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Lieutenant governor candidate questions Ricketts’ record on discrimination, harassment against women

October 5, 2018

LINCOLN — The Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor said Thursday that Gov. Pete Ricketts is “out of touch with the women of Nebraska and indifferent to claims of discrimination and harassment” in state government.

Ricketts’ campaign rebutted the charges.

State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont made the statements during a press conference in the State Capitol, flanked by several women and a few men.

“No person should work in state government who either condones, ignores or would allow this kind of behavior,” she said, referring to harassment and discrimination.

Walz is on the ticket with Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, the Democratic candidate for governor. The two are challenging Ricketts and Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, the Republican incumbents.

In a statement, Jessica Flanagain, Ricketts’ campaign manager, called the charges “desperate, false allegations” and a “shameless attempt” to “smear a respected man.”

Flanagain said Ricketts has been “proactive in protecting women in the workplace” and in supporting and promoting women in their careers.

At the press conference, Walz pointed to three cases in which she faulted the current administration.

The first was Ricketts’ 2016 appointment of Max Kelch to the Nebraska Supreme Court. In January, Kelch resigned abruptly rather than face an ethics investigation that an official told The World-Herald was related to allegations of sexual harassment.

The second involved Ricketts’ former administrative assistant, who was laid off Dec. 1, 2016. She was told that her position had been eliminated by budget cuts, but she has filed a lawsuit alleging that the real reason was her age. A woman four decades younger was hired to take over her job duties.

The third was Ricketts’ decision to name Brad Rice head of the Nebraska State Patrol, saying, “I know his integrity will direct his decisions.” Rice was confirmed despite questions raised by lawmakers about his views on women in the patrol.

Rice was fired in 2017 for allegedly interfering in internal affairs investigations and ignoring a complaint by a trooper who said she was forced to undergo a sexually invasive examination during a pre-employment physical.

Matthew Trail, Ricketts’ campaign spokesman, responded to the cases in turn. He said no questions had been raised about Kelch’s conduct before Ricketts appointed him.

In the second case, Trail said the work of three people on the governor’s administrative staff was consolidated into two positions. The administrative assistant position was not filled.

As for Rice, Trail said that Ricketts had ordered an investigation when concerns were raised about the patrol leader’s conduct. The investigation led to Rice’s termination. He said the governor also proposed legislation to strengthen accountability and disciplinary measures within the patrol.

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