Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy resigned Saturday morning after an investigation by the Omaha World-Herald found thousands of phone calls made to four women.
Until Saturday, Sheehy had been considered the front-runner in the coming gubernatorial race in 2014.
Gov. Dave Heineman announced Sheehy’s resignation at a press conference that morning.
“As public officials, we are rightly held to a higher standard,” Heineman said. “I had trusted him, and that trust was broken.”
The Omaha World-Herald found Sheehy made 2,300 late-night phone calls to the women on his state-issued cell phone. None of these women were his wife.
“I don’t respect that at all,” said Tom, a criminal justice major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who chose not to disclose his last name. “If you can’t have dignity and honor and respect for your own personal life, you can’t treat us as citizens with any respect.”
Among other UNL students, reactions were mixed.
“I don’t think having an affair warrants the resignation of a public official,” said Michael Dunn, a senior communications studies major. “But the fact that he didn’t think to use something other than his state-owned cell phone means he may lack the common sense required to be a lieutenant governor and gubernatorial candidate.”
Liz Fillman, a sophomore political science major, said she believes elected officials need to be held to a higher standard because they serve as role models. She said that even though former President Bill Clinton’s image was colored by the Monica Lewinksy scandal, his image is still widely positive.
“On the other hand, maybe his personal ethical choices that do not affect public policy should remain private,” Fillman said.
Alex Meitl, a junior industrial engineering major, commends Lt. Gov. Sheehy for doing the right thing and stepping down.
“Everybody sins,” Meitl said. “I think that he can be forgiven for what he’s done.”
Last July, Connie Sheehy filed for divorce after 29 years of marriage. The World-Herald found that the calls spiked after Sheehy filed for divorce. Sometimes he would call more than one woman a night, sometimes three different women.
Saturday afternoon, the World-Herald spoke with one of the four women, Theresa Hatcher, a Bellevue doctor.
According to the World-Herald’s telephone records, Sheehy spoke with Hatcher 367 times mostly from 2009 until 2011.
Hatcher said her relationship with Sheehy began in 2008. She described how the two would meet in Omaha’s Old Market and planned out secret rendezvous when Sheehy was traveling. She told the World-Herald about their long, sexually charged phone calls when they were unable to meet. Hatcher didn’t know about other women Sheehy was speaking to at the time. She said she heard some rumors about additional women when the relationship had a falling out. She dismissed the rumors at the time. Hatcher said Sheehy had promised to marry her and that he was unhappy with his wife.
“I regret now that many of my understandings and impressions about his marital status were later found to be inaccurate,” Hatcher told the World-Herald. “I have nothing but the utmost respect for Rick and Connie and wish them both nothing but the best, both personally and professionally.”
Sheehy was also speaking to Michele Ehresman, former head of the Holdrege Chamber of Commerce and two other women from Texas and Colorado. Ehresman, who is recently divorced, declined to speak to the press. The other two women said the conversations were not sexual in nature.
In July 2011, Sheehy called Ehresman on 27 out of 31 days, talking for 852 minutes in 102 conversations. He also called Hatcher 18 times that month, talking for 104 minutes. By comparison, he exchanged cellphone calls with his wife 14 times that month, and none of the calls lasted longer than five minutes.
Morgan Erickson, a freshman electrical engineering major, believes the media are blowing this scandal out of proportion given the circumstances and how scandals such as this have become commonplace.
“It’s their life,” Erickson said. “Just because they’re well-known doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have privacy in their own life.”
Dona-Gene Mitchell, an assistant professor of political science, said the events surrounding Sheehy were mundane compared to other political scandals.
Mitchell has studied political scandals. She has a coming journal article about how timing impacts the fallout of political scandals.
“The timing of the scandal is interesting,” she said. “Having a hastily prepared press conference on a Saturday morning when the media is focused on the Super Bowl and other things.”
Mitchell said because of the conservative nature of Nebraska, Sheehy’s political career is likely over.
Oanh Pham, an accounting and finance major, explains the implications of a scandal such as this on the public’s opinion.
“My parents are refugees. When they hear these things, they’re kind of devastated,” Pham said. “Hearing these things makes you think that it’s happening more, and that it’s hard to trust who you vote for.”
Michael Wagner, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Sheehy’s reaction was atypical because he resigned before the news of the scandal broke.
“If Lt. Gov. Sheehy had decided that he wanted out of politics because of reasons related to the scandal, then the sooner he left office, the better,” Wagner said. “If he decides to run for governor or if he returns to politics soon, he will have to face the scandal again plus questions about him being a quitter.”
Wagner, a UNL alum and former political science professor, said the situation leaves the Nebraska GOP without a clear candidate for the election.
John Hibbing, a UNL political science professor, spoke with CNN about the coming race.
“(Sheehy) was a little bit under the radar and Gov. Heineman was calling the shots,” Hibbing said. “He’s been the Nebraska equivalent of the vice president.”
He said Attorney General John Bruning or State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont might run for the GOP.
Former Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood withdrew from the race in December because his wife had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Heineman doubted Sheehy would still run in 2014. Heineman rescinded his support.
“I’ve got a knot in my stomach,” Heineman said. “I’m deeply disappointed.”
He will begin the process of replacing Sheehy Monday morning. Heineman did not lay out details of why Sheehy had resigned. Heineman was notified of the matter on Friday, and he and Sheehy had a private discussion.
Sheehy’s resignation letter does not include any details about the phone calls. The letter only thanks Heineman for the time they worked together.
“It has been a privilege to serve you and the great people of our State as Lieutenant Governor,” Sheehy wrote.
Sheehy has served as Lieutenant Governor since 2005. Sheehy was seen as a rising political star. Previously, Sheehy was the mayor of Hastings and a member of the City Council. In December 2011, Sheehy had filed the paperwork to enter the 2014 race.
Sheehy has not spoken with any reporters. He did not return any calls made by the Daily Nebraskan.
Sheehy also deleted his Twitter account before the press conference. Although Heineman appeared dismayed by the news, he said he wasn’t offended by the investigation.
“I believe in our public records and transparency in government,” Heineman said. “We as government officials live in a very public arena, and that’s the way it should be. I believe in transparency.”