Appointment leaves empty regents seat

2013-02-14T03:55:00Z 2013-03-18T13:28:04Z Appointment leaves empty regents seatBy KEVIN ABOUREZK / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com

Life had just begun to settle down for Mike Jones when his phone began to ring Wednesday afternoon.

A reporter on the other end asked the former University of Nebraska Board of Regents candidate whether he had been contacted by the governor’s office about taking Lavon Heidemann’s seat on the board. No, Jones responded.

But if Gov. Dave Heineman were to call and ask, he said, he'd take it.

“I’d do my best to represent the district,” the David City insurance executive said. “We’ll just wait and see what unfolds.”

Heineman appointed Heidemann his lieutenant governor Wednesday, throwing into disarray the District 5 regents seat Heidemann won in November, defeating Jones by 4,067 votes. The governor didn’t say Wednesday who he'd appoint to succeed Heidemann on the board that oversees the University of Nebraska, but he said he'd work to fill the vacancy soon.

The last time Heineman got to fill a vacancy on the Board of Regents, he chose Bob Phares, a former mayor of North Platte. In August 2006, Phares replaced David Hergert, who was impeached by the Legislature for campaign finance violations.

Phares wanted to fill Hergert's seat and state law required he seek election in November 2006. Because he wasn’t on the ballot, he had to collect 1,000 signatures from across District 7’s 34 counties to compete. He got the signatures and won the seat.

“It was a challenging process to go through,” he said.

Phares said whoever Heineman chooses to fill the open seat likely would need to seek election in November 2014 if they wanted to fill the remaining four years of Heidemann’s six-year term.

“I’m very sorry to lose his expertise and participation on the board. He had a very broad knowledge of the university and university system,” Phares said of Heidemann. “I’m sure he’ll do an excellent job as lieutenant governor.”

At least one state organization is worried about who the governor might tap to fill Heidemann's seat.

Julie Schmit-Albin, executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, said her group opposed a Jones appointment.

Unlike Heidemann, who opposes using embryonic stem cells approved by President Barack Obama for research, Jones has said he supports current regents policy that allows it.

“What we gain in having (Heidemann) as a lieutenant governor, we lose on the regents side,” Schmit-Albin said. “We’ll send the governor the info we have on … Mike Jones. We’ll just hope the governor keeps that issue in mind when he’s making his appointment.”

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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