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Ricketts defends Fortenberry as 'man of high integrity'
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Ricketts defends Fortenberry as 'man of high integrity'

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Jeff Fortenberry and Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts (right) defended Rep. Jeff Fortenberry on Monday, describing him as "a man of high integrity." The two Republicans are shown here at a meeting in September 2020 with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who visited Great Plains Beef in Lincoln.

Gov. Pete Ricketts on Monday stepped to the defense of Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, describing him as "a man of high integrity" whom he has known for many years and stating that "I don't believe he knowingly violated any campaign finance laws."

It was the Republican governor's first reaction to the 1st District Republican congressman's indictment by federal officials last week on charges of lying to the FBI and concealing information about illegal campaign contributions that he accepted from foreign sources in 2016.

Fortenberry has pleaded not guilty to the charges and is scheduled to go on trial in Los Angeles on Dec. 14.

Ricketts responded to a question about his reaction to the indictment at a news conference in which he and state officials highlighted achievements of the state's new Center of Operational Excellence, particularly in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Nebraska was able to respond swiftly and effectively in leveraging the buying power of the state to acquire and then distribute personal protective equipment to first responders throughout the state while establishing a COVID-19 testing program, distributing vaccine and processing four years of unemployment claims within four months, Ricketts and other state officials said.

Ricketts pointed to "the grit, resilience, creativity and collaboration" of state employees tasked with reacting to the pandemic.

Center of Operational Excellence Director Matt Singh and Department of Administrative Services Director Jason Jackson were among state officials who joined the governor in describing how the new governmental structure was able to respond in a swift way to the challenges created by the pandemic.

The administrative change "allowed us to be flexible in reacting to the pandemic," Ricketts said.

Nebraska was able to be out front in the early acquisition of PPE because it "leveraged the buying power of the state" to acquire the equipment, Jackson said.

Fortenberry's trial for allegedly making false statement to FBI set for December

Dr. Gary Anthone, the state's chief medical officer, praised the ability to acquire vital COVID-19 patient and hospital bed data on a daily basis after Ricketts decided to base COVID-19 policy decisions on available hospital capacity in the state.

The Center of Operational Excellence has facilitated 575 process improvement projects since May 2016, state officials said. 

Ricketts began his news briefing, as he always does, by urging Nebraskans to "get vaccinated" to protect themselves from the virus, but also later repeated his earlier statements that he is "100% against vaccine mandates."

"I feel terrible for workers who have to make that choice," he said, in answer to a question about some recent vaccine mandates for health care workers. 

What could happen next with indicted Rep. Fortenberry?
Who is the Nigerian billionaire at the heart of Fortenberry's indictment?
Former Rep. Lee Terry speaks about Fortenberrry indictment

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

On Twitter @LJSdon

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