Break the law while serving in office, and an elected state official can be impeached and removed.
Break the law in the campaign to get elected, however, and the official can stay put.
That is a flaw in the Nebraska Constitution that needs fixing.
Approval of Proposed Amendment 1 on the November ballot would close this loophole, and the proposal deserves support.
The proposed amendment responds to a thorny issue that emerged when former University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert was investigated for falsifying campaign finance reports.
Hergert, a Mitchell businessman, was alleged to have committed violations as a candidate in 2004. But he was impeached, convicted and removed from office only because he signed a false report after taking the oath of office as a regent in January 2005.
Had he filed the false report before taking office, impeachment could not have been pursued, says State Sen. Bill Avery, who sponsored the proposed constitutional amendment.
Concerns about that shortcoming in the law were raised during the Legislature’s impeachment debate in 2006. Lawmakers this year voted 45-0 to put the amendment before voters.
The Nebraska Constitution currently says that state officials are subject to impeachment for “any misdemeanor in office.” If voters agree, the Legislature also would be able to impeach state officeholders if they committed “any misdemeanor in pursuit of such office.”
During legislative debate, Avery said the Nebraska Supreme Court has made it clear that the word “misdemeanor” in the context of impeachment doesn’t refer to traffic tickets or other minor infractions. Rather, he said, it means “acts that by their nature or consequence are subversive of some fundamental or essential principle of government or highly prejudicial to the public interest.”
Impeachment powers have not been abused in Nebraska. Hergert was only the second person — after the state’s first governor, David Butler, in 1871 — to be removed from office after being impeached.
Still, the Legislature should be able to pursue impeachment of a state officeholder who violated the law to get elected.
Proposed Amendment 1 would solve this problem. A vote FOR is recommended.