Ex-congressman set for sentence same day replacement picked

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., center, speaks with the media outside the federal courthouse in Los Angeles, Thursday, March 24, 2022. Fortenberry was convicted Thursday of charges that he lied to federal authorities about an illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign from a foreign billionaire at a 2016 Los Angeles fundraiser. (AP Photo/Brian Melley) (Brian Melley)

OMAHA, Neb. – Nebraska voters will elect a new member of Congress on the same day a judge in California is scheduled to sentence the Republican who resigned from the position to a possible federal prison sentence.

Gov. Pete Ricketts said Friday the special election June 28 will replace former Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned days after his conviction for lying to federal authorities about an illegal campaign donation.

That's the same day a federal judge in Los Angeles is scheduled to sentence Fortenberry, who was convicted March 24 of concealing information and two counts of making false statements to authorities. Each count carries a potential five-year prison sentence and fines.

The conviction of Fortenberry marked the first time in 20 years that a sitting member of Congress was found guilty of a felony.

Besides the oddity of an election and sentencing being scheduled for the same day, the special election also creates a highly unusual situation in Nebraska as the state will hold three elections in one year.

The statewide primary election is scheduled for May 10, when Republican and Democratic voters will choose their nominees to fill Fortenberry's seat after the end of his current term. Fortenberry's name will still appear on the GOP ballot, even though he is no longer running.

On June 28, voters will decide who will take Fortenberry's seat for what would have been the rest of his current term. The Republican and Democratic nominees for that election will be chosen by each party's leaders.

Nebraska will then hold its regular general election in November 2022, when the winners of the May 10 primary will face off to determine who will take the seat starting in January 2023.

Nebraska state Sen. Mike Flood, of Norfolk, is by far the best-known and best-funded candidate in the Republican primary race, and he has won support from Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman. The other Republican candidates are Curtis Huffman, of La Vista; Thireena Yuki Connely, of Palmyra; and John Glen Weaver, of Omaha.

Nebraska state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, of Lincoln, is the best-known contender in the Democratic primary contest. The other Democratic candidate is University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Jazari Kual Zakaria.

The charges against Fortenberry stemmed from his acceptance of an illegal $30,000 contribution to his campaign from a foreign billionaire in 2016.

The trial was the first of a sitting congressman since Rep. Jim Traficant, D-Ohio, was convicted of bribery and other felony charges in 2002.

Fortenberry represented Nebraska's 1st Congressional District, a Republican-leaning district in the eastern part of the state that includes Lincoln, home to the University of Nebraska.

Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen said the parties have until April 22 to submit their candidates for the special election.