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Pete Ricketts entered the Republican gubernatorial race Sunday with a focus on conservative fiscal values coupled with investment in Nebraska's future through education and job creation.

During a candid and wide-ranging interview at a coffee shop in the Haymarket, Ricketts said he is determined to make sure Nebraskans come to know and understand him better and more accurately than they did in 2006 when he was painted as a distant, wealth-centered figure in the Senate campaign.

Ricketts, who had been chief operating officer of Ameritrade at the time, largely self-funded his campaign and was defeated handily by Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson after winning a three-candidate Republican primary race.

"I want Nebraskans to get to know the real Pete Ricketts, not the Pete Ricketts that D.C. consultants or Ben Nelson wanted to create," he said.

"I understand people are skeptical," he said. "I look forward to changing their minds."

Instead of relying on Washington consultants to shape his campaign as he did in 2006, Ricketts said, he has chosen a team of Nebraskans this time. 

And instead of self-funding his campaign, he actively will seek financial commitments from campaign contributors, recognizing that contributions also generate support and energize a campaign.

In 2006, Ricketts said, he funneled his own money — roughly $11 million — into his Senate campaign, believing that would demonstrate to voters that he was "not beholden to special interests."

But, in the end, he said, it "made it look like I was trying to buy the race."

"Experience is what you get when you don't get what you want," Ricketts said. "I made a lot of mistakes, and I hope to learn from those mistakes."

What Ricketts hopes to do, he said, is convince voters now that "we trust you and you are competent and you have a vision for the future."

In a news release issued after the interview, Ricketts said he would "work to hold the line on taxes and spending, ensure educational opportunities and improve educational outcomes, and be a tireless advocate for agriculture and our rural communities."

Prompted during the interview to outline his differences with State Auditor Mike Foley, who probably shares early front-runner status with him in a gubernatorial scrap that includes three state senators, Ricketts pointed to the death penalty and state legislation that funded prenatal care for the children of mothers who may be in the United States illegally.

Foley opposes the death penalty, Ricketts said, whereas he believes "the state has the right and responsibility to use it appropriately."

While Foley supports state assistance for those immigrant mothers as a pro-life issue, Ricketts said he believes "it is not fair, nor right, to provide taxpayer benefits to folks who are not our citizens."

However, Ricketts said, he "agree(s) these women need this care," and as governor, he would seek "a third solution" by helping direct those mothers into prenatal services funded by private donors.

"We need to be compassionate," he said, "and these people need our help."

Ricketts said education is key to Nebraska's progress along with workforce development. 

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"You can make a good living in the trades," Ricketts said, and there should be more educational opportunities in skill training for those who want to pursue that path rather than a four-year liberal arts education.

"The University of Nebraska is a critical part of how we take the state forward," he said.

Ricketts said he has learned in the private sector that "you have to continue to invest" in the future to grow. And that also is true for the state, he said.

Ricketts said he will spend a lot of time listening to Nebraskans during this campaign.

"I've got ideas, but so do other people," he said. "I want to hear their ideas."

The Ricketts campaign team includes Matt Miltenberger, campaign chairman, and Jessica Moenning and Chris Peterson, campaign consultants. All three have extensive experience in Nebraska Republican political campaigns.

Ricketts was Republican national committeeman for Nebraska from 2007 to 2012.

Ricketts founded Drakon, LLC, a Nebraska business that invests in local entrepreneurs and startup companies. He is on the board of directors of TD Ameritrade and the Chicago Cubs baseball team.  

In addition to Ricketts and Foley, state Sens. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, Beau McCoy of Omaha and Tom Carlson of Holdrege are in the Republican race.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or Follow him on Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

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

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