LINCOLN — Sen. Bill Kintner exited the Nebraska Legislature in the same passionate style as he served the past four years, lauding his supporters and lamenting that his resignation could be celebrated by opponents as a victory for “the progressive liberal movement.”
After an avalanche of criticism, an embattled and emotional Kintner stepped down ahead of an expected Wednesday vote by the Legislature to expel him.
Earlier, some state senators worried that the controversy would logjam the Legislature and prevent senators from doing the state’s business. But with Kintner gone, state lawmakers Wednesday moved on to other matters, including a debate about the legislative rules.
Three Republicans on Wednesday evening said they will apply to replace Kintner as the state senator representing District 2, which includes Cass County and parts of Sarpy and Otoe Counties.
They are: Russ Zeeb of Papillion, a retired Sarpy County sheriff’s deputy; Janet McCartney of Plattsmouth, a Cass County board member; and Ron Nolte of rural Murray, a former Cass County Board member.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, who had called for Kintner to leave office as recently as this week, will appoint Kintner’s successor, who will serve until January 2019.
Kintner’s resignation is effective Monday.
“As much as my heart says to fight, my head says it is time to step away from the Legislature,” the 56-year-old senator said during a press conference he called. Kintner could run for public office again.
Still, the conservative Republican added that he hesitated to make the decision.
“I know my resignation will be hailed as a victory to the progressive liberal movement,” he said. “But this is not about justice or doing what’s right. This is the old adage that might makes right. You have the votes, you can do what you want.”
Kintner admitted last year to using a state laptop to engage in cybersex with a woman he met online. But pressure mounted during legislative floor debate Tuesday after he retweeted a Twitter post involving three Women’s March participants that appeared to make light of sexual assault.
During the Wednesday press conference, Kintner did not apologize for the recent retweet.
He quoted Scripture, several times thanked his voters, staff and family, and paraphrased former President Richard Nixon, who also resigned from office.
“You won’t have Bill Kintner to kick around anymore,” he said in closing, straying from his prepared remarks and paraphrasing Nixon after he lost the 1962 California gubernatorial election. Nixon went on to be elected president in 1968.
Ricketts, in a statement, commended Kintner for doing “the right thing.” The governor will take applications for the seat until Tuesday. Applicants must be registered voters at least age 21 who have lived in the district for a year.
Former State Sen. Dave Pankonin, who represented District 2 from 2007 to 2011, thanked Kintner for his decision. Pankonin is a member of the Cass County Republican Party, which in December passed a resolution asking for Kintner’s immediate resignation.
He said he was still processing the news and didn’t have a comment on whether he might apply.
“I think people are relieved, but also thankful that Bill Kintner came to this decision,” he said.
Nora Sandine, chair of the Sarpy County Republican Party, said that Kintner has been a solid conservative voice for the district and that the party wishes him the best.
“We’re certainly disappointed things have turned out the way they have for Sen. Kintner,” she said. “It’s unfortunate. It was an unfortunate situation that he found himself in.”
Sandine said the party will put its support behind someone and encourage Ricketts to nominate that person.
“The governor will pick someone who I’m sure we’ll be pleased with,” she said.
All three who said Wednesday that they will apply for Kintner’s seat cited their experience and said they would work to get representation for the district back on track.
“I’m a very big people person,” said Zeeb, 63, a former member of the Papillion City Council. “I love listening to people, helping people and doing what it takes. That’s what I’ll do if I’m appointed.”
McCartney, who is retired from the computer programming field, said she had intended to run for the seat when Kintner was up for re-election in 2018.
“I feel there’s a lot from my past experience that helps me understand what our constituents want and need,” said McCartney, 68.
Nolte, a 71-year-old farmer and pilot, ran against Kintner for the legislative seat in 2012 and 2014.
“I can bring a lot of leadership” to the position, he said.
Meanwhile, the Nebraska Democratic Party in a statement hailed Kintner’s resignation as a victory for the Women’s March movement that took place across the nation during President Donald Trump’s inauguration weekend.
“The Women’s March just took down their first politician,” declared Jane Kleeb, the party chair.
Speaker of the Legislature Jim Scheer had planned to introduce the motion to expel Kintner and believed he had the required 33 votes to adopt it. Kintner’s removal would have been unprecedented in the 80-year history of the unicameral Legislature.
But Scheer said Kintner delivered his letter of resignation Wednesday morning after the two had “a very candid conversation” the night before.
Scheer and Perry Gauthier, a State Capitol minister who first heard Kintner’s confession about the cybersex incident, stood alongside Kintner at his press conference.
“I appreciate Bill stepping down and removing himself from the body,” Scheer said afterward, adding that his action probably took more courage than staying and fighting. “He did the body a favor. He did the state a favor.”
Although Kintner’s resignation does not become official until 12:01 a.m. Monday, he will no longer participate in legislative activities, Scheer said.
Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse, chair of the Executive Board who had called for Kintner’s resignation, said he attended the press conference to offer support to a colleague and friend he has known for four years.
“Hopefully he’s at peace,” he said.
Kintner, who after the cybersex incident had said God wanted him to stay in office, again on Wednesday invoked a higher power.
“Make no mistake, God put me in this seat,” he said. “It wasn’t because I was some brilliant guy.”
Kintner choked up while praising his wife, calling her his “Proverbs 31 wife,” referring to a Bible passage about women of noble character.
Kintner is married to Lauren Kintner, who leads Ricketts’ policy research office. She didn’t attend Wednesday’s press conference.
“My wife is one of the finest people I will ever know in my lifetime,” he said. “This amazing woman has been my champion, my guiding light and the love of my life.”
Kintner faced intense criticism from Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who for months distributed poems and drawings criticizing Kintner.
Chambers has said the $1,000 fine Kintner negotiated for misuse of state-issued property wasn’t a severe enough penalty.
In the 2015 cybersex incident, which didn’t come to light for nearly a year, Kintner mutually masturbated online with a woman who was not his wife.
“This entire matter, from the time it was first revealed in 2016 until today, was a tiresome, unnecessary, lengthy process,” Chambers said Wednesday. “But now it has finally come to an appropriate end. There really isn’t much to be said.”
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist, the former Executive Board chair who had repeatedly called for Kintner’s resignation, said he was in some ways happy about the senator’s decision, but in other ways still troubled.
“The thing that’s still amazing to me is that he blames his liberal opponents,” Krist said. “Once again, he blames someone else for his actions. This is not liberal or conservative, right wing or left wing, or Republican or Democratic. These are Nebraska values, and this is Nebraska speaking.”
North Platte Sen. Mike Groene, who had supported Kintner until the retweeting controversy, said he urged his colleague Tuesday to step down.
He said he was relieved that Kintner’s resignation had prevented a vote on expulsion but was sorry to lose a strong conservative voice in the Legislature.
“I hope the jackals are satisfied,” he said.
Both Groene and Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete said they thought there were more than 40 votes to remove Kintner.
“I feel badly for him, but by the same token, it was time for us to move on and we were not going to get past this,” Ebke said.
Kintner was elected to the Legislature in 2012 after defeating Republican incumbent Paul Lambert, who was appointed by then-Gov. Dave Heineman following Pankonin’s resignation. Kintner was re-elected in 2014.
Kintner, who according to his official biography works as a market research sales professional, ran on promises to hold down spending, reduce taxes and fight for personal liberties.
His time in the Legislature was marked by a number of controversial statements, including his May 2015 use of the word “wetback” while referring to a 1950s crackdown on illegal immigrants called “Operation Wetback,” and remarks in January 2014 that women, not men, can live a “pretty good life” by making mistakes such as having more children.
Last year, Kintner used a newspaper column to compare state lawmakers to monkeys and twice called the State Capitol a “den of thieves” after the cybersex scandal.
This year, he introduced six bills, including one that would require the websites of abortion clinics to provide a link to information provided by the state about fetal development, ultrasound videos and alternatives to abortion.
The bills could remain under consideration should other lawmakers sign on as co-sponsors.
Kintner’s resignation also opens up a spot on the Legislature’s nine-member, budget-crafting Appropriations Committee.
World-Herald writer Joe Duggan contributed to this report.