Dallas Morning News // Todd Gillman
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. – The last time Gov. Rick Perry visited Portsmouth, three years and a couple of days ago, he was riding high.
He’d shot to the top of the GOP field for the 2012 nomination and at Popovers on the Square, he was mobbed — by Republican activists eager for a peak at a rising star, and by Democratic protesters eager to confront and dust him up a bit.
This time around, he arrives under indictment. The popovers are still hot and decadent. But Perry isn’t risking a public spectacle. He’s heading to an invite-only business lunch for his first foray into the Granite State for the 2016 cycle.
Democrats may not view him as worth all that effort. Still, ahead of his arrival, they wanted to make sure the indictment remains on the radar.
Texas state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, called Perry a “master of disinformation,” on a conference call this morning with reporters. He accused Perry of trying to shrug off the charges against him as political payback for his veto of funding for the Public Integrity Unit, which polices state officials.
“Gov. Perry has been extremely disingenuous,” Burnam said, adding that the indictment isn’t about whether Perry had the authority as governor to cut the $7.5 million for the Travis County prosecutor’s office where the PIU is housed. Rather, he said, it was about “the blackmail – the threat. He could have and should have been sophisticated enough to handle his political without violating the law, but he wasn’t.”
For Perry to complain that the PIU has one-sidedly pursued Republican officeholders, Burnam said, is an attempt at misdirection.
“When you have one party rule for 20 years, most of the people who are going to be indicted for anything are going to be from that one party…. Russia has more diversity in its governmental representation than we do in Texas,” he said.
A New Hampshire state representative, Kathi Rogers, joined the call, hosted by the Democratic National Committee.
She denounced Perry for “courting the Koch brothers” – his second stop this afternoon is at an event hosted by the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity – and the state GOP for adding Perry to the list of “scandal-plagued bullies” it has embraced over the years.
Burnam conceded that Perry’s indictment will probably make him more popular with GOP activists, for a while.
“It takes these court proceedings time to play out,” he said, predicting that in three to six months, “he will be such damaged goods as to not be able to repair the damage.”
In fact, he said, issuing the indictment so far from the first 2016 nominating contests itself should dispel allegations that the special prosecutor, Michael McCrum, is pushing a political agenda. (McCrum was picked by a Republican judge, and had been recommended to serve as U.S. attorney by GOP Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, though he withdrew when the Senate failed to act on his nomination for a year.)
“If you were really thinking politically strategically, you wouldn’t destroy this candidate so early in this process,” Burnam said.
Michael Czin, the DNC press secretary, said it made sense for Republicans to rally behind Perry since the indictment.
“If being under investigation or in legal trouble was a disqualifying factor to run for president on the Republican side, they wouldn’t have much a field,” he said, citing Govs. Chris Christie of New Jersey and Scott Walker of Wisconsin. “This is a systemic problem for the Republican Party.”