The CNMI Legislature is about to file impeachment charges against Gov. Benigno Fitial. The House of Representatives, after intensive investigation, is ready to present its case for impeachment based on 18 charges. The case will then be sent to the Senate who will conduct a trial and decide whether or not our governor should be impeached. The governor can be impeached on just one of the 18 charges. It is a very serious situation the CNMI finds itself in. Let’s review the act of impeachment as it has been applied to other governors in the United States.
In the United States, impeachment is an expressed power of the legislature that allows for formal charges against an elected official of government. Even presidents often had to face impeachment charges. The impeachment charges are for crimes committed in office. The actual trial on those charges, and subsequent removal of an official on conviction on those charges, is separate from the act of impeachment itself. Typically, the lower house of the legislature will impeach the official and the upper house will conduct the trial.
In the entire history of the United States, there have been eight U.S. governors impeached and removed from office:
1) The most recent case of impeachment was Jan. 14, 2009. Rod Blagojevich was removed as governor of Illinois on Jan. 29, 2009, and declared ineligible to hold public office in Illinois. Senators voted 59 to 0 to remove Rod Blagojevich. One of the more serious charges of corruption was that of trying to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by now President Barack Obama. For a long period of time many elected official had long pondered impeaching Gov. Rod Blagojevich whom they assailed as arrogant and untrustworthy.
2) In 1988, the Arizona State House voted (46-14) and the Senate (21-9) impeached Gov. Evan Mecham after a state grand jury convicted him of six felony charges of fraud, perjury, and filing false documents. He served 15 months as governor.
3) In 1928, Henry S. Johnson, seventh governor of Oklahoma, was impeached but did not convict him. He was impeached again in 1929, (11 charges) and convicted of one charge—general incompetency.
4) Then in 1923, again the Oklahoma House of Representatives charged John C. Walton, the state’s fifth governor, with 22 counts which included misappropriating public funds. Eleven were sustained. When an Oklahoma City grand jury prepared to investigate the governor’s office, Walton put the entire state under martial law on Sept. 15, 1923, with “absolute martial law” applicable to the capital.
5) James E. Ferguson, governor of Texas, had been elected a second term in 1916, with the support of the prohibitionist. In his second term he became embroiled in a dispute with the University of Texas. In 1917, a Travis County grand jury indicted him on nine charges; one charge was embezzlement. The Texas Senate, acting as court of impeachment, convicted (25-3) Ferguson on 10 charges. Although Ferguson resigned before being convicted, the court of impeachment’s judgment was sustained, preventing Ferguson from holding public office in Texas.
6) In 1913, the New York Senate convicted William Sulzer, governor of New York, of three charges of misappropriation of funds. This was the Tammany Hall era of New York politics. Tammany politicians, in the legislative majority, led the charge of diverting campaign contributions. Nevertheless, he was elected to the New York Assembly a few weeks later and later declined the American Party’s nomination for President of the United States.
7) All the way back to 1871, David Butler was the first governor of Nebraska. He was removed on 11 counts of misappropriating funds that were targeted for education. He was found guilty of one count. In 1882, he was elected to the state Senate after the record of his impeachment was expunged.
8) Our earliest candidate for impeachment was in 1871, William W. Holden, governor of North Carolina. Holden was the most controversial state figure during the Reconstruction. He was instrumental in organizing the Republican Party in the state. Frederick W. Strudwick, a former Klan leader, introduced the resolution calling for Holden’s impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors in 1890. The House approved eight articles of impeachment. After a partisan trial, the North Carolina Senate fond him guilty on six charges.
Other governors have been removed, though not through impeachment. In 1871 William Woods Holden, governor of North Carolina, was removed. Then in 1872 Henry C. Warmoth, governor of Louisiana, was suspended from office, though a trial was not held. In 1879 Adelbert Ames, governor of Mississippi, resigned.
In addition, two U.S. presidents have been impeached by the House of Representatives but were acquitted at the trials held by the Senate. They were Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. U.S. President Richard Nixon resigned before the full House of Representatives could vote on any articles. Since the entire House did not vote, Nixon was never impeached.
There they are. However, there are quite a few of other appointed men other than governors who have been removed from office for various forms of misconduct. These men were men whom the people trusted, and then they turned that trust into selfish motives. How sad to have to live the remainder of one’s life in shame and disgrace.
I know that the House has been doing a thorough investigation. Now it will send its results to the Senate where a trial will be held. Governor Fitial can be removed from office if six of nine senators so decide on even one of the 18 charges.
Having known the governor for many years on a personal basis, I have my own opinions, which I shall keep to myself. But I have witnessed a negative change come over him during the years, which has finally brought him to the edge of being forced out of office.
I leave it up to the Senate to make the final decision. Whatever decision will be made will affect our immediate future. We need to become a united community again with trust in our elected officials. Washington is watching us closely as is the whole United States and territories.
In reading the history of various leaders, both elected and installed through force, one common ground seems to run through all of them. All of them started with good intentions. But as their tenure in office continued, a change began to take place. As they began to feel the power and respect or fear they wielded, they began to become arrogant and dictatorial. Soon they began to feel beyond reproach. Anything they wished to do they tried until the people rose up and threw them out. Greed, self-pride, and arrogance became their downfall.
As I have repeatedly written in various columns, I firmly believe that our beloved CNMI has great potentials for prosperity. But it will take a leader who truly and sincerely loves us. His leadership must motivate us to great heights.
Let us recall what we are today and look back at the positive influences in our lives. I know if my parents hadn’t encouraged me to strive and do something positive with my life, I may have become a burden to my society. I also attribute my status in life to several school teachers and several men who always inspired me. Isn’t that true in your lives also?
I pray that our elected leaders will make the right decision in the next few weeks. I also pray that after this matter is settled, we will go back to improving our lives and be motivated by an inspired leader. Let us continue our interest in this historical decision so that we will not make the same mistake again. Have a great week!