Lubbock Republicans say the oath of office matters

Few will note last Thursday night as significant but it may prove to be a seminal moment for the Lubbock County Republican Party: the night it voted unanimously to initiate removal proceedings against an elected Republican constable.

Precinct 4 Constable C.J. Peterson was arrested in the early morning hours of May 6 for suspicion of Driving While Intoxicated while operating his personally owned vehicle; a suspicion turned scientific fact when Peterson’s blood alcohol test came back as .152, nearly twice the legal limit. This was not Peterson’s first arrest for DWI.

As an officeholder…we hold him to a higher standard.

Criticizing the opposing party is Partisanship 101; we do it in our sleep. But shining the light on our own is another matter … and all too rare.

Lubbock County Republican Chairman Steve Evans told Lubbock Lights that party legal counsel advises him Chapter 87 of the Local Government Code has been used only a handful of times to remove an elected official. The provision allows any county resident to file a petition in District Court to remove the constable. It is by no means automatic; the court will allow Constable Peterson due process.

This kind of move by a county executive committee may be unprecedented.

But it ought not be. It appears most, if not all, county officers may be removed for “incompetency,” “official misconduct,” or “intoxication on or off duty caused by drinking an alcoholic beverage.”

This action was not taken lightly. If there existed a favorite, it was C.J. Peterson. In the motley crew of Republican constables, Peterson was considered the best of the bunch. He is well-liked and has been a regular attendee to party activities. As a participant in the discussion and member of the executive committee, I was impressed with the spirit and empathy of the discussion.

Is there any law or statute preventing Commissioners from taking…the keys to Peterson’s patrol vehicle?

But this was not about who we like, or what party he’s in. It is about good government.

Peterson, and every Texas officeholder, swore, “I will faithfully execute the duties of the office of of the State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State, so help me God.”

The question is, does the oath of office matter? Last week the Lubbock County Republican Party answered “yes, it matters.”

All evidence suggests Peterson violated his oath of office. As a criminal defendant, he is deserving of every presumption of innocence the legal system affords any person accused of a crime. However as an officeholder who has forsworn himself, who has violated his oath of office, we hold him to a higher standard.

County commissioners ought to hold him to a higher standard also. There is no statutory authority for commissioners to discipline or remove a constable, but is there any law or statute preventing Commissioners from taking the gas card and the keys to Peterson’s patrol vehicle?

The ‘incompetency’ provision ought to put every constable on notice: the public is watching, and we have lawful recourse.

It was the Republican Party who castigated Travis County Democrat District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg for not resigning after her own 2013 DWI arrest. It was right to do so, but it was an ugly affair.

On the other hand, the party looks far better when taking on its own, particularly when it is an issue as fundamental as insisting law enforcement follow the law.

As party Chair Evans observed, “If we do not discipline ourselves someone else will do it for us. It sends a message we’re not the good ole boys club. We are willing to hold our officials accountable.”

It’s a novel concept; I like it. But why stop here? The “incompetency” provision ought to put every constable on notice: the public is watching and we have lawful recourse.

I’ll take “More Accountability” for $1,000, please.