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Gov. Pete Ricketts has been a governor-on-the-go, crisscrossing the state for speeches, community events and business and agricultural tours, leading trade expansion missions to China, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Italy, Denmark and Belgium.

On a personal level, Ricketts has displayed seemingly boundless energy, enthusiasm and optimism during the four years since he was elected in November 2014. 

His explosive laugh has become a signature trademark across the state.

Now, he is seeking re-election to a second term, promising four more years of fiscal restraint and conservative governance that includes determined opposition to any tax hikes.

Ricketts, who has described Nebraska as "a high-tax state," says that "we need to reduce your taxes."

One of the central and most consistent themes of his governorship has been an effort to conduct state government more like a business, bringing private sector values and strategies into the public sector, often describing taxpayers as customers.

His goal, Ricketts has stated, is to deliver state services more efficiently while controlling and reducing costs. 

Government deregulation has been part of the package.

"We need to cut red tape for businesses," the governor says.

Ricketts is a former executive at TD Ameritrade, the company built by his father, Joe Ricketts, and he shares in family ownership of the Chicago Cubs.  

During his first term in office, Ricketts points out, the rate of growth of state government spending has been reduced by more than 90 percent. 

While the governor celebrates studies, statistics and rankings that point to progress in economic development and job creation in Nebraska, he also argues that there is work to be done, especially in workforce development.

Ricketts said he wants young Nebraskans to understand that there are "great careers out there that may require only two years" of college, good-paying jobs readily available now in manufacturing and logistics and trades that may lead later to four years of college education.

"My vision is to grow Nebraska (and) create more and better-paying jobs" that will provide opportunities for young people to remain in the state, the governor has said.

Property tax relief is "absolutely the No. 1 issue that people have talked to me about," Ricketts said during his only debate with Democratic challenger Bob Krist at the State Fair in Grand Island in August.

"I have worked on property taxes every year," the governor said.

The result largely has been a series of increases in property tax relief funding provided through the state budget, but not the kind of immediate structural tax reform that rural Nebraska has recently been demanding.

Ricketts points out that he proposed a phased-in 20 percent structural reduction in property taxes as part of a much-amended tax package that he helped craft during the 2018 legislative session, but that bill could not command enough support to overcome a legislative filibuster.

That proposal would have used refundable state income tax credits as a means of gradually funding increasing property tax relief for ag landowners and homeowners over a decade until the reduction settled in at 20 percent.

If re-elected, the governor says, he would "continue to work on property tax relief as a priority."

Ricketts has been a law-and-order advocate and helped fund the referendum petition drive that eventually overturned the 2015 Legislature's decision to repeal the death penalty in Nebraska by overriding the governor's veto.

"It's an important tool to protect the public safety," the governor says, pointing particularly to law enforcement officers and corrections personnel who are on the front lines.

Prison reform has been a cost-driver during his first term in office.

Ricketts inherited an overcrowded state corrections system that outside experts have described as not only underfunded, but also lacking in adequate staffing and programming. 

"We're under-invested," the governor told the State Fair audience. "But we're on the right track."

The governor has argued against proposed expansion of Medicaid coverage to 90,000 working Nebraskans who hold low-paying jobs, suggesting that voter approval of a ballot initiative in November could threaten funding for schools, higher education, property tax relief and roads as well as support for current Medicaid recipients.

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Voters will determine the Medicaid expansion issue in November when they vote on an initiative proposal attached to the ballot by a successful petition drive. 

Ricketts has delivered his re-election message to voters through a continuing stream of TV campaign ads pointing to government deregulation, economic development, support for military families, efforts to reduce property taxes, his pro-life commitment and more.

Other ads highlight his veto of legislation providing licenses for "illegal immigrants," successes in efforts to increase the pace of job creation and his commitment to increasing agricultural exports through international trade.

One TV ad centers on President Donald Trump's effusive praise delivered at a recent rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which the governor attended.

Trump pointed to Ricketts, called him Pete and said he is doing "a fantastic job."

While Ricketts appears to be securely positioned politically today, he traveled a tough road to get here.

In his first race for public office, Ricketts challenged Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson and was swamped in the 2006 election, losing to Nelson by about 164,000 votes.

And his bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination four years ago was a close call. Ricketts edged Attorney General Jon Bruning in a six-man race that was not decided until after midnight, finally prevailing by snagging 58,671 votes while Bruning won 56,324.  

Ricketts won easily that November, defeating Democratic nominee Chuck Hassebrook by almost 100,000 votes to claim the governorship.  

Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, who was elected on the same ticket, is once again the governor's Republican running mate. 

[More pictures of Republican gubernatorial candidate Gov. Pete Ricketts.]

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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