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Former Nebraska Governor Ricketts appointed to vacant Senate seat

By Sarah May
|
January 15, 2023

Former Nebraska Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts was appointed this week by current Gov. Jim Pillen to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retirement of GOP Sen. Ben Sasse, as Politico reports.

Though Ricketts will need to run in a special election next year to see if voters in the state want him to serve the last two years left on Sasse's term, he declared that he intends to pursue the seat in that cycle as well as again in 2026.

Senate vacancy filled

The seat that will be filled by Rickets – at least for now – was rendered vacant when Sasse quit to become president of the University of Florida.

Pillen explained that he selected Ricketts from a pool of 111 applicants – nine of whom were interviewed – because of what he views as his electability in statewide contests as well as his declared intention to seek a full six-year term in 2026.

In Pillen's words, “There's never been a Nebraskan who has had to run for statewide election in two consecutive terms...it's an extraordinarily rigorous challenge.”

Fox News reported Pillen as declaring, “I don't believe in placeholders. I believe that every day matters,” further opining that “placeholders don't have any accountability to the people.”

Dissenters speak out

Not everyone in Nebraska was quite as enthusiastic about Pillen's choice, however, with some voicing concerns about Ricketts' prior relationship with the governor, one in which he provided substantial fundraising assistance and endorsement help in his most recent race.

According to Fox affiliate KPTM in Omaha, activist Jeremy Aspen expressed disapproval of the manner in which Ricketts was tapped for the role, noting that the massive support the incumbent senator gave to Pillen during his gubernatorial race has the unseemly look of a quid pro quo.

Another dissatisfied Republican was Charles Herbster, who opposed Pillen in a primary battle last year, said on social media, “The lengths to which Pete Ricketts went to assure his handpicked successor for governor were, by all standards, unprecedented."

Criticism came from the other side of the aisle as well, with Jane Kleeb, Nebraska Democratic Party chair saying, “Gov. Pillen appointed Pete Ricketts in order to pay him back for buying the Governor's seat. This is the most blatant pay-to-play scheme we've seen in our state and it's happening right in front of us all.”

“Nebraskans deserve a senator who will work for them, not someone who buys elections as a hobby,” Kleeb added.

Skepticism persists

With regard to the man he is replacing in the Senate, Ricketts said that he “can't think of specific issues” on which he disagrees with Sasse, something that has given some conservatives in the state real cause for concern.

Sasse courted particular controversy in recent years for his outspoken stance against former President Donald Trump and his decision to vote for his impeachment in connection to the Jan. 6 Capitol unrest.

Ricketts' conservative bona fides were also brought into question for some due to the fact that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has drawn criticism at times for often moving his party to the center, expressed his wish for the former governor to assume the seat vacated by Sasse.

Aspen elaborated on his concerns by noting that in Ricketts, “we have somebody who's beholden to conservative values, but conservatism doesn't even really have a definition.”

“So, what it ends up meaning is that leadership in D.C. gets to kind of determine what it means to be conservative or Republican. So really, in order to be a good Republican right now in Washington, D.C., just do what leadership says,” Aspen added.

Ricketts, for his part, expressed optimism for what he might help accomplish in his new position, saying, according to the New York Post, “There's a fallacy in Washington, D.C., that government can't work, and we have to expect failure, but that's not true. We proved that's not true here in Nebraska.”

“We need to hold Washington, D.C. Accountable for making sure they're providing the same level of high service that we do in state government,” and whether Ricketts ultimately does that in sufficient measure to warrant reelection in 2024 and beyond, only time – and Nebraska's electorate – will tell.