Fortenberry’s guilty verdict raises questions of a special election

Published: Mar. 25, 2022 at 6:13 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - After being convicted of lying to the FBI, Nebraska Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has some decisions to make about his political future: stay in the race for re-election, or resign.

Dr. Gregory Petrow, an associate professor of political science at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, said there are very few limitations in the constitution in terms of who can serve in Congress.

“As far as I know, it’s never happened in the history of Nebraska; and so it does bring a great degree of disrepute onto politics in this state,” Petrow said. “So convicted felons can serve in the Congress, people in jail can serve in the Congress. So it’s up to the Congress itself to kind of decide what will happen.”

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has decided what he thinks the 1st Congressional District congressman should do. In a statement released to 6 News, the governor gets right to the point, calling on Fortenberry to resign and focus on his family and other affairs.

Nebraska Secretary of State Robert Evnen told 6 News that if the Congressman resigns, there would a vacancy in the state’s 1st District, and the governor would then call a special election.

“That would require the governor to call a special election that would occur within 90 days of that vacancy,” Evnen said. “So within 90 days after such a resignation, we would have to have a special election.”

Evnen said it’s not likely that voters would have to vote in a special election in the upcoming May primary.

“It has to be held within 90 days,” he said. “It could be held earlier as long as it’s held within the 90-day period. But as a practical matter — it’s going to take a while. If there is such an occurrence, it would take a while for our counties in the 1st District to gear up to have an election.”

UNO Professor Petrow said Congress can decide how they want to proceed in the Fortenberry case, if he decides to stay in politics.

“There is an ethics committee in the Congress, in the House and the Senate, and they can take action,” Petrow said. “They can investigate this and they can take action.”

After he was indicted, Congressman Fortenberry was removed from his committees — and that is a rule of the GOP Caucus.

But with a felony conviction hanging over his head, Fortenberry would give his Republican primary opponents plenty of material for political ads if he decides to stay in the race.

“Given that (State) Sen. (Mike) Flood is running — he’s been endorsed by the governor, and the former governor — it’s going to be difficult for Fortenberry to be the Republican nominee in the next election. And if he is, it will be challenging, even though this is a very Republican district.”

If a special election is needed, it would be held only in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District. The winner of the special election would be seated in Congress until January of next year.

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