Pete Ricketts ran for governor in 2014 on the theme that his alleged business savvy qualified him for the job. Unfortunately, Ricketts has visibly struggled in his job as governor since he was inaugurated in 2015. His repeated failures and missteps have long since punctured the notion that he was a good businessman. Ricketts’ reputation first took a huge hit in 2015 when he sent $54,000 to a shady middle man in India to purchase drugs for executions. Nebraska never got the drugs and we never got our money back. He has never recovered or improved. This failure was a harbinger of things to come.
Ricketts’ decisions regarding the contract for St. Francis Ministries has further exposed his incompetence. His administration accepted a ridiculously low bid from St. Francis Ministries in 2019 to handle child welfare services in the Omaha metro area. St. Francis’ bid was suspicious at the time since it was 40% lower than any bid.
As it turned out, that disingenuous bid was too good to be true. After St. Francis totally botched its child welfare cases, the State had to provide St. Francis with a $147 million bailout. This undeserved bailout wiped out the illusory cost savings and made the St. Francis contract more expensive than the ones proposed by the other bidders in 2019.
The Omaha World Herald — which had endorsed Ricketts in both 2014 and 2018 — blasted Ricketts’ failures in a recent blistering opinion piece: “No question, managing state government is a challenging endeavor, whether in a small state or a big one. But that in no way exempts an administration and its departments from their duty to exercise professional competence and judgment. Early in Gov. Pete Ricketts’ tenure, his administration implemented various efficiency initiatives. That was commendable. But the large-scale accounting problems and the St. Francis situation have tarnished the administration’s reputation greatly on the management front.”
In response to this failure, the Unicameral set up a special committee to investigate this mess. Last week, the legislature’s executive board selected nine members of a special committee to investigate the billionaire governor’s failed child welfare services in eastern Nebraska. However, the executive board didn’t appoint Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh to serve on this committee. This was a significant and outrageous omission since Cavanaugh was the sponsor of the legislation that established the investigatory committee in the first place.
What made this even more disturbing was that Rickett’s allies have a 5–4 majority on this committee and that includes one of the GOP senators who opposed the investigation in the first place. This is obviously a move aimed at covering up Ricketts’ decision to accept the suspiciously low bid from St. Francis.
The omission of Cavanaugh set off a firestorm on the floor of the legislature while they were debating the budget. “Does anyone think this is right?” Cavanaugh asked. Cavanaugh (justifiably) contended that that she had been “stabbed in the back” by supporters of Ricketts for having the audacity to investigate his failures. Sen. Megan Hunt correctly observed that some state senators who opposed the investigation had been selected to serve on the committee while Cavanaugh was rejected because she is a “bulldog for children.”
The Omaha Young Republicans weighed in on this debate with an outrageous tweet that is reminiscent of Donald Trump. The Omaha Young Republicans posted that Cavanaugh had a “TOTAL meltdown” and then questioned her mental health and suggested that someone “should check in with her to see if she’s OK.” (The tweet has since been deleted.)
Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb blasted Ricketts and the Omaha Young Republicans: “This attack by Republicans was irresponsible and inexcusable. The Omaha Young Republicans should apologize immediately to Sen. Cavanaugh and fellow state Chair Dan Welch should join me in condemning such attacks. When a woman stands up for some of the most vulnerable among us — children in foster care — she should be applauded, not mocked by an official group of the Republican Party. One has to wonder if this is an attempt of distraction by the Republican Party to draw attention away from the crisis of the foster care system in our state where millions of dollars have been wasted and corruption is at the door of Gov. Ricketts.”
The 2022 election cycle will be here before you know it. This election will determine whether the right wing of the GOP will wreck the state with ruinous tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. Ricketts will be termed out and we will be electing a new governor. In addition, several Democratic and moderate Republican state senators won’t be running for re-election due to term limits. We have our work cut for us in 2022. Let’s get it done! Let’s leave it all out on the field! We can do this!