Nebraska Lieutenant Gov. Rick Sheehy, a leading contender for the Republican nomination for governor next year, resigned Saturday. Gov. Dave Heineman announced the resignation in an unusual Saturday morning news conference. "Earlier this morning, Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy submitted his resignation to me. I’ve accepted his resignation, and it is effective immediately," Heineman said.
The resignation came after the Omaha World-Herald said it sought information on what the newspaper called "improper" cell phone calls from Sheehy to four women other than his wife during the last four years. Sheehy’s wife filed for divorce last July, after more than 28 years of marriage.
Heineman said he had been aware of the public records request for Sheehy’s phone and email records shortly after it was made in mid-December. But he said it didn’t seem unusual, and that the administration gets public records requests all the time. However, he added, "Late yesterday, I became of aware of new information regarding the lieutenant governor’s personal decisions, and subsequently had a conversation with him. I had trusted him, and that trust was broken."
Sheehy could not be reached for comment. In his resignation letter he wrote "Dear Governor Heineman, I hereby resign the Office of Lieutentant Governor of the State of Nebraska effective immediately. It has been a privilege to serve you and the great people of our State as Lieutenant Governor. Sincerely, Rick Sheehy."
Heineman said he didn’t think Sheehy would be charged with any offense, but that would be up to Attorney General Jon Bruning.
The newspaper said Sheehy made thousands of late-night telephone calls to the women on his state issued cell phone, many of them long convesations held in the wee hours of the night.
Nebraska Chief Information officer Brenda Decker told NET News said the lieutenant governor’s cell phone had a flat-rate calling plan, so the state would not be charged any extra for the calls. She said landline calls could be charged by the minute if they were long-distance. Nebraska law permits employees to make what it calls "essential personal business" calls on state phones. Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Hein said the administration will review the records and decide whether or not to ask Sheehy for reimbursement.
Both the World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal Star reported that Bellevue Dr. Theresa Hatcher, one of the women Sheehy called, acknowledged a relationship with him.
Nebraska lieutenant governors have few day-to-day responsibilities other than those assigned by the governor. Sheehy sometimes presided over the Legislature, and was the state’s homeland security coordinator. But much of his time was taken up by travel around the state. For example, before his resignation, next week he was scheduled for eight public appearances from Falls City to Kearney, speaking to business and military audiences.
Sheehy’s resignation will have an impact on next year’s governor’s race. He had already announced he would run for the Republican nomination, and Heineman endorsed him. Heineman said Saturday he now expects Sheehy won’t run, and he won’t support him under the circumstances.
The GOP race had previously lost a major candidate when former legislative Speaker Mike Flood withdrew because his wife has breast cancer.
Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Mark Fahleson called Sheehy’s resignation "unfortunate." But he said the GOP has plenty of other good candidates to replace Sheehy in the race for governor next year. Nebraska Democratic Party Chairman Vince Powers said the resignation shows Republicans have been in power too long and have become arrogant and corrupt.
Fahleson said the GOP’s prospects are still bright. "Nebraska Republicans are so fortunate to have such a long and deep bench of qualified individuals. It’ll be a very competitive primary, obviously more competitive given that Lt. Gov. Sheehy is no longer in the race, or we assume as much," he said.
Fahleson said he expects state Sen. Charlie Janssen will enter the governor’s race in the next 30 days, and University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare may reconsider his decision not to run.
"There are a number of other people contacted me in the last 12 hours to visit about the race and to express interest. So I think a number of people will hop into the governor’s primary for 2014 on the Republican side," he said, predicting the party’s nominee will be victorious.
On the Democratic side, state Sen. Steve Lathrop and former Regent Chuck Hassebrook have been among those mentioned as potential candidates. Powers predicted the next governor will be a Democrat.
Heineman said he would begin the process of appointing a replacement for Sheehy on Monday.