Recently, whenever you mention Kim Davis, most people wonder how she still has her job as county clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky. After all, she declared in no uncertain terms that she will not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples even though Governor Steve Beshear has ordered Davis and other county clerks to comply with the federal Supreme Court decision. Well, it looks like her fellow county officials have finally had enough. Shortly after Davis asked the federal Supreme Court to hear her case, the Rowan County attorney asked state officials to charge Davis with official misconduct–the first step in a process that could ultimately remove Davis from office.
County attorney Cecil Watkins told The Morehead News that since Davis is an elected official, “no authority exists” at the local level to have her removed from office, and only the state can remove her. For that reason, Watkins referred charges of official misconduct to the state attorney general’s office. Watkins added that since his office is currently involved in litigation with Davis, he won’t be able to prosecute the case. Most likely, the attorney general’s office will ask a prosecutor from another county to handle the case.
There are two degrees of official misconduct in Kentucky. Under Kentucky Revised Statutes 522.030, a public official is guilty of second-degree official misconduct when he or she engages in “unauthorized use of his (or her) official functions,” refuses to perform a duty either required by law or “clearly inherent in the nature of his (or her) office,” or “violates any statute or lawfully adopted rule or regulation” related to his or her duties. It’s punishable by up to three months in jail and a $250 fine. Under KRS 522.020, if a public official engages in any of these acts “with intent to obtain or confer a benefit or to injure another person or to deprive another person of a benefit,” the official is guilty of first-degree official misconduct, punishable by up to 12 months in prison and a $500 fine.
Official misconduct is only a misdemeanor, so a conviction wouldn’t automatically remove Davis from office. It would, however, open the door for her to be impeached by the state house and removed from office by the state senate. As with federal impeachments, it takes two-thirds of the state senate to remove an impeached official.
On paper, that would be a difficult task, especially considering that the state senate is controlled by Republicans. I would think, though, that if Davis were convicted of official misconduct, it could potentially give fence-sitters in the chamber enough cover to vote to remove her. There are a few other things to consider. First, Davis isn’t just turning away same-sex couples–she’s not issuing any marriage licenses at all. Plus, the federal judge who initially rejected Davis’ arguments is David Bunning, a Republican appointed by George W. Bush and the son of former U. S. Senator Jim Bunning.
I initially thought that Watkins’ courageous move could cost him his job as county attorney. After all, Rowan County is located in a part of Kentucky that is one of the few ancestrally Republican areas south of the Ohio River. But Rowan County is very swingy. Since 1992, it’s voted for Clinton twice, then Bush 43 twice, then Obama, then Romney. In other words–a purple dot in a red sea. Combine that with the fact that straight couples are being hampered by Davis’ obstinacy as well, and I wouldn’t bet on Watkins catching any heat. Let’s hope that his filing will be the first step in cutting Davis down to size.