Why didn’t Lehmberg resign?
In a word, politics. Lehmberg is a Democrat, and if she stepped down, Rick Perry would be the one to appoint a replacement. Moreover, the Travis County DA—as the prosecutor in the state’s capital—has special responsibilities over a variety of statewide legal issues. Foremost among these powers is the DA’s control of the Public Integrity Unit, which investigates the ethical breaches of state politicians, among a number of other charges.
The Public Integrity Unit might be the most important office in state government run by a Democrat. Gov. Perry has been in office for 14 years—every nook and cranny of state government is filled with his appointees. The Public Integrity Unit is the rare piece that he doesn’t control. In 2005, the work of the Public Integrity Unit led to the indictment of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. So naturally, for years, Republicans in the state have tried to strip that power from the Travis County DA and fold it into Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office.
What’s more, the Public Integrity Unit was in the process of conducting an investigation of the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT received a ton of money from the Legislature to award grants to high-level medical research projects. The problem: a lot of that money was going to people who shouldn’t have gotten it. And some of those folks had close ties to Perry. Just a few months ago, Lehmberg’s office indicted CPRIT’s former director over his allegedly improper disbursement of an $11 million grant. But when Lehmberg got pulled over with the potato juice in her car last spring, the investigation was just underway.
When Lehmberg’s DWI went public, Republicans saw a way to get rid of a pesky, entrenched foe. (Though they couched this in terms of their deep, abiding concern for the office’s integrity.) Meanwhile, Democrats who would have happily seen Lehmberg canned if the Travis County Commissioners Court could have appointed her replacement rallied around Lehmberg as if she was the last warrior for righteousness on Earth.