A public records request made by the Omaha paper The World-Herald revealed that Nebraska’s Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy made improper, late-night calls on his state-issued cellphone to four women during the last four years. None of the women were his wife, who filed for a divorce last summer. The matter came to the attention of Governor Dave Heineman on Friday. He promptly met with his second-in-command. A press conference was called for 10 a.m. Saturday to announce Sheehy’s immediate resignation and, boom!, the lieutenant governor was gone.
During the press conference, the governor said:
“As public officials, we’re held to a higher standard. Rightly so. I had trusted him and that trust was broken.”
As far as the request for public records, Heineman added:
“I believe in our public records and transparency in government. We as government officials live in a very public arena, and that’s the way it should be. I believe in transparency.”
This resignation is particularly significant because Sheehy declared his candidacy almost two years ago for the 2014 governor’s race, and was considered the frontrunner. He was hand-picked by Heineman for the office of lieutenant governor in 2005 with the hope that Sheehy would eventually make his own run for governor. He had already received Heineman’s endorsement for the office. The governor said he doubts Sheehy will continue his bid but, in any case, will no longer have Heineman’s support.
Suddenly, the Nebraska race has been upended. Instead of a shoo-in Republican candidate as a foregone conclusion, the office is wide open to Democratic challengers. Among the possibilities are a University of Nebraska Regent, Chuck Hassebrook, state senator Steve Lathrop, and state senator Annette Dubas.
After the resignation was announced, the state chairman of the Democratic Party, Vince Powers, said:
“We’re going to have a very strong candidate in 2014. This doesn’t change anything, other than it really 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.”
Politically, Rick Sheehy had wrapped himself in a conservative’s morality, declaring himself to be pro-life and anti-immigration. What is puzzling is the apparent inability to learn from the mistakes of so many politicians who have fallen before him. At the very least, shouldn’t a public figure stop to think about the transparency issue, to ask himself whether he should be making his inappropriate late-night calls–if he’s going to make them at all–on a state phone, or a private phone, not subject to public disclosure?
That, presumably, is where the arrogance comes in–an attitude of ‘I’ll be the one who doesn’t get caught.’ And following that one thought, a governor’s race is transformed.