Thoughts at the Close of David Hergert's Impeachment Trialby Kyle Michaelis
Or, "David Hergert: The Long Goodbye".
After enjoying one day's attendance at the impeachment trial of Regent David Hergert before Nebraska's Supreme Court, as well as numerous hours of the televised spectacle (including my favorite highlight that saw State Senator Ernie Chambers fill-in for Hergert, reading Hergert's statements from the witness stand in a purple t-shirt), I am more firmly convinced that Hergert deserved his impeachment than ever before.
As I wrote upon his impeachment by the state senate last month:
No one has asked for Hergert to be singled out for punishment. Hergert chose to make an example of himself by the extent of his crimes and his shamelessness in avoiding accountability for them. He may imagine some sort of vindication by the Supreme Court, but Nebraskans know better. Hergert's entire defense is one of technicalities. On principle, he doesn't have a leg to stand on. Even if Hergert can escape being removed from office, he is and shall forever remain an emabarrassment to the voters of Western Nebraska whose trust he so abused.
If anything, the case against Hergert is even stronger at the closing of his trial than most people considered it at the time of his impeachment. Although I was not an entirely neutral observer, prosecuting attorney David Domina established a compelling and highly damning portrait of Hergert's conduct that - without a doubt - justified the legislature's action.
Hergert's defense, on the other hand, was not only unconvincing but also insulting on its face. I can hardly imagine the audacity it takes to hold onto this office, refusing to resign, after his attorneys' constant refrains emphasizing Hergert's incompetence, his disorganization, and - let's face it - his stupidity. Never would I have imagined we'd witness an elected official working so hard to prove just how little he knows.
In hopes of cracking the solid inference of Hergert's intentional violation of the state's campaign finance laws, his defense threw everything out there that it could, none of it amounting to very much at all. To paraphrase (and mock) the meat of Hergert's defense, his attorneys could honestly do no better than: "If his office was a pit, you must acquit."
Also known as "the Messy Office Defense", it's hard to imagine the Supreme Court taking seriously so pathetic an attempt at an excuse for Hergert's breaking the law. No amount of disorganization or passing the blame onto Hergert's secretary of 30 years could justify the especially damning and, to my knowledge, new revelations as to the full extent of Hergert's fraudulent campaign finance reports.
Needless to say, every mention of Hergert's shady dealings with the GOP hitmen/opposition researchers at Jackson-Alvarez suggested a candidate well aware of the dangerous game he played. Add in the fact that he had run for office previously, had been EXPRESSLY warned after his violations in the primary, and had repeatedly changed his story in an apparent attempt to cover his tracks, and Hergert's ship should be sunk.
In my mind, the only question that remains undecided is whether Hergert's intentional crimes amount to impeachable offenses under Nebraska's constitution. Here, the Supreme Court is the only body capable of making so important an interpretative decision, likely delving into linguistics, constitutional intent, and a great deal of contrasting case law from across the country.
Why Hergert would subject himself to this is hard to say. Seeing him, for the first time, in person on the first day of his trial, it was clear how nervous and uncomfortable Hergert was. I would have almost felt sorry for him had he not brought this entirely upon himself. As is, I suppose we should all be grateful that Hergert's pride is providing us the opportunity to dust-off Nebraska's constitution and to discern exactly what it entails.
A costly lesson, to be sure, but it will be essential to ensuring - one way or another - that this state will next time be better equipped and able to hold the likes of Hergert accountable.
And, yes, there will always be a next time. This is politics - this is power - there's no need to worry about that.