The governor, judges, and all state officers, may be impeached for any misdemeanor in office; but judgment shall not extend further than removal from office, and disqualification to hold any office under the authority of this state. The party impeached, whether convicted or not, shall be liable to indictment, trial, and judgment, according to law.
Contextually, there is no question that impeachment is a discretionary power of the legislative branch, as no situation requires the legislature to impeach a public official. Furthermore, there is no question that Gov. Taft's recent criminal conviction is sufficient grounds for impeachment. The constitution says that the Legislative may impeach members of the Judiciary or Executive branches whenever such a member commits a misdeed in office. The framers use of the term "misdemeanor" was likely meant to mean "misdeed" as opposed to the more modern legal definition that means all categories of crimes not constituting a felony. It would be axiomatic to say the Constitution permits impeachment when the Governor commits a misdemeanor, but not a felony. Regardless there is no question as to whether the Governor's criminal acts constitute a misdeed committed "in office" as the offense could not be committed outside the scope of his official capacity.
For the following reasons, the Ohio House of Representatives should publicly debate articles of impeachment against Governor Bob Taft:
What does the Democratic Party stand for?
If the Democratic Party has any interest in being a governing party again, it must show Ohioans a vision for governing, especially for the legislature. My biggest complaint about this early process is that it is being done in closed doors with a small segment of the legislature attending (a closed-door caucus meeting I believe). I have no qualms or am naive to believe that caucus meetings should not be conducted by closed-door, but on this issue, I think it's misguided.
Let the Sunlight in
What issue is more important to the State than the seemingly endless ethics problems of the State leadership? As part of the opposition, we have seen press quote after quote about how the GOP's practice of closed door dealing has hurt Ohio. Let this be an opportunity to show how differently Democrats would govern by being public and deliberative. Let's show that the House of Representatives is not just a voting body, but the deliberative body it was intended to be before the first stone was laid on Capitol Square. Of course, the issue as to whether the Governor's actions should constitute an impeachable offense is a debatable issue. But good governing requires that debate to be had on the record and in the open public. I believe that's why we built y'all a House chamber and gave you those microphones, t.v. cameras, and nifty electronic voting machines with the cool screens showing the roll call on each side. I'm still trying to figure out the laptops, though....
Failure is not introducing an article of impeachment and having it fail. Failure is the status quo. Let the issues regarding impeachment be discussed on the floor of the House, with members of both parties discussing it, and let the decision be rendered by a roll call vote for all of Ohio to see. That is democracy, and that is where our party name derives.
Impeachment v. Resignation
Several members of the other party have suggested that Taft should step down. The Governor has indicated an unwillingness to do so. One cannot make the case that a public official should resign for misconduct, but if that official refuses, then nothing further should be done. One cannot argue on one hand for resignation but then vote against impeachment. Like resignation, impeachment is a declaration that a public official's misconduct has caused that official to lose their moral authority to act on behalf of the State. That should be the standard in which the Governor should be judged.
Are the gifts Gov. Taft failed to disclose any less than what former Connecticut Governor John Rowland received? At least most of Gov. Rowland's gifts came from state employees, not campaign contributors who were government contractors (although some of them did.)
Distinguish yourself from the opposition
The Speaker's comments regarding your request to the LSC to present information regarding impeachment was telling. It shows that the majority leadership of the House has completely abdicated its responsible as officers of the House to enforce the Ohio Constitution or display any leadership for Ohio whatsoever. His "wait-and-see" attitude gives the House Democratic caucus a prime opportunity to show that while Republicans issue lofty press releases deploring the Governor's actions, the House Democrats are ready with a serious mind to discuss forcing the House to live up to its constitutional obligation to take action.
If the Republicans refuse to show any real leadership, why shouldn't the Democrats? What better opportunity to show Ohioans the contrasting leadership ability of the two caucuses?
Gov. Taft has genuinely done much to try and set a moral and ethical tone for his administration. But it is obvious that his ethical leadership has been woefully (or should I say, Noefully) inadequate. By forcing a debate on impeachment, the Democrats have an opportunity to set the ethical bar higher than it's been for over a decade, indeed higher than it has ever been. That can never be a bad thing.
Think history, not the future
This is a historic moment, but only if action is taken. The issue should not be whether the Governor is more of a political asset for the Democrats in office until 2006 or not. The issue is about setting the record straight for history. It's about setting a precedent, even if that precedent is to decide against impeachment.
Let's force the Republicans, and ourselves, to go on the record on this issue. Let's debate it thoroughly. And then let's take that debate to the people of Ohio. Our state is strong enough to handle a little democracy now and then.
The Modern Esq.
P.S.- I commend you for making the House Democratic Caucus more available and open for outside input through your website. I hope you can reveal details about the meeting publicly tomorrow.