Pressure increases on Kintner to resign; Trump tries to revive Keystone XL pipeline

Jan. 24, 2017, 5:24 a.m. ·

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, center, says Kintner controversy blocks state business (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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A parade of Nebraska state legislators called on Senator Bill Kintner to resign Tuesday. That follows what they said was outrage from constituents for a pattern of behavior symbolized by an insensitive retweet. And President Donald Trump issued an executive order aimed at reviving the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. Opponents are vowing a renewed fight to keep it from crossing Nebraska.

Last year, Sen. Bill Kintner was fined $1,000 for having cybersex on his state computer, leading to calls for him to resign or be expelled by the Legislature. This year, the controversy had largely subsided until Sunday, when he retweeted a tweet by a radio host. Many of his fellow senators saw it as implying that three women who marched in the Women’s March Saturday should not fear sexual assault because they were unattractive.

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks said her constituents were roaring disapproval of letting Kintner remain in office. "We are being flooded. I cannot do the state’s business because the body will not act," Pansing Brooks said. "The number of personal handwritten letters, emails and phone calls that I have had is overwhelming my office."

Pansing Brooks, a progressive Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, has been critical of Kintner, a conservative Republican, in the past. But it became apparent that he had acquired new critics when new Sen. Suzanne Geist, a Republican, spoke. "I actually stand here in solidarity with my sisters in the Legislature. I too have been inundated with calls and letters and emails, not only from women, but also from men in my district," Geist said. "So I too denounce Sen. Kintner’s lack of judgment, his lack of discretion, and I would just ask him to step down so we can move forward with the state’s business."

Sen. Jim Smith, a Republican, said some people think Kintner is being railroaded because of his political views. But Smith said that is not the case. "I have appreciated Sen. Kintner’s conservative positions on many issues that have been important to me. And I have considered Sen. Kintner a friend and I think a great deal of his family," Smith said. "I’m certain that Sen. Kintner continues to believe that his voice is needed in the Legislature. But frankly, I think Sen. Kintner is doing harm to the things that he values and that he fights for."

His voice choking with emotion, Sen. Adam Morfeld, a Democrat, said the issue was very personal to him. "Every time that we joke about somebody being sexually assaulted, we make everybody who has experienced that relive it. Sen. Kintner should resign, because it’s people like me and my family who have been through that that have to relive it. Resign!" Morfeld said.

In a later interview, Morfeld said he himself had been sexually assaulted.

Speaker of the Legislature Sen. Jim Scheer, a Republican, added his voice to those calling for Kintner to step down. "I do believe Sen. Kintner should resign. I do believe that he has lost the respect of the body, the respect probably of his constituents. And the respect of the state," Scheer said.

Morfeld and Sen. Bob Krist, a Republican, filed a motion to expel Kintner, and Scheer said either that motion or one he would file would be debated Wednesday morning.

But Sen. Paul Schumacher, a Republican, said no matter how bad what Kintner did was, he should not be expelled without due process. "Maybe Sen. Kintner will have the wisdom of Richard Nixon and spare us the ordeal that that would mean. These are significant actions when you talk about expelling somebody or whatever from a constitutional body. I think it extremely unwise to think that we can do this in a morning’s work," Schumacher said.

However, Sen. Ernie Chambers, an independent, said Kintner has passed up previous opportunities to defend himself in the cybersex controversy last year.

Kintner was not present for the debate. He later issued a statement saying he understood his colleagues concern about his retweet, but that he was "very troubled by the liberal activist campaign that is using my mistake on the tweet to escalate calls for my resignation." Kintner said Chambers would use any means, including lies and cheap shots, to remove him from office, adding "I have made no decision as to my future plans as a senator."

Also Tuesday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order aimed at reviving the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. Trump invited pipeline company TransCanada to submit a new application for the pipeline to cross the border, and directed the Secretary of State to make a decision within 60 days of the application.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said the pipeline would create good-paying jobs and provide property tax relief. The Republican governor said state regulators would give the proposed pipeline thorough consideration.

But Bold Alliance President Jane Kleeb, a pipeline opponent and now chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, vowed a renewed fight. "Anybody who saw and witnessed the first Keystone XL fight knows how much farmers and ranchers are tied to the land that their ancestors homesteaded on in the 1800s," Kleeb said. "We have a kindred spirit and alliance with the tribes, fondly called the Cowboy and Indian alliance, and Donald Trump is up for a very strong fight if he thinks he’s going to let a single piece of foreign steel and foreign oil go through the Nebraska Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer," she added.

In a separate order, Trump directed the secretary of commerce to maximize the use of American materials in pipeline projects.

The Nebraska Public Service Commission is charged with approving oil pipeline routes in the state. The agency says TransCanada would need to re-apply for a construction permit and start the approval process from the beginning, which could take seven months. Kleeb said TransCanada could not restart eminent domain proceedings before September.