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Republican Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen on Thursday appointed his predecessor, Pete Ricketts, to fill the Senate seat vacated by Ben Sasse when he stepped down to become president of the University of Florida.

Ricketts, a Republican, served as governor of Nebraska from 2015 until last week when Pillen was sworn in after winning the 2022 election. Ricketts, who was term-limited, had endorsed Pillen and was widely expected to be the choice to replace Sasse. 

“My job in this process is really, really simple: to find the best person to represent us Nebraskans,” Pillen said at a joint press conference with Ricketts. 

Pillen said his team interviewed nine candidates out of 111 applicants for the open Senate seat, which Sasse formally resigned from on Sunday. Pillen noted that Ricketts vowed he would not leave the Senate to accept a Cabinet position in a future Republican presidential administration. 

Governor Jim Pillen, left, announces the appointment of former governor Pete Ricketts, right, to Nebraska's open senate seat, on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln.
Gov. Pillen placed Pete Ricketts in Nebraska’s open senate seat.
Kenneth Ferriera/Lincoln Journal Star via AP

“Ultimately, the timing of this is very, very rigorous, and my belief in not [selecting] a placeholder and my belief in seniority being really, really important, and running statewide elections and winning statewide elections in ’24 and ’26 is rigorous and demanding, and ultimately that was a big separator,” Pillen said of why he selected Ricketts.

The former governor, and part-owner of the Chicago Cubs, said he is “committed to running” in the 2024 and 2026 elections.

“There’s a fallacy in Washington, DC, that government can’t work and we have to expect failure, but that’s not true. We proved that’s not true here in Nebraska,” Ricketts said. “We need to hold Washington, DC, accountable for making sure they’re providing the same level of high service that we do in state government.”

Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., speaks to a political science class at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Thursday April 5, 2007, in Omaha, Neb.
Ricketts ran for Senate back in 2006 against Ben Nelson, the then-incumbent senator.
AP Photo/Dave Weaver

Ricketts also said Nebraskans should expect “a lot of similarities” between Sasse’s conservative positions and his own. 

“I do think it’s important that we have [those] same conservative values and philosophies coming to DC,” Ricketts said.

Ricketts ran a failed Senate campaign back in 2006, losing to then-incumbent Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson. 

He will now serve until 2024, when he will compete in a special election to fill the remaining two years of Sasse’s term.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., speaks during a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, April 27, 2021, in Washington.
Sasse left his post for a position as president of the University of Florida.
Al Drago/Pool via AP

Prior to Sasse’s appointment at the University of Florida, he told the school’s Board of Trustees that the school is “the most interesting institution in the state, that has the most happening right now, and is, therefore, the best positioned to help lead our country through a time of unprecedented change.”

In November, his appointment was protested by hundreds of students at the school.

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