Ricketts, House GOP leader, Speaker call on Fortenberry to resign

Spokesman for the Nebraska congressman said he’s spending time with his family, which is ‘most important today’

By: and - March 25, 2022 10:45 am
Fortenberry guilty

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, arm in arm with his wife and a daughter, leaves the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles after a jury finds him guilty in March. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

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.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

“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.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also spent several years as an assignment editor and worked two stints as an editorial writer. From 2005 to 2007, he served as communications director for then-Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Aaron most recently was the lead investigative reporter for KMTV 3 in Omaha, focusing on holding public officials accountable. His work has received awards from the Associated Press, Great Plains Journalism and more.

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