Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska visited campus on Monday to speak at a luncheon hosted by the Omicron Delta Kappa leadership honorary and the President’s Office. In his talk, entitled “Taming the Leviathan: Reducing the Size and Scope of Government,” the governor discussed how he has applied his business experience, which includes serving as the Chief Operating Officer of TD Ameritrade, to state governance.
Q: Nebraska is the only state to have a unicameral legislature. Do you think this is an effective system of government?
A: Like any system, it’s got pluses and minuses. On the plus side, I am told we are less polarized than other state houses, and I think that makes it easier for us to work on different solutions. From my perspective, one of the challenges a one-house system presents is that I’m the only check and balance in the system. So it puts a lot more pressure on the executive branch when it comes to bad bills that might come out of the body to try and stop those.
Q: I want to talk about the death penalty repeal bill, which you vetoed, which was followed by a veto override, and then ended up on the ballot last November after you helped get enough votes for a petition. Why is this issue important to you?
A: The death penalty is an important tool to protect public safety, in particular for protecting our law enforcement officers, and I also think about it from the standpoint of our corrections officers. We ask our corrections officers to go into our prisons, and without that additional sanction of a death penalty, we put our corrections officers at risk. And so that’s why I personally think it’s important for protecting the public safety.
Q: In your speech today, you talked about your efforts to run the government like a business and that you treat citizens like customers; can you talk more about this approach?
A: I’ll give you an example from our Department of Environmental Quality. For our general air construction permit, we reduced the time to issue a permit from weeks or months to just a day or two. We’ve also put some of those processes online so we can streamline the process and allow customers to input the data themselves. So by focusing on things like that and starting to treat people like customers, it starts to change that mentality with regard to how I do my job.
Q: I wanted to talk a little bit about the Keystone Pipeline — how do you respond to landowners who are concerned about it?
A: We have a Public Service Commission who is reviewing the pipeline application, and they will rule this month whether or not that pipeline serves the public interest. I think they will, because it’s important for our country, for energy independence. But it’s also good for Nebraska; it’s going to create a couple thousand jobs while they’re building the pipeline, and it will create some ongoing jobs afterwards, and it will also help the property tax base in those counties it will run through, giving them the ability to build roads and schools and so forth. And frankly, we’ve got 29,000 miles of pipeline already crossing our state, and pipelines are shown to be one of the safest ways we can transport materials like this.
Q: What are some of the most important issues in Nebraska right now, and what do you hope to accomplish by the end of your term?
A: Our whole vision for the state of Nebraska is to grow. Forbes already ranks us the No.1 state for regulatory environment, and we know that’s a big deal when companies are thinking about expanding or moving to Nebraska. We also have to focus on controlling our spending, so that we can deliver tax relief, and we’ve done that. I’ve reduced the growth of government by 90 percent; it was growing at 6 percent before I took over as governor.
Q: Outside of politics, what do you like most about living in Nebraska?
A: The best thing about Nebraska is the people. Nebraskans are just incredibly warm, generous, hospitable, friendly people that care about each other.
Q: You also are on the board for the Chicago Cubs. How has the season gone this year?
A: Well, we made it to the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that hasn’t happened in over a century. So while we fell short of getting to the World Series, it was still a very good year, and we’ll look forward to re-tooling the team next year to be competitive again.