Political shake-up: Sen. Mike Johanns won’t seek re-election

By Bethany Schmidt, NewsNetNebraska

U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns

Republican Sen. Mike Johanns shook up Nebraska’s ever-changing political landscape on Monday when he announced that he will not seek re-election next year.

The announcement set off waves of speculation just about the time political matters were quieting down after the sudden departure of Rick Sheehy as lieutenant governor.  Sheehy resigned Feb. 2 after a newspaper investigation revealed he had made about 2,000 late-night calls to four women, other than his wife, on his state-issued cellphone over a four-year period. He was considered to be a top gubernatorial candidate and had the blessing of Gov. Dave Heineman.

Nebraska GOP chairman Dave Fahleson alluded to Nebraska’s latest political turbulence in a tweet Monday afternoon:

After a heated race between Republican candidate Deb Fischer and Democrat Bob Kerrey for the Senate seat left vacant by Ben Nelson, the race for Johanns’ seat in Congress is sure to see equal competition from both parties.

John Hibbing, a professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said the Republican list of potential candidates would be very deep.

Fahleson had a similar view.

“The Republican party has a number of possible candidates for the seat,” Fahleson said. “[The party] has a strong and deep bench.”

Two of those — Heineman and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-1st District — said today that they were considering a bid for the Senate.

Heineman’s term as governor is up in 2014.

“Chances are quite high that he will run and quite high that he will win,” Hibbing said.

According to Hibbing, another possible Republican candidate for the seat is Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning.

Republicans currently control both of the state’s Senate seats as well as all three of Nebraska’s spots in the U.S. House of Representatives.

But an open Senate seat will be very inviting to Democratic candidates. Kerrey was quoted as saying he has no plans to seek another Senate bid. Other Democrats mentioned as potential candidates are state Sen. Steve Lathrop and former NU Regent Chuck Hassebrook.

Johanns announced that he would be leaving after one term as U.S. Senator in a joint written statement with his wife, Stephanie, that was addressed to “fellow Nebraskans.”

“With everything in life, there is a time and a season,” Johanns wrote. “It is time to close this chapter in our lives.”

Johanns, 62, started his political career as the mayor of Lincoln, serving in that position from 1991 to 1998. He then spent six years as Nebraska’s governor before he was appointed as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in the Bush Administration. He was elected to the Senate in 2008.

“At the end of this term, we will have been in public service over 32 years,” Johanns wrote. “Between the two of us, we have been on the ballot for primary and general elections 16 times and we have served in eight offices.”

Erik Mellgren, finance director of the Nebraska Democratic Party, noted Johanns’  long history in both state and federal government.

“He has served in so many different facets of the political world,” Mellgren said. “I wouldn’t be surprised in he stayed involved [in politics] after a break.”

Fortenberry joined Mellgren in citing Johanns’ record of public service.

“He has served us admirably,” Fahleson said. “Job well done.”

“[Johanns] has devoted his life’s work to the well being of our state and nation,” Fortenberry said in a statement. “Now, we thank him for a job well done.”

As for Johanns and his wife, their next role will be to focus on their family and faith, according to their statement.

“We look forward to the remaining time in the Senate. It is an honor to have served in so many ways over so many years.”

Timeline of Johanns’ public service

Here’s the reaction of the Johanns announcement on social media: