Gov. Pete Ricketts on Thursday focused on economic growth and job creation as he assumed the reins of state government, but he identified property tax relief as "my No. 1 priority" this year.
Ricketts took the oath of office before an overflow crowd during inauguration ceremonies in the ornate legislative chamber, marking the beginning of his four-year term.
In a brief inaugural address to the Legislature, the new governor pledged to work closely with senators in "a spirit of collaboration" and assured them he "will listen closely and with an open mind" to their concerns.
Ricketts said "Nebraska's high taxes (are) a major barrier to growing jobs in our state," but it is property taxation that must be addressed first.
Both remarks sparked applause during his address.
"Nebraskans from Alliance to Syracuse have expressed their strong interest in finding a pathway to property tax relief," Ricketts said.
Interviewed after the speech, Sen. Mike Gloor of Grand Island, chairman of the Revenue Committee, seconded Ricketts' focus on property tax reform.
“Inevitably where we look the worst and have the biggest challenges and where we get out of whack with other states is property tax,” Gloor said.
Freshman Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln agreed with Ricketts on the importance of the economy and jobs.
“Of course the economy and jobs are critical to our state, and I am totally behind him on those issues … I also hope there will be a focus on some of the issues of poverty,” she said.
During his speech, Ricketts pointed to a number of goals he will pursue, including creation of 21st century infrastructure in the state and expansion of career or vocational training opportunities, presumably provided through the state's community college system.
Those were among goals he had emphasized during his gubernatorial campaign.
Ricketts condemned the "regulatory burdens" that, he said, plague the livestock producer in Bridgeport as well as the manufacturer in Deshler.
As governor, he said, he would "stand up to the excessive regulation forced on us by Washington" and ensure that the state regulatory process is "fair, transparent and more efficient."
Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion called it a “tremendous speech.”
“I think he hit on things that most Nebraskans care about,” Kintner said.
The public balconies filled early for the afternoon event, leaving dozens of people who had gathered in the Rotunda unable to get into the legislative chamber. A class of students from St. Mary's School had to settle for viewing the preliminary gathering of dignitaries in the Rotunda.
Ricketts, who had been formally sworn in as governor at mid-morning by Secretary of State John Gale, smiled and waved to people as he waited in front of a sea of cellphone cameras to be escorted into the chamber for the ceremonial oath of office administered by Chief Justice Mike Heavican.
The governor's wife, Susanne Shore, and their three children were seated in the front row. Shore joined Ricketts at the podium for the oath.
Seated up front to one side were Ricketts' parents, two brothers and one sister.
Matt Miltenberger, the governor's chief of staff and manager of his successful gubernatorial campaign, stood near the family.
"I love him and I'm extra proud today," Joe Ricketts, father of the governor and billionaire founder of TD Ameritrade, said immediately following the ceremony.
"It's wonderful," he said. "The state will benefit from his ability to think through problems and come up with good decisions.
"He's smarter than I am and I'm very proud of him."
Ricketts, a Republican, succeeds Dave Heineman, who served a record 10 years as governor.
Thursday's event marked the first ceremonial inauguration of a new governor since 1999, when Mike Johanns took the oath of office. Heineman moved up to the governorship from the office of lieutenant governor in 2005 when Johanns was appointed U.S. secretary of agriculture.
For Ricketts, the moment represented the culmination of a dramatic political comeback from 2006 when he first was a candidate for office and was swamped by incumbent Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson.
Also sworn in during the ceremony were Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, Secretary of State Gale, State Treasurer Don Stenberg, State Auditor Charlie Janssen, Attorney General Doug Peterson and members of the Public Service Commission, State Board of Education and University of Nebraska Board of Regents.