January 13, 2004
IMPEACHMENT IN OTHER STATES
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked for a description of cases in other states in which a governor has been impeached. You were specifically interested in the sequence of events in cases in which the governor was also being investigated for possible criminal activities.
We found more than 20 cases in which governors have been impeached; in eight of these cases the governor was removed from office. All but one of the impeachments took place more than 70 years ago, and we were unable to determine in most cases whether the governors were subject to criminal as well as impeachment proceedings. In most cases in which we were able to determine the grounds for impeachment, the charges included non-criminal allegations, such as abuse of power, as well as allegations of criminal behavior.
We found four impeachment cases in which we were able to readily determine the sequence of events, three of which involved criminal as well as impeachment proceedings. In the most recent (1988) case, Evan Mecham of Arizona faced impeachment and criminal proceedings simultaneously. At the same time he was also scheduled to face a recall election. Mecham was impeached and removed from office for concealing a large campaign contribution, misusing state funds, and obstructing justice. He was subsequently found not guilty of similar charges in a criminal trial, in which a higher standard of proof applied.
In 1923, John Walton was impeached and removed from office as governor of Oklahoma after a grand jury had begun an investigation. In 1917, James Ferguson was impeached and removed from office as governor of Texas while under indictment. It appears that neither governor was brought to trial. In 1913, William Sulzer was impeached and removed from office as governor of New York. It appears that there were no criminal proceedings in this case.
In addition to these actual impeachments, there have been several cases in which legislators have threatened to impeach a governor for criminality or other alleged offenses and the governor subsequently resigned. The most recent of these occurred in Arkansas in 1996. In May 1996, Governor Jim Guy Tucker was convicted of two federal felony charges in connection with the “Whitewater affair.” Shortly after the verdict was announced, he stated that he would resign his office on July 15, 1996 to provide for an orderly transition of office. He subsequently changed his mind upon learning of grounds that could have led to the verdict being set aside. The lieutenant governor and legislative leaders called for Tucker's impeachment, and he in fact resigned on July 15, 1996.
EVAN MECHAM (ARIZONA 1988)
Evan Mecham was elected governor of Arizona in 1986, after four previously unsuccessful attempts. In April 1987, he filed his personal financial disclosure statement. The statement, which was made under oath, did not identify a $350,000 loan from an attorney who was being investigated by the attorney general for an alleged arbitrage scam. In the fall of 1987, the attorney general launched a grand jury probe that resulted in the governor's indictment for failing to disclose the contribution.
On February 8, 1988, the House voted three articles of impeachment following an investigation. It alleged that Mecham had obstructed justice, filed false sworn statements related to official filings made while in office, and misused state funds. In making its decision, the House adopted a preponderance of evidence standard, the standard of proof generally applied in civil courts. However, when the case was tried before the Senate, the standard of proof was elevated to “clear and convincing evidence,” which is higher than preponderance of the evidence but lower than the criminal standard of proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” In April, the Senate found Mecham guilty of obstructing justice and misusing state funds and removed him from office.
On June 16, 1988, Mecham was found not guilty of the criminal charges, which were almost identical to the impeachment charges.
JOHN WALTON (OKLAHOMA 1923)
John Walton was elected governor of Oklahoma in 1922. Early in his term, he placed Okmulgee and Tulsa counties under martial law in response to activities of the Ku Klux Klan, suspending habeas corpus in Tulsa. When an Oklahoma City grand jury prepared to investigate the governor's office, Walton put the entire state under martial law on September 15, 1923 with “absolute martial law” applicable to Tulsa. Legislative leaders responded with a call for special impeachment session, which was authorized on October 2. In an attempt to override the legislature Walton called a special session on October 11 to enact measures against the Klan.
The legislature refused the governor's request and recessed until October 17 when they met in reply to the call of the speaker of the House. On October 23, the House adopted 22 charges against Walton and voted for impeachment. Walton was suspended and the lieutenant governor became acting governor. The Senate then conducted a trial, with the chief justice of the state Supreme Court presiding. Eleven charges were sustained, including illegal collecting campaign funds, padding the public payroll, unconstitutionally suspending habeas corpus, excessive use of the pardon power, and general incompetence. On November 19, 1923 Walton was convicted by the Senate and removed from office.
The above information is taken from a biography prepared by the Oklahoma Department of Libraries, which is available online at http://www.odl.state.ok.us/oar/governors/bios/walton.pdf.
JAMES FERGUSON (TEXAS 1917)
James Ferguson was elected governor of Texas in 1914 and reelected in 1916. During the 1916 campaign, the Ferguson administration was accused of a number of irregularities. Preliminary investigations by the legislature failed to uncover any charge that would merit impeachment, and the incident seemed closed. However, Ferguson became involved in a controversy regarding funding for the University of Texas, which revived the old charges and several new charges were made.
In July 1917, Ferguson was indicted on nine charges. Seven of the charges related to misapplication of public funds, one to embezzlement, and one to the diversion of a special fund. Ferguson made bond of $13,000 and announced his candidacy for a third term as governor.
The speaker of the House subsequently called a special session to consider charges of impeachment against the governor. The call was of doubtful legality as the state constitution only provided for the governor to call special sessions, but Ferguson removed all question by calling the legislature to meet for the purpose of making appropriations for the university. The House conducted a lengthy investigation and prepared 21 articles of impeachment. The Senate spent three weeks considering the charges and finally convicted the governor on ten of them. Nine of these articles involved criminal activities, including the misapplication of public funds. The tenth charge was that Ferguson refused to reveal the source of a $156,500 payment in currency. The Senate also barred Ferguson from serving in political office in the future.
One day before the Senate vote, Ferguson resigned from office and argued that the decision did not apply to him. The issue went to the state Supreme Court, which sustained the Senate's decisions. Ferguson v. Maddox, 263 S.W. 888 (Texas 1924).
It appears that Ferguson never faced a criminal trial on the charges, and he remained a major force in state politics. He ran unsuccessfully for president in 1920 and U.S. senator in 1922. In 1924, unable to run under his own name, he ran his wife's successful campaign for the governorship with the motto “two governors for the price of one.” His wife was defeated for reelection in 1926, but Ferguson again managed a successful campaign for his wife in 1930.
Much of the information in this section taken from the Handbook of Texas, published by the University of Texas and available online at http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/view/FF/ffe5.html.
WILLIAM SULZER (NEW YORK 1913)
William Sulzer was elected in 1912 and was soon thereafter accused of campaign finance corruption. He was impeached by the Assembly in August, 1913. Among the charges were that he: (1) filed false statements of receipts and expenditures in the election campaign of 1912, (2) misused monies contributed for his campaign and illegally converted campaign contributions, (3) corruptly influenced the New York Stock Exchange. There were five other charges, some of which were not criminal in nature. The Senate convicted him on the first three charges and removed him from office on October 17, 1913.