As we’ve discussed here before, Pete Ricketts is off to a very poor start as Governor. He has made a series of mistakes that call into question his competence and ability to function successfully as Governor of Nebraska. Rickett’s stumbling start has not gone unnoticed on the national level. Governing Magazine indicated that he is off to possibly the worst start of any new governor in 2015 and said that he is “struggling.” Paul Landow – a UNO political science professor – said the following about Ricketts’ many setbacks in the Unicameral: “It was a very bad start for a first-year governor. A savvy politician would have picked the battles more carefully.”
Ricketts has continued to struggle mightily since the end of the legislative session earlier this year. Since the Unicameral adjourned, Ricketts has spent most of his political capital trying to reverse his defeat on the death penalty. Ricketts has been so desperate to win a “victory” on this issue that he has spent approximately $54,000.00 of the taxpayers’ money to purchase illegal execution drugs from Chris Harris – a shady middleman based in India.
Harris has passed himself off to Ricketts as a manufacturer and distributor of medications. Instead, investigative reporting has revealed that Harris has no pharmaceutical background and that his “factory” was an apartment that he hasn’t lived in for two years.
Despite Harris’ obvious lack of legitimate credentials, Ricketts sent him a state check for $54,000.00 to purchase enough execution drugs for 300 executions even though only 10 people are on death row and Nebraska hasn’t executed anybody for 18 years. Moreover, Ricketts paid seven times more than what these illegal drugs usually cost.
Rickett’s dealings with Harris has caused a firestorm of criticism in Nebraska. A spokesman for Nebraskans For Public Safety blasted Ricketts’ claim that he can legally purchase the execution drug from Harris and demanded that Ricketts stop “misleading” the voters about the prospect of obtaining this execution drug. Senator Adam Morfeld labeled Ricketts’ attempted purchase as: “Illegal drugs from a black-market source with no pharmaceutical background.” Morfeld also said. “Twice now Nebraska has given Harris tens of thousands of dollars, and we have nothing to show for it.”
Rickett’s attempted purchase of these illegal drugs calls into question his so-called business acumen and private sector experience that he claimed would benefit Nebraska. Instead, Ricketts failed to properly investigate Harris’ background and paid way too much for too many drugs. Any CEO who did something like this would be fired. Moreover, Ricketts should reimburse the Nebraska taxpayers from his own vast personal fortune the $54,000.00 he squandered on the purchase of clearly illegal drugs from a sleazy con man in India.
Ricketts hasn’t only embarrassed himself in his dealings with Mr. Harris, he has even managed to alienate former Governor Dave Heineman and started speculation that Heineman may mount a primary challenge against him in 2018.
Ricketts’ squabble with Heineman began when it turned out that the State Patrol’s overtime is costing the state about $50,000 more per month than the average monthly cost in 2014 and all years dating all the way back to 2002. Reporting by Deena Winter at Nebraska Watchdog has revealed that Ricketts frequently travels out of state and that his State Patrol security detail is racking up some of the largest overtime expenses in recent history.
Taylor Gage – Ricketts’s spokesman – set off the dispute between the two GOP governors when he tried to defend Ricketts by claiming that Heineman traveled extensively in 2007-08. Heineman shot back and was able to prove that Ricketts’ office provided information that was “inaccurate and misleading.”
This dispute between Ricketts and Heineman set off speculation in Republican circles that Heineman may challenge the current Governor in the 2018 GOP primary. In an interview, Heineman didn’t rule out a future run for governor saying that: “I don’t think you ever say never. I enjoy it. I like it.”
A Ricketts versus Heineman primary battle would be the political equivalent of thermo-nuclear war. Both candidates would be lavishly funded and would relentlessly attack each other. Whatever candidate emerged as the winner of the GOP primary would be wounded and the leader of a badly divided party.
This kind of primary fight could open the door to a Democratic governor in 2018. Both Jim Exon and Bob Kerrey defeated incumbent GOP governors after the incumbent Republican governor fought off a tough primary challenge. The Nebraska Democratic Party has several potential candidates who could run a strong campaign for governor.
All of this speculation about 2018 is interesting but we need to stay focused on 2016. The first step to ending Ricketts’ ongoing reign of error is to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral in 2016. We are well positioned to have a good election cycle next year because we’ve recruited a strong slate of candidates and there should be a strong Democratic turnout in a Presidential election year. Now let’s get it done! No excuses! We can do it!