Impeachment is in the air again so – or at least some in the Idaho Legislature seem to say – why not at Boise too?
The impeachment activity in Washington, of course, concerns former President Donald Trump. In Boise, there’s rumbling about impeaching the local chief executive.
Impeachment is one of the two ways an incumbent statewide elected official in Idaho can be ousted before the end of a term. The other way, recall, was tried last summer and failed. Pretty badly.
Impeachment never has been used in Idaho, either for governor or other positions; if it were actively tried this time (more on that later) it would be a first. But there have been other examples.
Illinois Democrat Rod Blagojevich was impeached and convicted in 2009 after being charged with a number of felony offenses, including trying to sell a U.S. Senate seat. Arizona Republican Evan Mecham was impeached and convicted after he was found guilty of six finance-related felony offenses. Those are by far the most recent major cases involving both impeachment (charging with offenses) and conviction, but there are many others going further back, and other relatively recent cases (such as Republican Fife Symington in Arizona and Democrat Jim Guy Tucker in Arkansas, where governors got sideways with the criminal justice system and resigned ahead of the legislature forcing them out.
All or nearly every gubernatorial impeachment, ever, involves deep-seated corruption and the filing of formal criminal charges, often a boatload of them. Impeachment in those cases was almost superfluous, since, if a criminal conviction happens, the official can no longer serve anyway. (The Idaho Legislature did have a parallel case in its own membership last year, when a member of the Idaho House was convicted of a felony and, as a result, promptly expelled.)
Idaho simply hasn’t experienced anything like this. Idaho’s governors, up to and including the incumbent, Brad Little, have operated cleanly, within the scope of the law.
That has not stopped the ever-edgy Representative Chad Christensen of Ammon from touting an impeachment plan.
The background, of course, is Little’s actions over the last year aimed at limiting public activity with the goal of containing the Covid-19 pandemic. While (albeit limited) polling indicates most of Idaho has supported Little’s actions – and many would have preferred a stronger response – the criticism has been fierce in the anti-masking segment, which is very well represented at the Idaho Legislature. The legislature has been striking back at Little’s gubernatorial emergency authority, finally prompting the ordinarily mild Little to fire back an angry retort a week ago.
Which in turn didn’t go over well with some legislators, including Christensen: “After Friday’s tantrum from Governor Brad Little, I’m now committed to moving forward to impeaching him. I have entertained it before, now I am all in.”
How far can he get with it? Christensen seemed to acknowledge to one reporter that he hasn’t collected a lot of support for the impeachment effort.
But consider the consequences if he did. If the trigger for impeachment of a governor is simply disagreement on policy, or criticism of the legislature, then not a lot of governors would long survive. None of the Democrats would, of course. But recent Republican governors would not either. C.L. “Butch” Otter and Dirk Kempthorne (whose veto-strewn 2003 standoff with legislators resulted in a 118-day session) both got into protracted battles with the Republican Idaho Legislature, in each case over policy differences. Should that have been cause for impeachment?
No one then suggested it, presumably with the realization that the idea would be not only outlandish but dangerous.
These days, of course, the ethic seems to have changed: A difference of opinion (or a difference in loyalty to a specific political personality) means not a debate but a political knife-fight to the death.
That’s a dangerous enough precedent that smart voters ought consider seriously who ought to be tossed out of office, at the next election, if not sooner.