By Tom Benning

Texas' highest criminal court on Wednesday dismissed the remaining felony charge against former Gov. Rick Perry in the abuse-of-power case that he blamed for his early exit from the Republican presidential race.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals tossed a charge of misuse of office that stemmed from Perry's 2013 effort to force out the Travis County district attorney. And it upheld the decision of a lower court to dismiss a charge of coercion of a public official.

The 6-2 decision appears to mark the end of Perry's 18-month legal saga -- one that outlasted the end of his record-setting 14-year tenure as governor and his short-lived second bid for the White House.

Perry had already signaled that resolution in the case would be, in some ways, too little, too late. He said in September that the indictment -- which he blamed on the "drunk DA" -- had a "corrosive" effect on his presidential campaign's fundraising.

"The political opponents, they did their damage," he said.

The case centered on Perry's threat in 2013 to veto $7.5 million budgeted for the Travis County district attorney's office if District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, a Democrat, didn't resign after her drunken driving arrest.

The funds were earmarked for the office's public integrity unit, which investigates and prosecutes public corruption cases. The office, based in the Democratic stronghold of Travis County, has been criticized by Republicans as being partisan in its pursuits.

Lehmberg didn't resign. Perry vetoed the money. He was indicted in 2014.

The case has churned forward since then, culminating in arguments last November before the court. There, Perry's attorneys clashed with the state prosecuting attorney over complex constitutional questions involving the First Amendment and gubernatorial powers.

On Wednesday, Perry foes were quick to bash the ruling. Glenn Smith of the liberal Progress Texas PAC said that the appeals court "tossed out decades of precedent to grant a special privilege to Rick Perry."

"It's a black day for the law in Texas," he said.

(c)2016 The Dallas Morning News