AUSTIN – Gov. Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor in Texas history, turned himself in amid the cheers of supporters at the Travis County Courthouse on Tuesday to face two felony counts of abuse of power.
He was not a contrite defendant.
"I believe in the rule of law," he told the crowd. "We will prevail.,"
Perry, Republican who is considering a run for president in 2016, has vehemently denounced the charges in televised press conferences and through his legal team. He is expected to make a statement Tuesday.
"Like a true Texan, he's being pushed and he's pushing back," said Mark P. Jones, political scientist at Rice University. "He's making a conscious decision not just to fight this head-on but to utilize the national attention for political gain."
It's the first time in nearly 100 years that a Texas governor has been indicted. The last one was Democrat James E. Ferguson, who was convicted and removed from office for vetoing funding for the University of Texas after objecting to some faculty members.
Perry's indictment stems from the drunken-driving arrest last year of Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who was captured on video berating officers following her arrest. She served jail time, underwent counseling and returned to her post.
When she refused Perry's call to resign, the Republican governor vetoed $7.5 million in state funding for the public integrity unit overseen by Lehmberg, a Democrat. A grand jury found sufficient evidence to put Perry on trial on charges that his veto overstepped his legal authority.
The two felony charges carry prison sentences of up to more than 100 years, if convicted.
Perry and his legal team say the charges are political motivated. They say he legally used his veto to withhold funds from someone unfit for office. Democratic leaders in Texas have called for his resignation, but people around the country have backed him. A rally of pro-Perry supporters was planned for outside the courthouse.
Barring a major flub, that support should continue, said Ross Ramsey, executive director of the Texas Tribune, an online political news site.
"It's not like they're walking him around in handcuffs and an orange suit," he said. "This isn't something that changes the story as it's been developing the past few days."
Perry, who has been governor for 14 years, has worked hard to resurrect his national image after an embarrassing end to his 2012 presidential run, when he lost his train of thought during a televised debate in the Republican primaries.
How the national scrutiny of this latest legal wrangling affects his 2016 chances remains to be seen. News of his indictment was met with tepid response from most Texans. The indictment may actually endear him to Republican voters, who could see the charges against him as political, Ross said.
"Perry's completely killing them in the public fight," he said. "His story is the story being told right now."