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Senate votes to seek McGuiness' removal, but House won't take up the issue

 Senate Minority Leader Brian Pettyjohn asks to table the resolution to remove McGuiness from office as she looks on from the wings of the Senate chambers.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Senate Minority Leader Brian Pettyjohn asks to table the resolution to remove McGuiness from office as she looks on from the wings of the Senate chambers.

Delaware’s state Senate voted on Monday to begin the process of removing State Auditor Kathy McGuiness from office. The vote fell nearly along party lines, though Democratic Sen. Darius Brown joined Republicans in opposition.

McGuiness was found guilty of three corruption-related misdemeanor charges earlier this month, but the Kent County jury acquitted her of two felony charges: theft and witness intimidation.

Senate Republicans objected to the vote's timing and the resolution itself, arguing that the Senate should wait until after McGuiness’ sentencing.

“What we are asking for is not an indefinite delay while appeals are heard if a conviction is entered," said Senate Minority Leader Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown). "We are merely saying that beginning this process before the judge has entered the verdict and sentenced the individual is too soon.”

State Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Dover) took a different approach, asking his colleagues to defer to voters in the September primary, given McGuiness was found guilty of misdemeanors and acquitted of two felony charges; he argued that misdemeanor offences should not be considered automatically disqualifying for public officials.

But Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) maintains corruption charges – misdemeanor or felony – should be disqualifying for a public official.

“Again, if someone is saying that this is not a high enough crime, they have the right to say that," he said. "But case law and analysis would indicate that this was, in fact, a high crime.”

The Senate vote is the first step on one path to remove an elected official from office. The House would also need to convene a special session to consider the resolution. If passed there, Gov. John Carney would then decide whether to remove McGuiness. But House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach) indicated Monday he doesn’t plan to hold a House vote.

"This isn’t taking decisive action: it’s political theater," he wrote in a statement. "The Senate’s resolution would simply start a lengthy process to ultimately ask the governor to remove the state auditor from office – a request he’s not required to fulfill, and a request he’s indicated that he wouldn’t carry out at this time anyway." Carney has previously stated that he plans to remove McGuiness after the Kent County Superior Court enters the verdict in her case as a conviction.

Senate Democrats objected to similar allegations of "political theater" from their Republican counterparts.

"I wouldn't do this to a political opponent or a political friend if I didn't believe that it was my job to hold our own accountable," said Sen. Laura Sturgeon (D-Hockessin).

McGuiness is the first statewide elected official charged and convicted of a crime while in office. She maintains her innocence and continues to campaign for re-election; if impeached, she would no longer be permitted to hold public office.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.