Omaha, NE—Two top state officials are accused of wrongdoing—two different reactions by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
In 2015 Pat McPherson, a member of the State Board of Education was accused of racism. Ricketts asked him to resign but McPherson—insisting he’d done nothing wrong—refused and is still on the job.
Now three years later State Auditor Charlie Janssen is accused of shirking his job with overly long drinking lunches. Ricketts is not asking Janssen to step down, even though Janssen admits the accusations are true.
Jane Kleeb, head of the Nebraska Democratic Party, says Janssen should resign and that both “Ricketts and Janssen should be held accountable for the waste and abuse of party politics.”
Ricketts’ switch—one guy should resign, the other guy shouldn’t—is not a question of party politics. Ricketts, McPherson and Janssen are all Republicans.
But unlike 2015 this is an election year. Pushing Janssen out with the possibility of letting a Democrat into the Auditor’s office—an office that can investigate Ricketts and plenty of other Republican office holders—is most likely something no one in the GOP wants to see.
Kleeb isn’t budging. “Nebraska voters did not send ‘Chugging Charlie’ to Lincoln and pay him $85,000 a year to sit around with his buddies drinking beer in a sports bar.”
According to a report in the Omaha World-Herald, 10 times over a recent 20-day working period Janssen was repeatedly observed at a Lincoln bar—at times for up to three hours— with little evidence that he was at his office in the Nebraska State Capitol.
Again, Janssen admits the story’s accuracy: ” I am not a perfect man and I acknowledge the reports are true. I apologize to the citizens of Nebraska for some of my choices, and effective immediately I am taking steps to make changes in my personal and professional life.”
At the same time Janssen defends the job he’s been doing arguing he’s come in under budget each year since his election in 2014 and “uncovered numerous cases of fraud and abuse, saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year.”
Ricketts says Janssen has “acknowledged his shortcomings to the public and has taken personal responsibility for his choices. While I do not approve of the actions in question, the Auditor’s Office has identified areas where state agencies can improve for taxpayers, and I believe the office has done a good job.”
But again, unlike McPherson, Ricketts is not asking Janssen to resign. “The ballot is set for this fall, and Nebraskans will decide this election in November,” says the conservative governor.
An election that pits Janssen against Democrat Jane Skinner, an Omaha librarian and political newcomer with a so-far struggling campaign.
“It’s been clear for years to anyone who has been paying attention that Janssen’s heart is not in his work,” says Skinner. “The people of Nebraska deserve better, and I want to be the full-time auditor Nebraskans deserve.”
Kleeb often complains that it’s time to end the GOP’s “one-party rule” in Nebraska.
The last time a Democrat was elected State Auditor was 1990, 28 years ago.