Johanns won't run again for Senate; Janssen enters governor's race

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February 18, 2013 - 6:30pm

Nebraska U.S. Senator Mike Johanns announced Monday that he won’t run for reelection next year.

Johanns announced his surprise decision in an open letter with his wife, Stephanie. He elaborated on it in a news conference in Papillion, where he said no one factor had led to the decision. "What it came down to is, it was just time. We always thought to ourselves that there would be a time; we would know when that time arrived, and that time has arrived."

Johanns, a Republican, was first elected to the Senate in 2008, and is finishing his first term. Before that, he served as a Lancaster County commissioner, mayor of Lincoln, Nebraska governor, and U.S. secretary of agriculture. I’ll be 64 when I’m finished the term and that will be 32 years" in public office, he said. "That’s half my life. That’s enough. And it’s probably enough for the state, too."

"We never wanted to stay until people said ‘Man, I wish they would have left years ago. Maybe there are some today saying that. But we just felt it was time," he added.

Johanns said his biggest accomplishments as senator were repealing a provision of health care reform that would have required businesses to report purchases of $600 or more from contractors to raise revenue; blocking the use of the budget reconciliation process to pass a cap-and-trade system to deal with climate change; and constituent service.

He said his biggest disappointment was not having dealt with budget deficits, although he noted he has two years to go.

Johanns said his health had nothing to do with the decision, although going into surgery several years ago for a spot on his lung that turned out not to be cancer had helped put things into perspective. "What I was prepped for was whether they would be able to solve the problem with surgery whether literally they would see the cancer had spread sufficiently that there wouldn’t be a surgery – they would close me back up and I would go to chemo," he recalled.

"That was a very sobering thing, and it causes you to reevaluate. Now, I certainly didn’t make the decision then. But I certainly came to realize what a lucky person I was," Johanns said.

Johanns said he was announcing his decision now to allow potential successors time to gear up their campaigns. His announcement set off speculation about who might run.

Among those prominently mentioned was Gov. Dave Heineman, who is prevented by term limits from running for re-election as governor next year. Heineman, who declined to run last year, did not rule out the possibility. "I’ll think about it. But I don’t want you to misinterpret that," Heineman told reporters. Being governor has always been his "dream job," he said, "and until a few hours ago I wasn’t even thinking about the United States Senate."

Other possible Republican candidates, according to state GOP Chairman Mark Fahleson, include Attorney General Jon Bruning, Treasurer Don Stenberg, and First District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. Democratic State Chairman Vince Powers said that party’s potential candidates include former Lt. Gov. Kim Robak and former University of Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont announced his candidacy Monday for the Republican nomination for governor. Janssen, 42, head a health care staffing company. He’s a former Navy search and rescue swimmer. He announced his candidacy to supporters in Fremont, declaring "My background and my life experiences have instilled in me an unwavering belief that the strength of our state and nation comes from the hard work of the people, and not from the overreaching and misguided goals of big government."

In five years in the Legislature, Janssen is best known for his stances on illegal immigration. He sponsored a bill to adopt an Arizona style law to crack down on illegal immigrants; attempted to repeal in-state tuition for children who were brought to the country illegally, and this year, is trying to repeal prenatal care for women who are in the country illegally.

So far, none of those attempts have succeeded.

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