New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a candidate to join an exclusive—and dubious—club.
If the New York State Assembly impeaches Cuomo, he would become the 16th governor in U.S. history to face such a sanction. He also would become the second New York governor to be impeached.
>>> Editor’s note: On Aug. 10, four days after this article was published, Cuomo announced that he would resign in 14 days but continued to deny that he sexually harassed female state employees.
The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee appears poised to expedite impeachment proceedings after a report this week from the New York Attorney General’s Office concluding that he sexually harassed at least 11 women.
Cuomo denied the allegations and said he wouldn’t resign. If removed from office after an impeachment trial, Cuomo would join a more exclusive club as only the ninth governor to be forcefully removed from office after an impeachment trial.
Other governors have faced scandals and resigned to avoid impeachment. In recent years, they have included Robert Bentley of Alabama, Eric Greitens of Missouri, Eliot Spitzer of New York, James McGreevey of New Jersey, and John G. Rowland of Connecticut.
Other governors also chose to stay and fight, dodged impeachment, or survived an impeachment trial.
States such as Louisiana and Oklahoma have seen multiple governors impeached. Two governors were impeached twice.
The first governors of Kansas and Nebraska were impeached. Moreover, impeachment seemed a de facto remedy during Reconstruction in southern states with Republican governors and Democrat legislatures after the Civil War.
Before the most recent impeachment and removal, in 2009, the Illinois General Assembly Research Response office did a summary for legislators of impeachments in other states.
Some governors clearly were ousted for serious reasons, but others seem less than justifiable in retrospect. Here’s a primer on 15 governors who faced the ultimate sanction.
1. Rod Blagojevich in Illinois
In December 2008, federal authorities arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a Democrat, and accused him of several pay-to-play schemes.
What got the most attention was a plan to try to sell the U.S. Senate seat of then-President-elect Barack Obama. Blagojevich called a Senate seat valuable and, in a wiretapped phone conversation, said that “you can’t just give it away”
The defiant Blagojevich said he never would resign, and he didn’t.
After a thorough report from federal prosecutors, the Democrat-controlled Illinois House of Representatives voted to impeach Blagojevich in January 2009. The state Senate was also under Democrat control, but it didn’t matter. The vote to remove the governor was unanimous.
A jury found Blagojevich guilty on 18 counts related to conspiring to sell Obama’s Senate seat. He was sentenced to 14 years, becoming the fourth Illinois governor to go to prison.
In 2020, President Donald Trump pardoned Blagojevich, whose sentence was set to expire in 2024.
2. Evan Mecham of Arizona
Evan Mecham, a Republican, was elected as a political outsider. Before becoming governor of Arizona, he was a car dealer. After being elected, he made political enemies in both parties.
In 1988, Mecham was impeached for obstructing justice and misusing state funds. Specifically, lawmakers accused him of failing to disclose an illegal $350,000 campaign contribution and ordering the state police chief not to cooperate with the state attorney general’s investigation. The Senate voted to remove him from office.
However, Mecham was luckier in the criminal justice system, which requires a higher burden of proof for conviction than the Legislature. He was acquitted on all six charges, which were related to misreporting campaign finance data.
3. Huey Long of Louisiana
The legendary Louisiana Gov. Huey P. Long—who once claimed, “I am the Constitution”—was impeached in 1929, accused of, among other things, bribing legislators and threatening political enemies.
Much of the fight centered around Long’s battle with Standard Oil Co. The Louisiana House impeached him on eight counts.
But 15 of the 39 state senators signed a petition vowing they wouldn’t vote to convict Long. That’s more than the one-third needed to block a conviction.
Long never faced an impeachment trial because there was no chance the Senate could muster that two-thirds majority.
4. Henry S. Johnston of Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Legislature ousted two governors in the 1920s. It took two tries to oust the second one.
Lawmakers were convinced that Gov. Henry S. Johnston, a Democrat, allowed his personal secretary to have too much power. The Democrat-controlled House impeached the governor for “general incompetence” in 1928. However, the Senate acquitted him.
In the 1928 election, Oklahoma Republicans rode the coattails of a Herbert Hoover landslide in the presidential election and gained seats in the Legislature. Although Democrats still had a majority, Johnston was left with fewer allies in the Senate.
In another dramatic twist, Johnston tried to fend off impeachment by calling up the Oklahoma National Guard to surround the state Capitol and prevent lawmakers from entering. But the governor relented, and legislators voted.
The House impeached Johnston again in 1929 and the Senate convicted and removed him for “general incompetence” while acquitting him on six other charges.
5. John C. Walton of Oklahoma
Oklahoma Gov. John C. Walton, a Democrat, was the state’s first chief executive to be impeached in the 1920s. Walton had attempted to crack down on the politically powerful Ku Klux Klan, which held immense sway in the Democratic Party at the time.
Amid escalating violence and rioting by the white racist group, the governor declared martial law in two of Oklahoma’s most violent counties. The National Guard held military trials for Klan members charged with murder and other crimes.
In September 1923, the Democrat-controlled Oklahoma House impeached Walton for violating the state Constitution by suspending habeas corpus, but also charged him with campaign finance violations and excessive use of pardon power.
The Democrat-controlled state Senate removed Walton from office.
He never was convicted of a crime in court, and later ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.
6. James E. Ferguson of Texas
Ferguson called for the university to remove certain faculty he found objectionable. The university refused.
A Texas grand jury indicted Ferguson on nine charges in 1917, with seven related to misapplication of public funds, one for embezzlement, and one for diversion of a special fund.
Texas state legislators pushed for impeachment.
The House passed 20 articles of impeachment related to Ferguson’s feud with the university, misuse of state funds, and failure to enforce banking laws.
The Senate voted him out of office, convicting him on 10 of the impeachment articles relating to misapplication of public funds, three related to his feud with the university, one alleging failure to enforce state banking laws, and one alleging he received $156,500 from a source whom he refused to reveal.
However, like other governors, Ferguson was not convicted in the criminal justice system.
7. William Sulzer of New York
Before Cuomo’s controversy and Spitzer’s scandal, New York had one governor booted from office by the state Legislature.
Gov. William Sulzer was kicked out after he tried to take on the powerful Tammany Hall political machine, which controlled New York politics in the early 20th century by rewarding allies with patronage jobs and public contracts.
Sulzer used the machine to win office, but became a reformer after the election. He fired many Tammany-backed state employees and vetoed machine-backed bills.
In 1913, the Assembly impeached Sulzer. Lawmakers found that he had filed a false campaign expense report. Since the report was filed under oath, that meant he also committed perjury.
Sulzer also was found to have used campaign contributions for private purposes. In the first gubernatorial impeachment of the 20th century, the Senate voted to remove him.
Assembly Speaker Al Smith, a Tammany Hall Democrat, helped set the Sulzer impeachment in motion. Smith later was elected governor and became the Democratic nominee for president in 1928.
8. William Kellogg of Louisiana
Louisiana had back-to-back impeachments that revolved around the 1872 gubernatorial election.
Gov. William Kellogg was a Republican in Reconstruction-era Louisiana, never a good post to be in. He served from 1873 through 1877, and Democrats had contested his election in 1872.
Louisiana’s Democrat-controlled House impeached Kellogg on misappropriation charges. The Republican-controlled state Senate, however, acquitted the governor.
9. Adelbert Ames of Mississippi
Gov. Adelbert Ames, a Republican, was a former Union brigadier general in the Civil War who was elected as governor of Reconstruction-era Mississippi in 1873. He resigned his seat in the U.S. Senate upon election.
But Ames faced a Democrat-controlled Legislature, which in January 1876 impeached him and several other Republican officials in the state, including Ames’ lieutenant governor.
After lawmakers removed most of those Republican officials from office, Ames resigned.
10. Harrison Reed of Florida
Florida Gov. Harrison Reed, a Republican who served from 1868 to 1873, was impeached twice. Both attempts were unsuccessful.
Democrats and a faction of Republicans joined to try to remove Reed in both impeachments.
In 1868, the Florida House called a special session to vote on impeachment. The state Senate did not consent, so the Florida Supreme Court ruled the impeachment wasn’t valid.
In 1872, the House impeached Reed again, alleging bribery and use of proceeds from state bonds for private gain. The state Senate acquitted him on the charges.
After leaving office, Reed was named as state postmaster and served in the Florida House.
11. Henry Warmoth of Louisiana
Gov. Henry Warmoth was an incumbent Republican, but broke ranks with the national Republican Party led by President Ulysses S. Grant. Warmoth was part of what became the Liberal Republican Party.
This break happened ahead of the aforementioned 1872 governor’s race in the state.
In Louisiana, Warmoth backed Democrat candidate John McEnery for governor over Kellogg, the Republican candidate.
He also endorsed Horace Greeley for president over Grant. Greeley was the Liberal Republicans’ presidential nominee, who was cross-endorsed by the Democrats.
After it first appeared that Kellogg had won the governor’s race and Grant had carried Louisiana, Warmoth established a competing election board that declared the Democrats victorious and sought to award Louisiana’s electoral votes to Greeley.
With competing election boards, the Grant administration determined that Kellogg won. The disputed electoral votes were not counted.
That prompted the Republican-controlled Louisiana House to vote to impeach Warmoth. His term expired before the Senate could try him, however.
12. David Butler of Nebraska
Nebraska had a rough start as a state.
David Butler, a Republican, Nebraska’s first governor, was elected in 1867. During his second term, Butler oversaw the relocation of the state Capitol from Omaha to Lincoln.
By 1871, Butler’s political opponents began investigating the accounting of questionable construction contracts for new buildings that the governor entered into.
Impeached on 11 counts of misappropriating funds targeted for education, Butler was found guilty of only one count. That was enough to remove him from office, though.
In 1877, the Legislature, in Republican hands, removed Butler’s impeachment from the record. He wasn’t convicted in a court of law and, in 1882, was elected to the state Senate, which had removed him from office.
13. Powell Clayton of Arkansas
In 1871, Arkansas Gov. Clayton Powell, a Republican, was impeached by the House.
The impeachment didn’t hurt Powell politically. That same year, he went on to be elected to the U.S. Senate and resigned as governor.
14. William W. Holden of North Carolina
Gov. William W. Holden, a Republican, helped establish the party in North Carolina during Reconstruction.
Holden had been a Democrat and at one point supported North Carolina’s secession from the union, but later opposed succession and joined the Republicans.
After the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson appointed Holden as provisional governor of North Carolina in 1865. He was elected in his own right three years later.
In 1870, state Rep. Frederick W. Strudwick, a Democrat and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was the first to introduce a resolution to impeach Holden for high crimes and misdemeanors.
The Democrat-controlled House approved eight articles of impeachment accusing Holden of corruption and misappropriation charges.
The Democrat-controlled Senate found Holden guilty on six of the eight charges and removed him from office. He was the first governor in American history to be removed from office.
Afterward, he moved to Washington, D.C., but later returned to Raleigh after he was appointed postmaster of North Carolina.
15. Charles Robinson of Kansas
Kansas Gov. Charles L. Robinson, a Republcan, holds the honor of being the nation’s first impeached governor.
Kansas was admitted as a state in 1861, and Robinson was the first governor. In early 1862, the House impeached him for “high misdemeanors,” accusing him of selling Kansas bonds below the rate established by the Legislature.
The Kansas Senate acquitted Robinson of the charges. He served out his term but lost his reelection bid. He made a political comeback by serving in the state Senate from 1873 to 1881.
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