Groene resigning after denying accusations he took ‘objectifying’ photos of legislative aide

By: and - February 18, 2022 3:40 pm
Sen. Mike Groene

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

This story has been updated.

LINCOLN — State Sen. Mike Groene announced that he was resigning Friday afternoon, just a couple of hours after denying accusations that he took sexually inappropriate photographs of a female legislative aide.

Gov. Pete Ricketts issued a statement saying that he has spoken with Groene and “we both agreed it was best for him to resign.”

Groene, 66, was elected to the Nebraska Legislature eight years ago, and was barred from running again due to term limits.

An official letter of resignation was expected to come early next week from Groene, an often outspoken lawmaker known for his fiery floor speeches.

“I am not going to drag my wife, family and friends through the fight it would take to defend myself,” the senator said in a text. “I am resigning and dropping out of politics completely. Life is too short.”

Groene, 66, said that he is dropping out of the race for University of Nebraska Board of Regents, a campaign he announced only two days ago.

“I am cutting contact with all things political,” he said. “I am going to just exist and enjoy my remaining days.”

The development came quickly after an Omaha-based website reported, and legislative leaders confirmed, that a legislative aide of the senator had filed a complaint that Groene had taken inappropriate photographs of her while in their State Capitol office.

The chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board, State Sen. Dan Hughes, confirmed Friday afternoon that a workplace harassment complaint had been lodged against Groene and that it was being taken “very seriously.”

That came after the Nebraska Sunrise News reported that Kristina Konecko, who had worked on and off for Groene for six years, had lodged a complaint over photos of herself that she had discovered on Groene’s laptop computer.

Konecko, according to the website, considered the photos inappropriate.  

“The pictures appeared to have been taken by Groene and then emailed from him to other parties with email captions of a sexual nature,” the website reported.

‘Objectifying and demeaning’

Konecko described the photos as “objectifying and demeaning.” The Sunrise News story said some were “zoom-close-ups of provocative body parts with explicit subject lines.”

Konecko declined to comment Friday when reached by the Nebraska Examiner.

Groene told the Nebraska Examiner on Friday that he had taken some individual photos of Konecko in his office, but he denied that they were sexual in nature. He said that they depicted her full body, not “body parts” as has been claimed.

“There were not pictures that were zoomed in or anything,” he said. 

‘I apologized’

“In today’s world, if you want to take a picture of someone, you should say ‘I’m taking a picture.’ But I didn’t, and I apologized for it,” said Groene.

Groene, of North Platte, said legislative IT workers had gone through his computer and discovered nothing that would be considered sexually inappropriate.

He said that he had given Konecko access to his personal computer to screen and “clean up” unwanted emails. That’s when she discovered the photos.

Not a ‘sexual object’

Groene maintained that he had never treated the legislative aide as a “sexual object.” He said he had taken about 20 photographs of Konecko with other visitors to his office, including his wife, but said he had also taken a few of his aide individually.

“She’s kind of a strait-laced person, and I guess I did something I shouldn’t have,” said Groene.

About three or four weeks ago, the senator said, he was informed that Konecko was offended after discovering the photographs. That, Groene said, is when he apologized.

“I am keeping my part of the bargain,” he said.

But all that changed later Friday afternoon when Groene offered to submit his resignation to Ricketts.

State Sen. Dan Hughes
State Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

Complaints about inappropriate behavior by a senator or legislative staff member are handled by the Executive Board of the Legislature, which is headed by Hughes. 

‘This is despicable’

Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, lashed out at Groene on Friday, saying it was an example of the “corruption and harassment” that happens when one party, the Republican Party, dominates a state.

“This is despicable and the latest in a string of inappropriate behavior by Republican officials,” Kleeb said in a statement. “Groene should resign and the public deserves to know all the other senators or staff involved.”

Kleeb cited a handful of cases over the years, including the resignation of State Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion for using a state computer for cybersex, and Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, who stepped down after it was discovered he used a state cell phone to make dozens of calls to women other than his wife.

Groene insisted he treated Konecko “like a daughter” and had always maintained a professional relationship with her.

 “If I’m going to be drug through the mud on the floor (of the Legislature), I’ll resign,” Groene said only a couple of hours before submitting his resignation.

Later, after confirming his resignation, the senator said he needed to focus on “eternity and my family.”

“Feels like a ton of bricks have been taken off my back,” he texted.

Groene, a registered Republican, was a fiery speaker in the Legislature, often railing against spending and tax policies. He unsuccessfully sought major changes in how state aid to schools was distributed while chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, then lost his chairmanship last year due to his often gruff and abrasive personality.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

MORE FROM AUTHOR
Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also spent several years as an assignment editor and worked two stints as an editorial writer. From 2005 to 2007, he served as communications director for then-Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Aaron most recently was the lead investigative reporter for KMTV 3 in Omaha, focusing on holding public officials accountable. His work has received awards from the Associated Press, Great Plains Journalism and more.

MORE FROM AUTHOR