Gov. Pillen appoints Pete Ricketts to replace Ben Sasse in U.S. Senate

Published: Jan. 12, 2023 at 9:15 AM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - It’s official: Former Gov. Pete Ricketts is heading to Washington, D.C., to become Nebraska’s next senator.

Days after Ben Sasse officially vacated his Senate seat, Gov. Jim Pillen on Thursday morning announced he was appointing Ricketts as his replacement.

“I’m very grateful for this unexpected opportunity to be able to continue to serve the people of Nebraska,” Ricketts said before thanking Sasse for his service in the role, noting his commitment to selecting conservative judges, and wishing him well in his new work in higher education.

Pillen said he didn’t want to put in a placeholder, and wanted to choose someone who could win election in 2024 — someone with “seniority.”

“Gov. Ricketts assured me that no matter who calls for a different job, he is committed to the United States Senate,” Pillen said. “No matter who calls him to be a vice president of the United States, who calls him to be ... Secretary of State or any other thing, he’s committed to this seat; and he and Susanne have committed to winning elections at a minimum of 10 years, and I’m praying it’s gonna be longer than that, and you’re gonna love it there, Susanne.”

“Very flattering. Thank you,” Ricketts said as the group had a laugh.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen said he didn’t want to put in "a placeholder," and wanted to choose someone who was committed to the seat — someone with “seniority.”

Pillen had been mulling the list of interested parties since the window for applications closed in December. Pillen said Thursday that he interviewed nine candidates out of 111 applicants.

“It was a very, very hard decision,” he said, noting that he didn’t interview any Democrats.

Senator-designate Ricketts, who supported Pillen’s campaign, led a slate of applicants — many of whom were familiar names in Nebraska politics.

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen shared the names of the eight other people he interviewed for the open Senate seat ahead of choosing his appointment.

Ricketts described the interview process as more of a dialogue. He said it lasted a little over an hour.

Pillen shot down the notion of any “backroom dealings” in choosing to send the former governor to the U.S. Senate.

“Anybody who knows me, that’s not part of my DNA. Just doesn’t work,” the governor said. “Integrity of the process and commitment to the process was highest priority.”

Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen addresses a question about perceptions his Senate appointment was the result of a "backroom deal."

Ben Sasse, whose resignation as Nebraska’s junior senator was official on Sunday, gave a farewell speech on the Senate floor last week. Sasse left to become the president of the University of Florida following a contentious confirmation process there.

“I am also very, very excited to have Pete Ricketts as a colleague,” Sen. Deb Fischer said at Thursday’s news conference. “He understands this state. He knows this state. He has connections all over this state, and he has shown that he will be out traveling the state. He will be listening to Nebraskans, that is a strength that Pete has, and that is something I’m looking forward to him bringing to the Senate as my colleague.”

The Senate is slated to convene on Monday, Jan. 23.

Watch Thursday’s news conference