Omaha Senator Sara Howard has introduced legislation that would impact how governors fill vacant positions in the legislature. These vacancies occur when senators resign before the end of their term. Let’s review the patterns of our current governor’s overreach of power and highly partisan cherry picking in his appointments.
Pete Ricketts, our current governor, has been able to hand select four legislators in the Nebraska legislature; David Schnoor, Nicole Fox, Robert Clements and Theresa Thibodeau . Ricketts was able to fill the first seat when Dave Heineman was still governor and Ricketts had been elected but not sworn in. Schnoor and Fox were chosen precisely because they were highly partisan conservatives, so far to the right that they would have trouble getting past voters in their districts. We know this because even with an incumbent advantage, they were unable to to get reelected.
David Schnoor, the first Ricketts appointment, cared little for Nebraskans outside his own district. Right before the general election (which he lost), he posted an insensitive and racist meme. When critics complained, he choose to leave the meme on social media, solidifying his reputation as a mean-spirited hack.
Nicole Fox, the second Ricketts appointment, was known to be far right of the political center. Though the people of her district typically vote for progressive politicians, Ricketts did not hesitate to go against the voting patterns of the people and appoint her. She was such a poor fit for her district that she did not finish in the top two in the primary when up for re-election, so she never made it to the general. In a legislature that has been passing and killing bills by a single vote, she was critical to the Ricketts agenda. For her service to the oligarch Ricketts, she now works for the Ricketts-funded faux research organization, the Platte Institute.
Ricketts’s third legislative appointment was Robert Clements, and here’s where the plot thickens. Ricketts decided to completely ignore the 35 applicants who applied for the vacancy–as Ricketts himself publicly requested would-be nominees to do–and chose Clements, who had not even applied for the job. When asked why Clements hadn’t filled out an application, Ricketts said it was likely because Nebraskans are humble. He conveniently forgot to mention that Clements was the GOP chairman for Cass county and his son is the vice chair.
Most recently, Ricketts’ newest appointment puppet is named Theresa Thibodeau in Omaha. (Her extremely partisan sister, Aimee Melton, sits on the city council of Omaha, and political insiders are claiming that Thibodeau was placed in the legislature to help defund public education. Time will tell if those rumors have any legs.) Eleven qualified citizens applied to be appointed, including a current candidate who has been knocking doors in the district. Do you know who didn’t apply? That’s right, Theresa Thibodeau. Thibodeau said in a recent interview in the Lincoln Journal Star that she agrees with the governor “90-95% of the time,” but Seeing Red challenges her to name one substantive issue on which they disagree. No, it is likely that Thibodeau, like other puppets operated by Ricketts, cares more about amassing wealth in the hands of the few than about conservative principles. There’s a reason Ricketts chose Thibodeau when she had not even applied for the job. Therefore, Seeing Red places her at the tip top of the list of Ricketts’ bought and paid-for puppets.
Let’s look at this application business a little closer. Traditionally, when a seat is vacated, individuals interested in filling the vacancy and who meet other requirements must fill out an application within 30 days. The Governor then chooses from among those qualified applicants. Ricketts, however, has ignored a wide array of qualified applicants to hand select non-applicants who will carry water for him. It’s baffling why these appointees couldn’t be bothered to fill out an application–perhaps it has something to do with the section of the application that asks the applicant to allow the Nebraska State Patrol to look carefully into their backgrounds for conflicts of interest? LB777 would limit the governor’s ability to choose someone who didn’t bother applying, and instead would require that the Governor only choose among the applicants who file within 30 days.
Ricketts’s crony appointments fall within a much larger pattern of hyperpartisan overreach of power. Since his term began in 2012, he has financially bankrolled a ballot initiative to the tune of $300,000 in order to overturn the state legislature to keep the death penalty in Nebraska. He has also worked to recruit and personally fund alt-right challengers to traditional conservative senators simply because these old school conservatives choose to represent their constituents instead of goose-stepping to Ricketts’s marching orders. He is notorious for violating the nonpartisan nature of the legislature in order to centralize power in what he clearly wishes was a totalitarian Ricketts Family regime.