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Republican Simpson Defends Vote on Public Integrity Unit

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, one of several Republicans under attack for voting against moving the Public Integrity Unit from the Travis County district attorney's office to the attorney general's office, insists that was a good vote.

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State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, is one of several Republicans under attack for voting against moving the Public Integrity Unit — which prosecutes state corruption, tax and other cases — to the attorney general's office from the Travis County district attorney's office. In spite of Gov. Rick Perry's indictments last week and the wave of conservative outrage against the county's district attorney, Simpson, in an editorial sent to several publications, says he stands by his vote. 

Here's his piece:

Since Governor Perry’s indictment by a Travis County grand jury, I have received inquiries as to why I voted against an amendment that was intended to move the Public Integrity Unit (PIU) from the Travis County District Attorney’s office to the Office of Attorney General. When I was first elected to the Legislature, I was advised to do the right thing and then explain it. Here is the explanation:

During the 83rd Legislature the District Attorney for Travis County was arrested for drunk driving and exhibited reprehensible behavior. In many cultures the public shame of such actions would result in an official’s voluntary resignation. There is however, no mechanism for the legislature to force the resignation of a locally elected official who has lost the public’s trust. That did not stop members of the legislature from trying.

Senate Bill 219, a bill which dealt with the Texas Ethics Commission and was vetoed by the Governor, presented the opportunity for a political statement through an amendment to “transfer the duties and responsibilities of the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney’s office to the office of the attorney general.”

The problem with the amendment was that the PIU is merely an organizational division within the office of the District Attorney. Travis County like the other 253 counties in the State, derive their authority to prosecute criminal violations from the Texas Constitution. The Attorney General has no such authority and the amendment would not have conferred it to him. Only a constitutional amendment can do so.

As written, the amendment would have charged the Texas Ethics Commission (currently accused of abusing its authority) with creating a plan to move the duties and responsibilities of the PIU from Travis County to the office of attorney general. It would have required implementation of the plan to be carried out in a matter of months without further statutory authority, thereby circumventing both the Texas Constitution and statutes. In other words, the amendment required the Commission to do what it has no authority to do. I voted against the measure because: (1) it was unconstitutional and (2) fraught with unintended consequences.

It perplexes me that the same people who are decrying the actions of the Ethics Commission are also questioning the votes of members who opposed granting the Commission an unconstitutional task.

Beyond my vote on the amendment, although I believe the Governor’s public threats were imprudent, they alone do not appear to be a crime. He was threatening a legal and constitutional action, if the District Attorney did not take a legal action—resignation. If this is ruled a crime, it will certainly dampen political debate among lawmakers. And while I do think that Governor Perry was completely within his authority to veto the funding, I believe the situation could have been handled differently.

The indictment of Governor Perry may appear to be vindictive and politically motivated based merely on public statements. If there is no more evidence than what is public, the indictment seems to me to be a misuse of the justice system for political purposes—much like the intent of the politically charged and unconstitutional amendment.

“[N]either the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt.” — Samuel Adams, Essay in The Public Advertiser, 1749

For Texas and Liberty,

David Simpson

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