The stunning political downfall of Nebraska‚??s Lieutenant Gov. Rick Sheehy Saturday night has upended that state‚??s political landscape‚??and, very possibly, opened the door to the election of the Cornhusker State‚??s first Democratic governor in 16 years.
Sheehy, considered the shoo-in for the Republican nomination to succeed lameduck Gov. Dave Heinemann next year, suddenly resigned from office late Saturday amid revelations he had used his state-issued cellphone to make thousands of calls to four different women who were not his wife. Sheehy — who separated from his wife of 29 years in July — had reportedly maintained relationships with all four, including a physician who told reporters ‚??I thought I was the only one.‚?Ě
The Sheehy scandal leaves Nebraska Republicans caught off-guard regarding a successor to Heinemann and raises Democratic hopes of recapturing the state house 16 years after Ben Nelson, later a U.S. senator, was their last governor.
One month ago, Sheehy‚??s main rival for nomination also left the race in a major surprise. Former Nebraska Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood revealed his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer and said he wasn‚??t running. At the time of publication, the lone Republican voicing interest in the race is State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont. Considered a conservative, the 41-year-old Janssen has never been elected to anything beyond his senate district and has never run for anything statewide.
Two familiar names being batted about in GOP circles are eight-term Rep. Lee Terry of Omaha and State Treasurer Don Stenberg, who has lost four races for the U.S. Senate, including the primary last year won by freshman Sen. Deb Fischer.
Meanwhile, Democrats are now salivating for a crack at the governorship, with University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook and State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha likely to run. In addition, talk is expected to grow regarding a bid by liberal State Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton‚??if for no other reason than Republicans scored a coup by electing stalwart conservative Fischer their state‚??s first female senator since 1954.
In speaking to reporters after the Sheehy exit, State Democratic Chairman Vince Powers sounded what is sure to be his party‚??s theme in the race for governor next year: ‚??[The Sheehy affair] demonstrates that when you have one party in power for too long, arrogance and corruption and scandal follow it. It doesn‚??t matter if it‚??s Democrats in power or Republicans in power.‚?Ě