Omaha state Sen. Joni Craighead announced her resignation Friday from the Legislature, a stunning move that came four days after she announced plans to seek re-election next year.

The race for Craighead's central Omaha legislative seat promised to be one of the most competitive of 2018.

Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, the daughter of former Democratic Congressman John Cavanaugh, announced her candidacy in July. 

Craighead and her campaign manager said her decision to resign, announced late Friday, was due to challenges in her private job as a real-estate broker as well as family issues. Her husband underwent hip surgery on Monday, said campaign manager Rod Edwards. And she wants to spend time with her 1-month-old grandson. 

"Working as a state senator has always been a difficult balance of family, business and legislative responsibilities and recent additions to my family and work commitments have made me realize that I cannot dedicate the time needed to my legislative responsibilities," Craighead said in a news release.

Her resignation is effective at 5 p.m. Sept. 8.

"This has not been an easy decision, but at this time it is the right decision," Craighead said. "I am confident that Governor Ricketts will appoint someone well qualified to fill my seat."

Ricketts issued a statement Friday evening thanking Craighead for her service. During her time in the Legislature, she successfully advocated for Nebraska's women and supported efforts to cut red tape and reform licensing requirements for key professions, he said. 

"We wish her well as she steps away from public service to support her family," Ricketts said. "She will be missed by her colleagues here at the state Capitol." 

She will look forward to being active in the community and seeing what the future has in store, she said.

Craighead, who was elected in 2014 to represent Legislative District 6, had announced Monday she would seek a second term, ending speculation that she was considering a run for Douglas County Assessor.

Edwards said Friday that Craighead considered running for county assessor but changed her mind. 

Despite Monday's announcement that she planned to seek re-election to the Legislature, Edwards said Craighead's resignation wasn't a last-minute decision or triggered by any political or legal issue.

"It's something she's been thinking about for a while," Edwards said. 

Still, her departure within days of announcing her re-election campaign surprised a number of people. 

She attended a fundraiser in her honor Tuesday in Omaha in which both Mayor Jean Stothert and former Gov. Dave Heineman were named as hosts and spoke in support of her re-election. 

Heineman could not be reached Friday evening for comment. Craighead also did not immediately return a phone call. 

Craighead serves on the Legislature’s Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee; the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee; and the Planning Committee. She chairs the Committee on Committees, which assigns each senator to various other committees.

During her time in the Legislature, she has proposed and supported health and safety legislation for women, she said. Her 2017 priority bill, called Cheri’s Law, ensures that doctors inform women with dense breast tissue that a normal mammography might not reveal cancer. She has also supported legislation strengthening stalking and sex-trafficking laws in Nebraska.

Craighead, 63, is a real estate broker and developer, and has a bachelor of science degree in medical technology and a master's degree in public administration.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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