This story was published on August 1, 2016.
One of the many down sides of the Nebraska GOP’s control of the state Constitutional offices and Unicameral is that it is difficult to hold their elected officials and candidates to account for their misdeeds. This has created a certain arrogance and high handedness that makes them believe that they can do anything and get away with it.
I wrote a piece about this issue in 2013 during the Heineman Administration when then Lieutenant Governor Rick Sheehy was forced to resign over the use of a state cell phone to call his girlfriend. In addition, the Heineman Administration’s general arrogance and incompetence caused the disintegration of the Beatrice State Developmental Center — which hurt Nebraska’s most vulnerable citizens and cost the taxpayers $25 million in lost federal funds.
After I wrote that 2013 piece, the Heineman Administration doubled down on on even more corruption. Sheehy wasn’t the only Heineman Lieutenant Governor who had to resign under fire. Then Lieutenant Governor (and Ricketts running mate) LaVon Heidemann was forced to quit in 2014 after it was revealed that he had assaulted his sister in a family dispute over an estate. Moreover, then GOP Attorney General nominee Doug Peterson threatened Heidemann’s sister with a junk lawsuit if she filed a protection order against Heidemann.
Perhaps the most serious scandal of the Heineman era involved the Corrections Department where 750 prisoners were freed prematurely and had over 2,500 years shaved off their collective sentences. Heineman scapegoated several career lawyers at the Attorney General’s office over this fiasco by forcing their resignations and ruining their careers.
As it turned out, Heineman was behind the early release of these prisoners. Then Nebraska Parole Board Board Chairwoman Esther Casmer testified at a 2014 legislative hearing that Larry Bare — Heineman’s chief of staff — threatened to terminate her if she refused his request to approve greater numbers of prisoners for parole and for a furlough program. Casmer testified that Bare said to her: “Don’t be concerned about losing your job for paroling people. Be concerned about losing your job for not paroling.”
Heineman’s secret early release program jeopardized the safety of Nebraskans and was in defiance of court ordered sentences. The special legislative committee that investigated Heineman’s early release program found that at least 162 violent offenders were prematurely released including ten who had been convicted of manslaughter or second degree murder.
Committee Chair State Senator Steve Lathrop stated: “The Governor’s failure to declare an overcrowding ‘emergency’ led to most of the administrative foul-ups at the Department of Correctional Services and prompted the agency and administration to deal with crowded conditions ‘in the shadows’ and sometimes outside the law.”
The Nebraska GOP’s culture of corruption and arrogance has continued into the Ricketts Administration. The most alarming example of this problem is the revelation that State Senator Bill Kintner had a sexually explicit video of himself and a woman on his state computer. Nebraska statutes bar state elected officials and civil servants from using their state computers for nonessential activity of a personal nature.
Even more alarming than this revelation about Kintner, it turns out that Governor Ricketts was aware of this videotape as early as July 2015. Ricketts claimed that he asked for Kintner’s resignation last summer but the Governor kept these revelations a closely guarded secret until the scandal broke on July 29, 2016.
The Nebraska Democratic Party has demanded that Governor Ricketts come clean about this dirty GOP sex video. As NDP Chair-Elect Jane Kleeb said: “Ricketts knew a year ago about the sex video, asked Kintner to resign and then did nothing. The fundamental question is why did Ricketts keep this from the public for over a year and only when another brave state senator made a statement to press call upon Kintner to resign? A year has gone by and instead of solving this major breach of public trust in a day, Ricketts makes time for Cubs games.”
Current NDP Chair Vince Powers stated: “Ricketts furthers the GOP sex tape cover-up by erroneously claiming he could not disclose the facts of the case because of an investigation by the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. The law states only that he could not disclose the existence of the investigation, he can and should disclose the facts to the public.”
It is evident that Governor Ricketts covered up this scandal because he desperately needed Kintner’s vote in the legislature. When Ricketts covered up Kintner’s sex video, he “owned” Kintner during the last session and could count on his vote. Powers contended: “(T)the past legislative session would have been completely different had the allegations came out sooner and Kintner resigned.”
The voters are owed answers from Ricketts and Kintner. “Pete Ricketts has to tell us what he knew, when he knew and why he covered it up,” Powers said in an interview with the Omaha World Herald. “If he doesn’t, he should resign.”
The best way to get those answers is to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral this fall. Only Democratic State Senators will hold Ricketts and Kintner accountable for these scandals. Continued control of the legislature by Republicans will only insure that these revelations are swept under the rug and that the Nebraska GOP’s culture of corruption will continue. Now let’s get to work and elect more Democrats to the Unicameral!