The Nebraska press and political insiders were dismayed by Ricketts’ failed first legislative session in which his agenda was largely ignored by the Unicameral due to his inexperience and weak staff. As it turned out, several important measures such as the repeal of the death penalty and the granting of drivers licenses to the Dreamers were passed over his vetoes. Insiders from both parties at the Capitol were harshly critical of Ricketts and some Republicans even (justifiably) contended that the session was an “embarrassing start” for the rookie Governor.
Ricketts struggles have not only occurred over at the Capitol. As it has turned out, Ricketts has made several executive appointments that have proved to be a further embarrassment to his Administration.
When Ricketts ran for Governor last year, he touted his experience at AmeriTrade and contended that Nebraska would benefit from his business experience. In furtherance of that end, Ricketts hired a private search firm to conduct a search for key appointments and financed that search with money from special interest groups like the Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
Unfortunately for the Nebraska taxpayers, Ricketts’ highly touted (and overrated) talent search has saddled them with several unsuitable people serving in important positions. Moreover, Ricketts seems to have a tendency to select appointees from Wisconsin and Louisiana – which are GOP dominated states that have been plagued with corruption and fiscal irresponsibility.
A key appointment from Scott Walker’s Wisconsin was the selection of Brenda Hicks-Sorensen as Nebraska’s economic development director. In Wisconsin, Hicks-Sorenson served as the vice president at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. While serving in that capacity, she played a major role in that department’s failure to scrutinize the the financial background of a company that received a $500,000 loan that is now in default. The company that failed to pay off this loan from the Wisconsin taxpayers also happened to be a significant donor to Scott Walker’s campaigns.
At least two key Ricketts appointments have come from another state that is suffering from Republican misrule. Courtney Phillips – who served in the number two post in the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals – was picked by Ricketts to head up the troubled Department of Health and Human Services. (HHS) That agency was allowed to disintegrate during the Heineman Administration and has been plagued by gross incompetence and mismanagement.
It is doubtful that things will improve at the Nebraska Department of HHS under Phillips’ (so-called) leadership. Senior officials in Governor Bobby Jindal’s administration used private email accounts to craft a strategy for making cuts in the amount of $859 million in that state’s Medicaid program. (I’m still waiting for Fox and the GOP to condemn Jindal for this practice.) Despite these deep cuts in Louisiana’s Medicaid program, that state is currently suffering from a $1.6 billion deficit created by Jindal’s tax cuts.
Another failed appointment from Louisiana has further tarnished Ricketts’ already tattered reputation for executive competence. The Governor’s newly appointed state director of developmental disabilities – Yolanda Webb – suddenly resigned last week after only working in her new job for all of 5 days. Webb’s resignation was bizarre and totally unexpected. She told Ricketts in her resignation letter that “I have decided (and sometimes life decides) that it’s best to go in a new direction.”
Ricketts hasn’t had any better luck when making appointments of people who are from Nebraska. Brad Rice – who was selected to head up the Nebraska State Patrol – was sued for denying a promotion to a woman and saying that women shouldn’t be in law enforcement. The State of Nebraska was sued for discrimination in this case and lost in 2007.
The State of Nebraska probably lost this case because there was strong evidence that Rice committed perjury at the trial. During the trial, Rice repeatedly testified under oath that he never said that women shouldn’t be in law enforcement. However, a State Patrol sergeant testified in that trial that Rice had indeed made that statement. (It wasn’t all that long ago that the GOP was of the belief that committing perjury in a civil trial was a firing offense.)
The most disturbing and common thread in Ricketts’ hires is that most of his top picks come from Wisconsin and Louisiana. What this should tell us is that Ricketts admires the records of Walker and Jindal and would like to bring their policies here to Nebraska.
Both Wisconsin and Louisiana are suffering from record budget deficits that were caused by reckless tax cuts for the wealthy. (At the present time, Wisconsin has a $2 billion budget deficit.) Moreover, both of these states suffer from corruption and cronyism.
In the 2016 election cycle, Ricketts will recruit and lavishly finance a set of legislative candidates to do to Nebraska what has happened in Louisiana and Wisconsin. As Nebraska Democrats, we can stop him by contributing to and working hard for our own slate of candidates.
In the last few months, Chuck Hassebrook, Steve Lathrop and Hadley Richters have recruited a bumper crop of 5 star recruits for the legislative races. We have excellent candidates for the Unicameral in almost every part of Nebraska. There is every reason to be optimistic about our chances in 2016.
Nevertheless, we can take nothing for granted. Ricketts and his billionaire friends will do everything they can to turn Nebraska into a banana republic. We can’t let that happen. Now let’s get behind our great candidates and have a good election cycle. We can do this!