LINCOLN, Neb. — Nebraska state Sen. Bill Kintner is the kind of unabashed conservative whose comments on immigration, gay rights and fellow legislators have made even supporters cringe.
If colleagues needed a reason to boot the married, family-values lawmaker out of office, they got one when he admitted last month to having cybersex on a state laptop computer with a woman who later tried to blackmail him.
Despite bipartisan calls for his resignation — even from Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts — Kintner appears to be surviving the kind of scandal that has toppled lawmakers in other states. Conservative groups, worried about losing one of their strongest allies, are rallying behind the senator, even as they condemn his behavior as disgraceful.
The push to remove Kintner “is a political witch hunt designed to remove an obstacle to growing government in Nebraska,” said Joe Herring, a conservative activist from Omaha who organized a rally to defend the lawmaker from Papillion, an Omaha suburb.
Herring and other activists in the state say removing Kintner from office is a step too far, despite his indiscretions and long history of inflammatory remarks. Since taking office in 2013, Kintner has worked aggressively to organize conservative Republican senators in a Legislature that takes pride in shunning formal party leadership.
“If we were to lose him as a state senator, it would cause major problems for conservatives,” said Doug Kagan, president of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom, a tea party-backed organization based in Omaha.
Kagan called Kintner’s behavior “disgraceful” but said the overwhelming majority of his group’s members voiced support for keeping him in office.
Sen. Galen Hadley, speaker of the GOP-dominated unicameral Legislature, said he doesn’t believe Kintner’s critics have enough votes to oust him. The effort would require a special session at an estimated cost of $62,000.
“I just have the feeling that expulsion is a very drastic step,” said Hadley, a Republican who has asked Kintner to leave office.
Kintner has said little about the scandal but noted he no longer uses a state laptop. He said he decided not to quit after extensive prayer and consultation with pastors and his wife, who works as a senior policy adviser for Ricketts. He said he apologized to his wife and God.
“Any time I make a major decision in my life, I pray about it,” he said in an interview. “That’s how we do it in my family.”
Kintner’s apology rang hollow to Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, who chairs the Legislature’s 10-member, bipartisan Executive Board that sent Kintner a letter urging him to resign. Krist noted the lawmaker didn’t initially express remorse to his constituents or lawmakers.
“I’m not at all surprised. It goes to his character,” said Krist, a Republican. “Most sensible people would not have put their wife or family through this kind of thing, but Mr. Kintner has decided that’s what he wants to do.”
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, a left-leaning independent who frequently clashes with Kintner, blasted his rival for having “no sense of shame” and “no common decency.” The longtime maverick senator has already produced a series of long poems on state letterhead, dubbed Kintner-grams.
Kintner was fined $1,000 last month after admitting he engaged in mutual masturbation in July 2015 with a woman using Skype, an online video-chatting service. The woman, who the Nebraska State Patrol believes to have ties to an Ivory Coast crime syndicate, threatened to expose the encounter unless Kintner paid her $4,500.
Kintner reported the threat to the Nebraska State Patrol. The attorney general’s office declined to take action, but a review panel levied the fine against Kintner for misuse of state property.
Last year, the state Latino American Commission condemned Kintner for repeatedly using an ethnic slur during a debate over allowing driver’s licenses for certain youths brought to the country illegally.
In 2013, he criticized legislation that would allow same-sex couples to adopt, calling such measures “homosexual bills.” He referred to “men in dresses” when defending his vote against a bill that would have outlawed anti-gay discrimination and assailed social programs as “government cocaine” during debate on a Medicaid expansion proposal.
Some were bemused and others offended by his 2013 comment to a newspaper, which asked him what he considered the biggest mystery. Kintner responded, “Women. No one understands them. They don’t even understand themselves. Books and books and books have been written about it, and no one understands it.”
Some of his most pointed criticism is aimed at fellow lawmakers. In one column he wrote for a weekly newspaper, Kintner claimed senators are like monkeys who attack those who try to disrupt the status quo.
In June 2015, he briefly posted a photo of a beheaded woman on his Facebook page to show his opposition to the Legislature’s vote to abolish the death penalty.
Kintner’s latest problems follow a spate of cases in which elected officials found themselves in trouble for online interactions.
Anthony Weiner resigned his congressional seat in 2011 after acknowledging he had texted sexually explicit photos of himself to several women, and his campaign for New York City mayor was torpedoed in 2013 when it was revealed he was still sexting with other women.
An Indiana lawmaker apologized after a website reported he’d been sexting with a woman who also had exchanged explicit emails with Weiner. A Missouri legislator resigned in 2015 after a newspaper reported he’d sent sexually charged text messages to a Capitol intern, and a New Hampshire state representative was indicted earlier this year on charges of using a computer to solicit what he thought was a teenage girl for sex.
Herring said it is a “hideous double standard” for lawmakers to attempt to expel Kintner. He noted that Nebraska’s Legislature has no formal ethics code and that even senators convicted of drunken driving haven’t faced expulsion threats.
Sen. Mike Groene, a conservative Republican from western Nebraska, said Kintner’s constituents should decide his future when he faces re-election in 2018.
“What he did was wrong, but it’s not my responsibility or my fellow senators’ responsibility to decide who represents that district,” he said.