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Former Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts appointed to Senate

Fellow Republican fills seat vacated by Sen. Ben Sasse’s resignation

Former Nebraska Gov. and Senate appointee Pete Ricketts, right, campaigned for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2022 primary season.
Former Nebraska Gov. and Senate appointee Pete Ricketts, right, campaigned for Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in the 2022 primary season. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)

New Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen has followed through on appointing his predecessor, Pete Ricketts, to the Senate following the resignation of Sen. Ben Sasse.

Pillen made the announcement Thursday morning, noting how seldom senators are appointed.

“Appointments happen only because life happens,” Pillen said. “This is an extraordinary day. It’s only happened five times in the history of our state.”

To keep the seat, Ricketts will have to run in 2024 to serve the remainder of Sasse’s term, and then again in 2026 if he wants a full six-year term. Pillen said he did not think that appointing a placeholder senator would be the right move, saying that “Placeholders don’t have any accountability to the people.”

He noted that Ricketts’ challenge ahead will represent the first time anyone has had to run for statewide office in two consecutive cycles.

“I have a pretty good idea of what it takes to win an election that is statewide and to do that in two consecutive two year terms is, it’s an extraordinarily rigorous challenge,” Pillen said.

Pillen said that it was important for the new Nebraska senator to begin to gain seniority, as Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., has done.

“I’m very grateful for this unexpected opportunity to be able to continue to serve the people of Nebraska,” Ricketts said.

“I look forward to working with him, and I look forward to welcoming him to the Senate chamber for a swearing-in at the end of this month,” said Fischer. “We know that Pete knows the state of Nebraska, and we know that Pete loves the state of Nebraska.”

The Ricketts appointment was widely expected, though Pillen formally used an application process for the position. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said publicly since October that he wanted to see Ricketts join the ranks of Republicans in the Senate, including in a CNN interview.

“If that were the way it worked out I think it’d be a smooth transition,” McConnell said of the potential Ricketts appointment.

Sasse officially left the chamber on Saturday to take over as president of the University of Florida. Under Nebraska law, the appointment would run until the seat can be filled during the next statewide election, which is in 2024.

Sasse would not have been up for reelection until 2026, and took a jab at the institution he was leaving in his farewell speech last week.

“When we’re being honest with each other, which usually means when on one of the very rare occasions where cameras aren’t present, we all know that a big chunk of the performative yelling that happens here and in every hearing room is just about being booked for even more performative yelling at night on TV,” Sasse said. “It might feel good temporarily, a little dopamine hit, to fire off a clever tweet or get booked on a supposedly prime slot. But honestly, almost nobody’s watching and the share is getting smaller.”

Ricketts, a two-term governor, previously held senior leadership roles at what became TD Ameritrade, the Ricketts family business. The Ricketts family also owns the Chicago Cubs and members of the family have been prolific GOP fundraisers and donors.

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