AUSTIN -- Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg's public admission to driving drunk has sparked outrage as well as sympathy.
After serving jail time and seeking alcohol treatment, Lehmberg has vowed to serve out the three years remaining in her elected term, despite calls from many to call it quits. In the months following her April arrest and the public release of hours of video footage of Lehmberg's night in the Travis County Jail, the district attorney has faced numerous lawsuits seeking to forcibly remove her from office.
KVUE's news partners at the Austin American-Statesman reported late June 10 that Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R-Texas) has now threatened to exercise a line item veto to eliminate state funding for the district attorney's Public Integrity Unit unless Lehmberg steps down -- an ultimatum several close sources confirmed to KVUE Tuesday.
Based in Travis County, the Public Integrity Unit is tasked with investigating allegations of wrongdoing by state agencies and public officials. Lehmberg, a Democrat, helped secure the 2010 conviction of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) on money laundering charges. More recently, the PIU under Lehmberg has been investigating how grants are awarded by the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT).
"I think he's trying to shut down some ongoing investigations. I think that's his real goal here," Progress Texas PAC director Glenn Smith said Tuesday. "There is a serious criminal investigation of CPRIT, the cancer agency, where funds were diverted from cancer research to Perry cronies."
Smith argues the threat to defund the PIU is more about politics than anything else, telling KVUE, "To do away with that is unconscionable, and it gives you a clue into Perry's character and how the law matters little to him."
"I hate to see it come to what people will view as a strong-arm tactic, and I don't really like seeing it politicized," Travis County resident Pam Farley told KVUE outside a court hearing Tuesday morning to address a number of removal lawsuits. "However I think it's important to keep in mind that regardless of how a person feels about Rick Perry, he happens to be doing the right thing here."
"It puts a psychological crunch on Ms. Lehmberg because these are people that work for her in the office in the Public Integrity Unit, that if the funding gets cut, they're going to lose their jobs," said Kerry O'Brien, one of several petitioners to call for Lehmberg's removal in court. "So she has to make a decision."
Without acknowledging whether such an ultimatum had been issued, Governor's Office spokesperson Rich Parsons responded in a statement, "The governor is going through the budget line by line, and specifically with regard to the Public Integrity Unit, the governor has deep concerns regarding the integrity of the PIU."
The governor has until Sunday to exercise a veto on the budget, so any such decision by Lehmberg would ostensibly have to be communicated before then. A replacement would be appointed by Perry to serve the remainder of her term.
While Lehmberg's campaign declined to comment Tuesday, close sources indicate the campaign is investigating the ultimatum's legal footing.