In a tongue-in-cheek letter to Travis County's Public Integrity Unit, a Houston lawyer for a conservative PAC has called for an investigation into Senator John Whitmire's "coercive" texts to UH President Renu Khator.
Jerad Wayne Najvar told the Press that the August 29 letter to Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg is meant to point out what he calls the unconstitutionality of the state statute used to indict Governor Rick Perry.
The letter cites Whitmire's contentious texts, first obtained by the Chron, against Khator over her proposal that would have required most freshmen to live on campus. The idea was withdrawn after Whitmire's (very) vocal criticism.
While we couldn't tell from the Chron's story, the "complaint" is not a genuine call for criminal action against Whitmire. (The letter was written on behalf of the Conservative Action Fund, a PAC fronted by an Alabama electrical engineer).
"Whitmire should no more be prosecuted under the statute than Perry," Najvar told the Press. "The statute is facially unconstitutional." He added that, "That letter is not... some clever lawyer's argument about extending the statute to cover what Whitmire did, the statute clearly covers exactly what he did, and it covers...just regular legislative bargaining."
Perry was indicted under an article in the Texas Penal Code barring coercion of a public servant. Najvar's letter states that "'coercion' is not limited, as one would naturally expect, to threats of unlawful or unethical action....So a public official in Texas apparently risks criminal prosecution simply by 'threat[ening]' to exercise his lawful authority to achieve a policy objective."
Whitmire told the Chron that the letter was "absolutely silly," adding that, "I haven't even given it a second thought. Obviously a group of lawyers have got too much time on their hands."
Yet that's precisely Najvar's point: the complaint is silly, because the complaint against Perry was silly. We're not saying we agree with Najvar, only that the letter makes a lot more sense as satire than as vitriolic neo-con outrage.
Najvar also told us in an email that "As Perry's lawyers point out, this statute was already declared unconstitutional in 1990 for the very reason that it was not limited to 'coercion' by threats of UNlawful action....That case also involved an official who, like Perry, threatened to withhold funding unless another public official fired the county auditor." (If you feel like crackin' the ol' law books today, that case is State V. Hanson).
Those texts, by the way, struck us more as "ass-chewing" than "coercion." Whitmire gave Khator such a text-tongue-lashing that, even though she ludicrously tried to pin some of the fallout on the media, we kinda felt bad for her.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
The senator told her that the plan was "just gonna run kids away from UH and start a firestorm. You need better advisors." He also texted that "I still believe your team needs to hear from a real person. And I am the real person. And I am very serious."
He also opined that the plan's mouthpiece -- Richard Walker, vice president for student affairs and enrollment services -- "needs a new position." OH SNAP.
And in case Khator missed the Senator's subtlety, Whitmire told her that "You have wasted a lot of my time on one of the dumbest ideas I have heard in gov in a long time. People at your [teams'] level should not have to learn. They should know and draw big salaries to know."
We're actually a little disappointed that this letter was not an actual call for Whitmire's head -- we'd love to see how his mug shot would compare to Perry's.