Political figures react to U.S. Rep. Fortenberry's guilty verdict; Ricketts encourages him to resign

'The people of Nebraska’s First Congressional District deserve active, certain representation'
Posted at 12:42 PM, Mar 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-25 19:33:31-04

UPDATE 6:00 p.m.

The repercussions came fast from Lincoln on Friday for nine-term Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, who was convicted Thursday of three felonies.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts said the First District, which includes much of Sarpy County, "deserves an active and certain representation" and Fortenberry “should do the right thing.”

Ricketts was not alone in his calls to resign.

The congressman was convicted in federal court of two counts of lying to the FBI and one count of concealing campaign donations.

The case stems from illegal campaign funds given to him by a foreign national several years ago, through straw donors. Fortenberry was later told the donations were illegal, but lied to the FBI in multiple interviews about it.

While Fortenberry said he’ll appeal, on Friday leaders of the House of Representatives said he still needs to quit.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement his conviction ”represents a breach in public trust and confidence in his ability to serve.”

House of Representatives Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, also a Republican, still had to call Fortenberry this morning but said he should resign.

“I think he had his day in court and if he wants to appeal he can go do that as a private citizen, but I think out of respect, you can let me talk to him today, but I think when someone is convicted it’s time to resign,” said McCarthy.

Creighton University Political Science Professor Richard Witmer says if Fortenberry stays in office, he will likely be ineffective, while also saying it would be nearly impossible to win re-election.

“I mean, this was a conviction about fundraising. Who’s going to want to give to a congressman who’s been convicted of a felony money for his race? So it’s going to be hard to raise money,” said Witmer.

If Fortenberry does step down by August, there would be a special election for the First Congressional District that now includes much of Papillion, Bellevue and La Vista. Assistant Secretary of State Cindi Allen said the governor would call an election within 90 days of the resignation.

While it has been very rare in Nebraska, it happens routinely across the country.

“We haven’t seen it in Nebraska but it’s not all that uncommon,” said Witmer.

If he steps down and a special election is called, both the Democrat and Republican parties can choose one candidate who can fill the end of the term, but there still would be a primary election in May and the general election in November — as scheduled — for voters to pick the candidate for the next two years.

As for who may take over, the seat has been in GOP hands since the 1960s, leaving State Sen. Mike Flood as the favorite.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks is the top contender for the Democratic nomination and she said Friday that Fortenberry's conviction made her sad.

“I’m sure that we’re going to be the brunt of some jokes about the fact that we’ve elected this person, who has been federally charged and found guilty and I think it, unfortunately, at times can rub off on our district and our state," Pansing Brooks said.

House ethics rules do not allow members of Congress to vote if they’ve been convicted of a felony until the voters re-elect them. Recently two Republican Congressmen — Duncan Hunter and Chris Collins — were forced to step down for similar reasons that Fortenberry is about to encounter.

Fellow U.S. Congressman representing Nebraska, Don Bacon, declined to make a statement in order to "give Congressman Fortenberry some time to make some tough decisions.”

Fortenberry faces up to five years in prison for each count. His sentencing date is scheduled for June 28.

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