Ricketts, House GOP leader, Speaker call on Fortenberry to resign
LOS ANGELES — Gov. Pete Ricketts, the Republican leader in the U.S. House and the House Speaker called Friday for U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry to resign, following his conviction for lying to federal investigators and trying to conceal illegal campaign donations.
“I hope Jeff Fortenberry will do the right thing and resign so his constituents have that certainty while he focuses on his family and other affairs,” Ricketts told the Nebraska Examiner in a statement Friday morning.
“I think when someone is convicted, it’s time to resign,” U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the GOP leader in the House, told Punchbowl News.
“Congressman Fortenberry’s conviction represents a breach of the public trust and confidence in his ability to serve,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Congressman Fortenberry must resign from the House.”
A jury of eight women and four men in California took just over two hours to render guilty verdicts on three felony charges faced by the 61-year-old Republican.
Fortenberry, who has represented Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District since 2005, faces up to five years in prison on each of the counts.
U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld set June 28 for sentencing.
A Fortenberry campaign spokesman, Chad Kolton, issued the following statement just before noon.
“He’s spending time with his family right now. That’s what’s most important today,” Kolton said.
Just after the verdicts, Fortenberry said he would be appealing the convictions and would be assessing the future of his re-election campaign.
In his statement, Ricketts — who has endorsed the congressman’s GOP primary opponent, Mike Flood — said Fortenberry could pursue the appeal as a private citizen.
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 1st District, said Fortenberry’s conviction was a “wake-up call” and a “sad day” for the state. But she called for new leadership, not Fortenberry’s resignation Friday morning.
“It is clear that his ability to effectively represent the citizens of this congressional district has been irreparably damaged,” Pansing Brooks said.
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and Reps. Don Bacon and Adrian Smith, both R-Neb., said they want to give Fortenberry time to make his own decision, with his family. Fischer said he “needs the time to do so.”
A Fortenberry resignation could present a confusing way forward to fill the vacancy.
Under state law, 32-564, if Fortenberry resigns before Aug. 1, the governor is required to call a special election within 90 days of a congressional vacancy.
Under federal law, if Fortenberry resigns, a special election could be required to fill the vacancy sooner, within 49 days of the vacancy being announced in Congress. But that only occurs under “extraordinary circumstances,” which generally occur when there are more than 100 vacancies in the House.
Because ballots by mail have been printed and are already bound for military members and others overseas, no special election could be held in time to happen at the same time as the May 10 primary.
It also means that Nebraska is past the deadline when Fortenberry’s name can be pulled from the ballot for the May primary.
House vacancies cannot be filled by appointment. Political parties would nominate candidates for the special election.
Flood, a Norfolk media executive, has challenged Fortenberry for the GOP nomination in the spring primary. That vote will be held on May 10, which is 46 days away.
Under rules of the U.S. House of Representatives, a member is not disqualified from serving if convicted of a felony.
Fortenberry had already surrendured his ability to vote in committees, per internal party rules when a congressional representative is indicted for a felony. However, upon a conviction of a crime for which the punishment may be two or more years’ imprisonment, that ban extends to also voting on the floor of the House, as well as in the committee.