Will state lawmakers seek to remove indicted auditor Kathy McGuiness from office? It is complicated.
Officials disagree on exactly how the process should unfold in what would be, for the 62 General Assembly members, an unprecedented attempt to impeach an elected state official after she has been elected. refused to resign.
Leaders in both chambers are reluctant to act, citing confusion over the three-sentence law in the state’s constitution that sanctions the process.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, a Democrat from Rehoboth Beach, has had a personal connection to McGuiness for 20 years. The leading lawmaker must decide whether its 41 members would even be allowed to debate the issue.
And as McGuiness’s attorney claims lawmakers don’t have enough grounds to remove her, the Senate plans to seek legal advice from the courts on whether her attorney is wrong.
McGuiness was charged earlier this month with two felony counts and three public bribery counts. She is accused of breaking the rules of nepotism by hiring her daughter for a position in the auditor’s office, of rigging public contracts to avoid tax audits, and of discriminating and spying on those who questioned her.
McGuiness has pleaded not guilty.
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Will the General Assembly remove McGuiness from office?
Only a handful of lawmakers have called on McGuiness to step down, let alone try to bring about a dismissal.
Two lawmakers – Rep. Madinah Wilson-Anton, a Democrat from Newark, and Rep. Michael Smith, a Republican from Pike Creek – sent a letter asking lawmakers to table and vote on a resolution that would ask Gov. John Carney to remove McGuiness. from the office.
No other lawmaker has signed the letter, and it’s unclear how many would vote for it.
Depending on the state’s constitution, the General Assembly can ask the governor to remove McGuiness. If two-thirds of the members of both chambers petition, the governor can dismiss an officer for “any reasonable cause.”
The letter calls on lawmakers to vote on the November 1 resolution in a special session already scheduled to redraw district maps with data from the 2020 census. The regular session of lawmakers runs from January to June.
“We have a responsibility to our constituents, and we respectfully request that this resolution be heard in the interest of the public trust,” read the letter to Governor John Carney, House and Senate leaders, McGuiness, and his lawyer Steve Wood.
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What happens next?
The proposed particular resolution appears to be dead when it arrives, as executives believe the letter may not meet the constitutional requirement that McGuiness be given 10 days’ notice before lawmakers act to revoke it.
“The House is not in session and as of yet no resolution has been tabled,” House spokesman Drew Volturo said in an email. “Lawyers’ research on this is continuing.”
In response, Wilson-Anton said, “I disagree with their assessment.”
Instead of supporting the House resolution, senators plan to pass their own resolution on November 1 asking the Delaware Supreme Court for an advisory opinion on the law to “ensure that a removal process meets constitutional requirements. “said Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, a Democrat from Newark and the second highest ranking member of the chamber.
Because lawmakers have never asked the governor to remove an official in recent memory, some senators want clarification on constitutional law, including what qualifies as “reasonable cause.”
Earlier this month, Senate and House leaders asked McGuiness to take time off while she is under investigation by the Department of Justice. Lawmakers argue that it is necessary to maintain a level of public trust. Through his lawyer, McGuiness refused to do so.
The resolution could present a personal conflict for Schwartzkopf and House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, a Democrat from Bear. Schwartzkopf is a longtime partner of McGuiness, which has been its campaign treasurer since 2002. Longhurst has controversially supported McGuiness, who is also a Democrat, in his candidacy for the post of auditor.
Neither responded to direct requests for comment on whether they would support the governor’s request to impeach McGuiness since she refused to take leave.
In a statement, Wood, McGuiness’s attorney, argued that the GA and Carney could not dismiss her simply on the basis of an indictment. A charge alone does not amount to “reasonable cause,” he argued.
“Like anyone accused of a crime, the auditor must be presumed innocent,” said Wood.
Carney’s office declined to comment on the resolution except to say that the auditor faces “very serious charges” and that the governor could potentially play a role in his impeachment.
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Sarah Gamard covers government and politics for Delaware Online / The News Journal. Contact her at (302) 324-2281 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @SarahGamard.