A brief history of impeached governors throughout U.S. history

Cuomo Resigns

ALBANY, N.Y. (WTEN/AP/WETM) — Last week, New York Attorney General Letitia James released the findings of a five-month-long investigation into sexual assault allegations made by 11 different women against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. With the full report released, many prominent lawmakers and public officials, including President Joe Biden, are calling for the governor to step down while talks of impeachment loom overhead.

With all of this, many are asking what’s next. Historically, just over a handful of governors have formally been impeached and removed from office nationwide. Former governor offenses range from the misappropriation of funds to attempting to incite violence and interfering in external investigations.

Gov. Cuomo would be the second governor in New York State history to be impeached. Nearly 100 years ago, in October 1913, Gov. William Sulzer was tried and removed from office as a result of a disagreement with Tammany Hall, a major political power in the early 20th Century. Sulzer, himself a product of Tammany Hall, snubbed the machine’s patronage demands after he was elected and launched an investigation of corruption.

Annoyed legislators then dredged up charges of financial irregularities, which even some anti-Tammany forces agreed were true. Sulzer was accused of failing to report thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and commingling campaign funds with personal funds.

He blasted the court’s secret deliberations, complaining: “A horse thief in frontier days would have received a squarer deal.” Ultimately, Sulzer was bounced after just 289 days in office, claiming it was retribution for turning his back on the powerful institution. The Senate convicted him of three charges of misappropriation of funds and on three articles of impeachment:

  • Filing a false report with the Secretary of State concerning his campaign contributions
  • Committing perjury
  • Advising another person to commit perjury before an Assembly committee

When Sulzer was impeached, Lt. Gov. Martin Glynn was appointed acting governor. Sulzer, however, didn’t accept his suspension, arguing that the state constitution allowed him to continue performing his duties until he was convicted. The dispute was never decided by a court.

In more recent memory, Gov. Eliot Spitzer resigned from office in 2008, embroiled in a prostitution scandal; Gov. Nelson Rockefeller resigned in 1973 to work full-time on a bipartisan domestic and foreign policy commission.

Below is a list compiled by the Associated Press of other governors who have been impeached throughout the country’s history:

  • William H. Holden of North Carolina, removed in 1871
    • Holden was impeached after he unconstitutionally suspended the right of habeas corpus and sent militia to quell violence by the Ku Klux Klan, which was accused of murders aimed at frightening blacks into not voting. He also arrested a number of political opponents.
  • David Butler, Nebraska’s first governor, removed in 1871
    • Butler was removed for misappropriating school funds, but the impeachment proceedings subsequently were expunged from the legislative record and in 1888 he was elected to another term as governor.
  • James E. ″Farmer Jim″ Ferguson, Texas, 1917
    • Ferguson was convicted by the Senate on 10 charges, some stemming from a fight over control of the University of Texas. Ferguson resigned a day before his conviction was announced. His wife, Miriam ″Ma″ Ferguson, was twice elected governor, serving from 1925-27 and 1933-35.
  • John C. Walton, Oklahoma, removed in 1923
    • He had declared martial law and ordered the National Guard to disband a grand jury which was investigating him. The House returned 22 articles of impeachment ranging from violation of the separation of powers to diverting public funds.
  • Henry S. Johnston, Oklahoma, removed in 1929
    • Johnston had ordered the National Guard to surround the Capitol to prevent the Legislature from assembling to investigate the governor. Johnston was impeached but not convicted in 1928, but was impeached again the next year and removed.
  • Evan Mecham, Arizona, removed in 1988
    • Mecham was convicted of attempting to thwart an investigation into a death threat allegedly made by an aide in fall 1987. The vote in the state Senate was 21-9, one more vote than the two-thirds needed. Though it was not needed to remove him from office, a second Senate vote then convicted him on an unrelated count. The first-term Republican took office in January 1987.

With the governor refusing to resign and no word on what his intentions are, many are asking if Cuomo could be next for impeachment before the 2022 election.

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