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Impeachment

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Kathy Augustine
Creator: Cathleen Allison; Courtesy: Nevada Appeal

Kathy Augustine

Unless you’ve been hibernating, you know the House of Representatives impeached Donald Trump. A couple of years ago on Nevada Yesterdays, we discussed the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, and our state’s connections to it. Bill Clinton became the second president to be impeached, and a few federal officials have faced a similar situation. It’s rare for a legislative body to impeach an official. In Nevada, it has happened ONCE.

Kathy Augustine was born in California and briefly worked in Washington as a congressional intern. She had been working for an airline when she ran for the Assembly in 1992 as a republican and won. Two years later, she won election to the state senate. Both races were controversial. The first time, a photo of her opponent made the Democrat look, shall we say, suspicious. Running for the state senate, she had a flyer that accused her opponent, Lori Lipman Brown, of opposing the Pledge of Allegiance and prayer. Lipman Brown had left the senate floor rather than participate in a Christian prayer because she was Jewish. Lipman Brown later sued some of Augustine’s colleagues over their claim that she turned her back on the flag.

As Augustine finished her state senate term, she ran for state controller and won, becoming the first woman to hold that post. When she ran for reelection in 2002, it turned out she used state personnel and equipment on her campaign. That violated state laws. The state ethics commission fined her fifteen thousand dollars. In response, Governor Kenny Guinn called a special session of the legislature that met in November and December 2004. The Assembly voted to impeach her on three counts, and the state senate threw out the first two and convicted her on the third, which involved the use of equipment. The argument was that that action directly affected taxpayers, who funded the equipment, as opposed to her personal treatment of her employees. Then the state senate voted that her punishment should be censure—not removal. The vote was twenty to nothing with one member, Bob Coffin, abstaining. He opposed her conviction on any count. For those who keep score on partisanship in our political process, Coffin is a lifelong Democrat. He was the only Democrat to vote for her acquittal. He argued that “the stain of impeachment,” as he called it, was enough. Both Democrats and Republicans voted for conviction on the third count and, obviously, to censure her.

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Augustine finished her term as controller. She then decided to run for state treasurer. The Republican Party chose not to support her for the general election. But then events took an even stranger turn than they had already. She was found unconscious at home and, three days later, she died. Her husband soon attempted suicide but survived … and then was arrested when the autopsy found a paralytic drug in her system and reports surfaced that he had talked with a co-worker about using the drug to kill somebody. He was sentenced to life in prison for taking Kathy Augustine’s life, less than two years after she became the only Nevada elected official ever impeached. But she wouldn’t be the only Nevadan to face an impeachment. That’s a story for next time.

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