New Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts recently finished a legislative session that some Republican insiders (justifiably) termed an “embarrassing start.” Two prominent Republican lobbyists who spoke to me on background were both highly critical of Ricketts’ handling of the legislative session. One lobbyist said the Senators perceived Ricketts’ approach as “heavy handed” and another told me that the Ricketts Administration only got engaged with the Unicameral very late in the session.
Ricketts’ failed legislative session isn’t the only thing that has called into question his competence and ability to serve as Governor. His recent attempt to purchase an execution drug not only creates concerns about his ability to govern – it even raises questions about his election year claim that he is an experienced and savvy businessman.
The Nebraska Governor recently authorized the purchase of execution drugs that have been deemed illegal by the FDA from a shady middleman in India. Ricketts purchased these drugs even though the FDA warned him that that the agency will seize Nebraska’s shipment. Moreover, Ricketts paid seven times more than what the drugs usually cost and purchased enough drugs for 300 executions – even though there are only ten people on death row. Ricketts was clearly taken to the cleaners by the seller of the drugs.
Ricketts’ mishandling of the Unicameral and attempted purchase of illegal drugs aren’t the only areas which have caused some to doubt his ability to effectively serve his constituents. Some of the Governor’s hires have further called into question whether he is up to the job of Nebraska’s chief executive.
As it turns out, Ricketts’ new economic development director who came out of the Walker Administration in Wisconsin – Brenda Hicks-Sorensen – has become embroiled in a scandal in the Badger state. Apparently, Hicks-Sorenson was involved in Wisconsin’s decision to award a $500,000 loan to a company that has since defaulted on that loan. It is probably no coincidence that the company involved in the scandal was a significant Walker donor.
What makes this controversy even more disturbing is that Hicks-Sorenson worked in the Walker Administration as vice president at the scandal ridden Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation before being appointed by Ricketts as director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. Unfortunately, Walker’s economic development policies in Wisconsin have proven to be a failure. Currently, Wisconsin ranks dead last in business start up activity. Moreover, Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has handed out millions of dollars in uncollectible loans and tax breaks without requiring the recipients to create any jobs.
Ricketts made another ill considered hire when he appointed Courtney Phillips as CEO of the wasteful and grossly mismanaged Department of Health Human Services. This was another poor decision by the Nebraska Governor since Phillips had previously served as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals in the Jindal Administration in Louisiana.
Like the Walker Administration, the Jindal Administration is known for it’s incompetence and fiscal irresponsibility. The Louisiana Governor financed a big tax cut for the wealthy by cutting spending for the poor and middle class – including an $800 million cut in Medicaid spending. The Louisiana legislature recently closed a $1.6 billion budget deficit with a controversial tax increase on the poor, middle class and small businesses.
Platte County Democratic Party Chair Tom Havelka said it best: “It is too bad the Navigator on the Titanic is dead. Otherwise Ricketts would have hired him. The same goes for the Air Defense Officer from Pearl Harbor. Two of the most inept agencies in State Government today are Wisconsin’s Economic Development Council and the Louisiana Department of Health and guess where Pete Ricketts sought to find people to lead? In the Rickets Administration competency will not be tolerated at any level”
Ricketts’ hire of officials from Wisconsin and Louisiana tells us what governors he admires and the direction he wants to take Nebraska if he gets a compliant legislature in next year’s elections. The independence displayed by Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Unicameral have saved Nebraska from a self inflicted budget meltdown and a dysfunctional state government. We must work hard next year to preserve the independence of the Unicameral. Otherwise, Ricketts and the Radical Right will ruin our state and turn us into Wisconsin and Louisiana. We can’t let that happen.