LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Ricketts can replace former Lt. Gov. Lavon Heidemann as his running mate on the November ballot, Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale said Wednesday.
Gale said Ricketts can make the switch to State Auditor Mike Foley after Heidemann resigned from office and withdrew from the race. A judge this week granted a protective order against Heidemann after his sister alleged that he grabbed her wrists and pushed her during a family dispute.
Hours after Heidemann resigned, Ricketts announced that he had chosen Foley, a former Republican state senator who is known for his fervent opposition to abortion. Ricketts is running against Democrat Chuck Hassebrook to replace Gov. Dave Heineman, who is leaving office in January due to term limits.
Gale acknowledged in a statement that Nebraska law only allows a candidate to be removed by Sept. 1. But he noted that, as the state's chief elections administrator, he also has a duty to make sure that ballots are accurate and don't confuse voters.
"There is no issue of greater importance than ensuring the accurate reflection of candidates on the ballot," he said.
Attorneys for the Ricketts campaign argued that a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2000 trumps the deadline that was established in state law. The constitutional amendment requires candidates for governor to choose their running mate, instead of voters who used to cast ballots for the two separately in primary elections.
Gale, a Republican, said each candidate's constitutional right to pick a running mate has to be weighed heavily against any deadline imposed in state law. In addition, he said his office has not formally certified the ballots for this November's election.
The Nebraska Democratic Party has said placing Foley on the ballot would expose the Ricketts campaign to a legal challenge from any Nebraska voter if Ricketts were to win.
Vince Powers, the party's chairman, said the state has no legal way to remove Heidemann from the ballot. Powers said the constitution does allow gubernatorial candidates to pick their running mates, but the state can impose certain restrictions, such as a deadline for them to act.
Hassebrook, a former University of Nebraska regent, criticized Ricketts for his effort to switch candidates during a press conference on Wednesday, before the decision was announced. But he declined to say whether he would challenge the result in court.
Ricketts "needed to make a decision before Sept. 1 that he was either going to have Lavon Heidemann on the ballot no matter what or he wasn't going to run with Lavon Heidemann," Hassebrook said. "I make a lot of decisions with imperfect information. But that's part of following the law."
His running mate, Jane Raybould, said Ricketts had "ample time" to consider the situation involving Heidemann and decide whether to keep him on the ticket. Ricketts said Tuesday that Heidemann had told him about a family dispute prior to the Sept. 1 deadline.
"He should have acted appropriately and promptly," Raybould said.
Nebraska's lieutenant governor oversees the state's homeland security and information technology programs, and attends public events on the governor's behalf. The lieutenant governor also presides over the Legislature on many days when lawmakers are in session.