Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Texans' only way to toss Perry out before the 2010 election would be impeachment."

Perry critic calls for ouster

August 23, 2007

The Longview News-Journal
Copyright 2007

Even though he didn't get a majority for re-election last year, Gov. Rick Perry's 39 percent was ahead of everybody else, so he's now in a term that lasts into 2011.

In the eyes of some of his detractors in the blogosphere, that's too long. Political activist Linda Curtis has started a Web site calling on legislators to impeach the governor in 2009.

That's a pretty rash idea. But since Texas doesn't allow for recall elections, like the one that nailed California Gov. Gray Davis in 2003, Texans' only way to toss Perry out before the 2010 election would be impeachment.

Curtis's top two (of 10) reasons for wanting to oust the governor are the imposition of toll roads during the Perry administration, including the possibility of condemning land, lots of land, for the Trans-Texas Corridor; and Perry's veto of $154 million for health insurance for community college staff members.

"We intend to take this campaign out across the state, to all political camps, and to neuter this administration," Curtis wrote. "Whether or not that leads to Perry's impeachment will be up to the legislature. Let's see if history does indeed repeat itself."

Perry spokesman Robert Black's only response to the impeachment talk was: "Free speech is a wonderful thing."

It's been 90 years since Texas had its first and last gubernatorial impeachment. That one bagged Gov. James E. Ferguson, primarily over a battle with the University of Texas.

Ferguson, in his second two-year term, wanted UT's board of regents to can some professors he found objectionable. The regents refused. So Ferguson vetoed almost the entire appropriation for the university.

To say that that irked the Legislature is an understatement.

After the Texas House of Representatives voted that he be tried for impeachment, the Texas Senate voted 25-3 — well above the required two-thirds of those present — to remove him from office and made him ineligible for any office of honor, trust or profit under the state of Texas.

Ferguson, however, resigned a day before his actual removal, and maintained it didn't apply to him since he'd already resigned. His successor was then-Lt. Gov. William P. Hobby Sr., whose son Bill later served a record 18 years as lieutenant governor.

Ferguson, known as "Pa," ran for governor again in 1918, but the elder Hobby beat him. Ferguson ran for the U.S. Senate in 1922, but lost. In 1924, he wanted to run for governor, but the Texas Supreme Court ruled that he couldn't take office if he won. So he ran his wife Miriam, known as "Ma," who won, becoming Texas' first woman governor.

(She wasn't the first woman elected statewide. That was Annie Webb Blanton, elected state superintendent of schools in 1918 — the first year Texas women had the right to vote in primary elections.)

"Ma" Ferguson lost a bid for re-election in 1926. She ran and lost in 1930, but won in 1932 — her last term. She ran again in 1940, but finished a distant fourth to W. Lee "Pappy" O'Daniel in the Democratic primary.

There was brief talk by Republican Gov. Bill Clements in 1987 of impeaching Democratic Texas Supreme Court Justices William Kilgarlin and C. L. Ray, for allegations of conflicts. That never got off the ground.

But ironically, later that same year, Democratic state Reps. Paul Moreno of El Paso and Al Edwards of Houston wanted to impeach Clements over the cover-up of a play-for-pay football scandal at Southern Methodist University while he was on its board of regents. That also went nowhere.

— Ferguson was one of nine governors impeached and removed from office in U.S. history. Two others were impeached but acquitted, including Huey Long of Louisiana in 1929.

— Califonia's Davis is one of only two governors removed by recall election. The first was North Dakota's Lynn Frazier in 1921, during an economic depression. He then was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1922, where he served until losing for re-election in 1940.

Eighteen states currently allow recall elections.

Dave McNeely is a veteran reporter on Texas politics. E-mail:

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