Articles of impeachment filed against a governor. Could it work?

If you scroll through your news feeds this week looking for information about impeachment proceedings, most of the results will likely deal with the impending Senate trial for Donald Trump. But that’s not the only impeachment circus rolling into town. In Kentucky, articles of impeachment have been filed against two statewide elected officials and one state legislator. One of the statewide officials is Democratic Governor Andy Beshear and the other is Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Additionally, state representative Robert Goforth has articles of impeachment pending after he was charged with attempting to strangle a woman. Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers so they can generally do what they want, but it sounds as if there isn’t much of an appetite for these impeachments thus far. (Associated Press)

Impeachment fever has struck Kentucky, where grievances over coronavirus restrictions and the outcome of the Breonna Taylor death investigation have spurred petitions to oust both the governor and the attorney general.

It’s a card rarely played in any serious way in the Bluegrass State, though Kentucky has had its share of provocative elected officials. In the two new cases, the effort to impeach was triggered by disagreements over policy or executive decisions at the highest levels of Kentucky government.

Experts say the frenzy reflects the bitter political divide dominating public discourse nationally, and some worry that it weaponizes a tool of last resort normally reserved for egregious misbehavior to address political grievances. But some also see it as a sign that newcomers to politics are intent on shaking up the system.

Can the legislature actually impeach Andy Beshear? Well, you can indict a ham sandwich, as the saying goes, and you can impeach a governor if that’s what you really want to do. Impeachment is a political process, not a legal one, so you don’t really even have to prove anything. But even with all of that said, impeachment and a conviction in the case of the Governor seems unlikely for a couple of reasons.

The only item that’s been mentioned thus far in terms of charges is Beshear’s executive order banning mass gatherings last year and how it was enforced against churches. Orders like that one have certainly enraged a lot of people, particularly in conservative circles and issues of First Amendment rights immediately come to mind. But the courts have generally given governors wide latitude in terms of executive mandates during a time of declared emergency conditions and that’s largely been the case during this pandemic. Also, Beshear’s order wasn’t really all that different from others that were issued around the country. If Beshear gets impeached over this, we’d probably be impeaching half of the governors in America this winter. (Not that I’m saying that would necessarily be a bad thing, mind you.)

Some of the senior Republicans in the state government are already sounding uneasy about this proposal. They seem to view impeachment under these circumstances as using a shotgun to go after a housefly. Scott Jennings, a former adviser to George W. Bush, predicted the effort won’t go anywhere, saying, β€œWe settle our policy difference at the ballot box, not like this.” It’s a sentiment being reflected by other senior GOP officials.

The case against Attorney General Daniel Cameron looks even less likely to succeed. He apparently angered people by enforcing the ban on mass gatherings, but he wasn’t the one who originated it. Further, we can’t just ignore the political realities here. Cameron is a Republican and the legislators of his own party are obviously less likely to go after one of their own. Only a handful of members in the legislature have signed on to either effort so far.

Even if these efforts don’t wind up going anywhere, however, I’m still not opposed to having the motions brought to the floor. If nothing else, actions such as these should serve as a wake-up call to governors and mayors around the nation who have been a bit too free with all of this “phone and pen” action, using the pandemic as an excuse for excessive or even abusive levels of authoritarian control. The Governor of California is already facing a recall effort of his own for similar reasons, though he remains unlikely to actually be removed from office. There’s only so much of this dictatorial executive action restricting the basic freedoms of citizens that people are going to put up with. And plenty of Americans are already reaching the breaking point.