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Ricketts sticks to his script, says wait and see about U.S. Senate vacancy

By: - November 21, 2022 5:11 pm
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts. (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts stuck to his script Monday, declining to say whether he’s interested, or disinterested, in filling the vacancy created by the expected resignation of U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.

The closest he came was in responding to a caller to his monthly radio call-in show Monday afternoon. The caller asked about his plans after stepping down as governor in January, due to term limits.

U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., has said he will resign after the first of the year to become the next president of the University of Florida. (Screenshot/University of Florida)

“I would love to remain involved in policy and politics,” the 58-year-old Republican responded.

But Ricketts said he was awaiting how Gov.-elect Jim Pillen plans to deal with the vacancy once he takes office in January, which is when Sasse is expected to resign.

Ricketts has said he would not fill the vacancy himself had the resignation come while he was still in office, but was deferring the pick to Pillen, whom Ricketts financially backed and endorsed.

It’s widely assumed that Ricketts will be the appointee, if he wants the job.

Earlier, during a press conference, Ricketts was noncommittal when asked by reporters about his interest in the opening.

‘Wait and see’

“Gov.-elect Pillen is going to have a process,” Ricketts said. “We’ll wait and see what happens.”

When asked if he might decline to seek a seat in the U.S. Senate, as his predecessor, Gov. Dave Heineman, did because he preferred to be an executive rather than one of many legislators, Ricketts said that the executive and legislative branches are two separate wings of government that have “different roles.”

“There’s lots of ways to contribute. We’ll what Gov.-elect Pillen does in regard to this process, and we’ll see what happens from there,” Ricketts said.

Disputed criticism

The governor did push back against criticism leveled by Kerry Winterer, a former CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services, in a Nebraska Examiner commentary Monday.

Winterer, who now lives in Wyoming, wrote that Ricketts’ use of his own personal wealth to support candidates and overturn the repeal of the death penalty isn’t illegal but possibly unethical.

It risks having Nebraska “governed as a fiefdom by those who have the resources to do so,” Winterer wrote.

Ricketts contributed about $3.8 million to a variety of political campaigns and causes this year, the Omaha World-Herald reported earlier this month.

Ricketts said he supports “conservative causes, and I’ve done that before I was governor and continue to do it today.”

“And I’m going to continue to it in the future,” he added. “It’s about getting your message out.”

Ricketts said that “at the end of the day, the people decide because they vote.”

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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.

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