Ricketts, sworn in as Nebraska’s governor, looks back and ahead

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January 9th, 2015

Pete Ricketts acknowledges applause after being sworn in (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Pete Ricketts acknowledges applause after being sworn in (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Lincoln, NE – Pete Ricketts was sworn in Thursday as Nebraska’s 40th governor. In his inaugural speech, Ricketts looked back on the state’s history, and ahead to the challenges he sees.

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Ricketts, a 50-year-old former business executive assuming his first public office, had a statewide audience for his speech  in the George W. Norris legislative chamber. But he began by speaking personally about a member of the Legislature’s family.

“Before we get started here today, I would like to take a moment. A friend and colleague of many folks work in this building – Chris Keetle — passed away this morning. I want to express my heartfelt sympathy to the family, and ask you all to keep Chris and his family in your prayers at this time,” Ricketts said, asking people to join him in a moment of silence.

Keetle, who was 37, worked for the Legislature for 15 years as an aide to senators from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans.

Then Ricketts evoked the history of Nebraska. He began by mentioning settlers who came following the Homestead Act of 1862. “The first homesteaders were immigrants, citizens, freed slaves,” he said. They traveled for hundreds of miles to Nebraska, by foot, wagon train or railway, searching for a better life.”

Ricketts mentioned Daniel Freeman, a Union army veteran who was one of the first homesteaders in 1863, and Robert Ball Anderson, a freed slave and also a Union army veteran who became the first freed African American homesteader, in 1870.

“We continue to welcome people who value freedom, and who search for a better life. We welcome people from all around the world who come to study at our great universities, or work in our businesses, run our farms or our ranches,” he declared. “And as our forefathers did 150 years ago, we continue to honor the veteran – men and women who sacrifice and serve our country.”

Ricketts said Nebraska has great advantages. “We have a great state – a beautiful state – filled with opportunity from the Missouri River to the Sandhills to (the) Pine Ridge,” he said. “Nebraska is what America is supposed to be.”

But the new governor said there are challenges in creating new jobs to keep and attract young people in the state. “There’s a barrier to creating jobs here in the state. And it’s Nebraska’s high taxes. We must cut taxes,” he declared, to applause.

Ricketts promised to make property taxes relief his top priority, while preserving services Nebraskans care about most. And he also said businesses, including farmers and manufacturers are overregulated. He promised to stand up to federal overregulation, and make state regulations fair, transparent, and more efficient. Ricketts also promised to strengthen career and vocational education, and promised to work with the Legislature.

The new governor ended with an appeal to the people of the state. “To Nebraskans everywhere, I encourage you: stay involved. Stay engaged. You are the second house. Hold us accountable for what we achieve.” And he quoted the late Virginia Smith, the only woman to have represented Nebraska in the U.S. House of Representatives, saying “There is no excellence without great labor.”

Afterwards, lawmakers with different perspectives said Ricketts for setting the right tone. Lincoln Sen. Kathy Campbell said his mention of the aide who died shows his personal touch. Campbell said she talked with Ricketts briefly this summer, mentioning her daughter, who had a serious illness. The next two time she saw the governor, he asked how her daughter was doing, Campbell said, adding “I think that that is a hallmark of his, that he pays very close attention to people.”

Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo praised Ricketts as forthright. “I would say the governor’s right on,” he said. “He’s very open…he’s a good listener, he’s very focused. He presented the facts today, and now it’s just time to get to work.”

Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz said she liked Ricketts general vision. “I thought it was positive and optimistic. And I think it’s probably a vision we can all agree on,” Bolz said.

As for specifics, Grand Island Sen. Mike Gloor said he wasn’t expecting them, beyond Ricketts advocacy of economic development and tax cuts.

Gloor chairs the Revenue Committee which shapes tax legislation. He said the specifics of tax cutting will be a balancing act. “You’ll notice that he followed up discussion of tax relief with talking about ‘Well, we have to preserve those priorities that are important to Nebraskans.’

Education and health care fit in that category, Gloor said. He added that it’s “hard to argue” in general with anything Ricketts said. “The challenge will be the specifics. The challenge with tax cuts will be what will we cut and how much?”

The answer to that will develop as the legislative session continues.

 

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