply to. You seem unaware of this particular news story. Perry’s action in de-funding the Public Integrity Unit is fraught with legal and state constitutional questions. That’s why it’s in court. It isn’t a right-wing “bumper sticker” slogan as you suggest with “calling good governance ‘criminal activity’ is unacceptable.” It’s actually an issue that is, um, more involved.

  10. It is not sound logic to conclude that an inquiry’s being staffed by PAID legal counsel of a high caliber means the allegations are legitimate.

    It is even more illogical to say that Governor Perry’s administration would mimic Barack Obama’s administration in secretly targeting opponents via the IRS.

    Governor Perry made no secret of his expectations of Rosemary, who was arrested for nursing a bottle of vodka (not a beer or two) behind the wheel of her vehicle, videotaped by law enforcement behaving outrageously, convicted, and yet served only half of her sentence.

    Her behaviours, from start to finish, have been anything but actions of dignity, competence, and decorum, all requisites of her high-profile position and extensive powers over so many other people.

  11. I’m sure Rick Perry will pray for us all. Reruns for a Friday lunch.

    MAY GOD SHOW RICK PERRY THE LIGHT
    When, and if, I choose to dip my head down
    It won’t be because of the words of a clown
    Of a governor. Wrapped in the flag, TV’s rolling,
    “Is he running, is he not? See how he’s polling?”
    Then there are those of us Texans who are guessing,
    Is promoting Rick Perry a curse or a blessing?

    So in my own way, and on my own day,
    I would like to bow down my head and to say
    In fact, a small missive, for Rick I did write
    (Kneeling is out tho’ – I’m an Agonyclite).
    Hoping the message will appeal universal
    And lead to some policies needing reversal.

    “Dear Lord, it’s me again, you’ve always listened.
    Some others, I fear, feel that you’ve christened
    A political son, one annointed by the voter,
    Selling out Texans like a slick carny promoter.
    (Not quite up to standards – he is only a man)
    I’m hoping you’ll help, as only you can.”

    “Your words, they’ve become, um, somewhat misquoted.
    ‘Do unto others,’ misinterpreted – you noted?
    And the fight over taxes, please remind us how
    Money corrupts, and what is important now:
    May illness and poverty forever stay at bay
    For everyone, everywhere, regardless how you pray.”

    That is my wish, your choices may differ
    Think it out well ‘cause God is no bluffer.
    Especially this Friday, so good for all Christians
    Who are the Kings? And who are the victims?
    Rarely does He give us just what we’re wishing,
    Sometimes He serves us exactly what we’re dishing.

  12. Chill MW – my comment was a jab at the current administration in DC as well as the NY Times lack of concern over the same. Funny how they find space to cover this Texas story but not the IRS’s shameful abuse of perceived power.

  13. Because Rick Perry has never behaved badly to cops when pulled over.

    Why don’t you just get on down the road?

  14. Don’t we do this all the time, though? Didn’t the DMN recently have a story — headlined by Wendy Davis, but featuring several members of the Legislature — that detailed all the work that they do that benefits themselves and their business interests? And the takeaway was: Yeah, it’s legal. Isn’t it a shame?

  15. It’s actually quite logical to assume that a Perry administration would use the IRS politically, given that pretty much every presidential administration since FDR has done so and the expectation that Perry would somehow be less of a crook than his predecessors is an absurd one.

  16. It seems the IRS is packed with lefties judging from what little coverage there has been of the recent scandal. I am willing to bet, if it happened in a Perry administration, there would be constant front page coverage until heads rolled, especially at the NY Times.

  17. I’m no fan of Rick Perry, but I’m all for doing anything legally possible to dislodge a prosecutor – herself a criminal – who, I am sure, like most of her peers would lock up 20 innocent people if she thought it would snag her a few votes.

    Maybe what Perry did was legal, maybe it wasn’t. Why go full blast on Jillson?

    “Analysis and opinion is one thing, and he’s a decent quotemeister, but concluding in advance that something isn’t legally criminal is quite another. He literally makes a declarative statement on a legal matter that a) isn’t adjudicated, and for which b) he’s not trained.”

    What? Are we supposed to conclude the opposite because the New York Times says so? Because of the mere fact that a special prosecutor has been appointed? I tend to think Cal Jillson has a lot more expertise on this issue – the blend of high level politics and law – than some Frontburner commenter, myself included. Unless, of course, the commenter is another prosecutor, which if true would introduce a whole new layer to the discussion.

    Not that it matters, but my own view is that this is a big nothing. Perry openly and publicly told everyone he would veto funding for the public integrity unit if this DWI DA didn’t resign. She didn’t resign, and he exercised his constitutional power to veto the funding. Maybe it was a bad idea, maybe it wasn’t, but there was no concealment. Yes it was dirty politics and deeply scummy. But guess what: all politicians are scum, every last one of them, including Rick Perry and this DA. This wasn’t Chris Christie instructing a flunky to tell some hapless mayor in private that she wouldn’t get hurricane relief funds if she didn’t provide an endorsement and then gaslighting her when she went to the media.

    Jackson’s pearl clutching commentary is even less informed than Jillson’s. Anyone who expresses surprise that a person under criminal investigation by a “pedrigeed” former Federal prosecutor hires a lawyer in this age of out of control prosecutors and lock-em-up hysterics like Nancy Grace is either a prosecutor himself or sleeping with one. Or just terribly naive.

    And let’s not get too frothy about the appointment of the special prosecutor or about his “pedigree”, as Jackson puts it. The special prosecutor was appointed only because the Travis County DA, who would normally handle such cases, couldn’t possibly handle this one with any appearance of, um, integrity.

  18. @Neal K, the biggest takeaway from your 830-word comment is that I lack pearls to clutch. Thanks a lot for zeroing in on a most embarrassing shortcoming. This bottle of Rio Blanco Pale Ale will have to do.

    You concede early on that “Maybe what Perry did was legal, maybe it wasn’t.” Jillson made no such concession. He judged and juried the matter in one sentence. That’s what jumped out at me.

    On things political, his scholarly thoughts have value, but his “expertise” on “the blend of high level politics and law” is 50% deficient by definition: He’s…not…a…lawyer.

    Neither am I, although I comment on legal matters (like anybody else at the corner bar). My thoughts, I like to think, are sound, brainy, and educated. I am not, however, a widely quoted “go to” expert. Jillson is, but only on politics. He should have couched his opinion on the legality of Perry’s action in appropriate language.

    You want the Travis County DA “dislodged” from office as a “criminal” due to a DWI. That’s your legitimate point of view, but it isn’t germane to what Jillson said. Once again: He flatly stated that Rick Perry’s action “was by no means criminal activity.”

    That ain’t Cal’s bailiwick as a “go to” expert.

  19. I don’t disagree about the NYT bit, but I don’t think it’s all that helpful to look at government bureaucracies as being comprised of a bunch of “lefties.” It’s a pretty centrist culture, center-right to center-left, so they don’t like the tea party and they very much don’t like the far left, either.

  20. I don’t concede that the tea party is extreme right – that is the perception that the NYT crowd is pushing. They want us to think Obama is a centrist.

  21. Mainstream American politics is like football: it’s played mainly between the 30 yard lines. McCain lost in ’08 (and Romney in ’12), because they chose to keep the ball deep in their own end of the field, conceding the middle turf to the other side. Thus, if you’re deeply conservative and stuck – by choice — at your own 10 yard line, a mainstreamer will naturally appear to be far, far away.

    The tea party is most certainly extreme right, and one doesn’t have to be part of “the NYT crowd” to know it. One might even be a Dallas native. Indeed, Obama walloped Romney in Dallas County, 58% to 42%. Romney himself wasn’t a Tea Partier, but the base of his party now is, especially in red southern states. It’s more than a mere problem in presidential years: The Democratic candidate has won the popular vote in five of the past six presidential elections, going back to Clinton in ’92. This isn’t a trend, it’s the new normal, and tea party-type thinking is why.