Pete Ricketts had less than three weeks between his old job and his new one a thousand miles away. The former governor of Nebraska was sworn in to the Senate on Monday, raising his right hand as the chamber returned to start the year’s work in earnest.
He got the role thanks to the man he backed to replace him as governor, Jim Pillen. The choice “was very, very obvious,” Pillen said when announcing the appointment on Jan. 12.
Ricketts replaces former Sen. Ben Sasse, who resigned effective Jan. 8 for a position leading the University of Florida. The state’s senior senator, Deb Fischer, stood by his side as he took the oath of office on the floor.
“The Cornhusker State expects a lot from its leaders,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said a few minutes later, praising Ricketts for applying “private sector savvy to the work of public administration” during his political career. He also lauded the $900 million tax cut package Ricketts signed in April 2022 and his mandate-resistance response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Pete, we’re glad to have you here on the team,” McConnell said.
According to Nebraska law, Ricketts will serve until the position can be filled in the next statewide election, in 2024. If Ricketts wants to serve a full six-year term, he’ll have to run again in 2026, when Sasse would have been up for reelection.
Ricketts was viewed as a likely candidate shortly after news broke in the fall of Sasse’s planned departure. McConnell publicly supported the idea.
“If that were the way it worked out, I think it’d be a smooth transition,” McConnell said at the time, of the potential Ricketts appointment.
Ricketts is a scion of a wealthy family that founded the financial services company TD Ameritrade and owns Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs. Rickett’s father, Joe, has a net worth of $5.97 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
He and his family have been reliable fundraisers for GOP candidates. Ricketts made $3.8 million in political contributions in his last year as governor, including a $100,000 donation to Pillen’s campaign in January 2022, the Omaha World-Herald reported.
Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin made a point of mentioning baseball in his welcoming remarks. “I don’t know him well. I’m sure I will come to know him. But I certainly know his family,” the Illinois Democrat said. “They’ve made their impression on the city of Chicago by purchasing the historic franchise, the Chicago Cubs.”
Ricketts was elected governor in 2014 and reelected in 2018. He ran for Senate in 2006, but lost handily to Democrat Ben Nelson, despite breaking Nebraska campaign spending records at the time.
“Pete Ricketts fits the bill,” Pillen said in a statement earlier this month. “He is hard-working, a positive leader, and someone who advocates for conservative and Christian values.”
Ricketts echoed some of those sentiments on Monday. “In state government, we’ve shown what a great impact conservative leadership can have, and I’m going to bring the same approach to Washington,” he said in a statement.
Paul V. Fontelo and Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.