By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Updated 4:10 p.m.
U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns rocked Nebraska’s political landscape by announcing today he has changed his mind and will not seek re-election to his seat next year.
In that wake of that surprising turnaround, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry and Gov. Dave Heineman both said they will consider a run for the office.
Johanns told Nebraska Watchdog today he got the “scare of my life” in 2009, when he had a cancer scare but a lung operation turned up scar tissue. That caused he and his wife, Stephanie, to re-evaluate things, but he didn’t finalize his decision until the past week, he said. He told Heineman Monday morning.
The Johannses released a statement saying that after being in public service for more than 32 years, they have decided to exit the stage.
“Between the two of us, we have been on the ballot for primary and general elections 16 times and we have served in eight offices,” Johanns said in the statement. “It is time to close this chapter of our lives.”
The Johannses said they would like to take time out for awhile, but didn’t rule out further public service.
“During these many years, we have cherished our time together,” they said in the statement. “So as we think about the next stage of our lives, we want a quieter time with our focus on each other, our family and our faith. We are also confident that there will be many more opportunities to serve our state and our nation.”
The surprise announcement means another big open race in Nebraska next year, in addition to the governor’s race.
Johanns is a former Lincoln mayor, two-term Nebraska governor, U.S. Agriculture Secretary and was elected to his six-year term in the U.S. Senate in 2008.
Heineman — who ends his term as governor next year — would be a strong contender for the seat, and many others are sure to reconsider their political futures now that the seat is open. The governor said he wasn’t even thinking about the U.S. Senate until he got the call from his friend, Johanns, under whom he served as lieutenant governor.
“I’ll think about it but I don’t want you to misinterpret that,” he told reporters today. “I just gotta think about it. My heart’s in Nebraska, not Washington, D.C. … Thinking does not mean I’m running.”
Fortenberry complimented Johanns as a “model public servant” and said, “Given this turn of events, I feel compelled to say I will consider a run for the United States Senate.”
“I will listen to Nebraskans, explore the questions of how I might most effectively serve, and weigh the demands of such an endeavor with my family,” Fortenberry said via email.
Heineman said he was glad to hear Fortenberry will consider the race and hopes “lots of Nebraskans” do the same. He relishes his job as governor, and said he can think of lots of things to do after his term ends.
“I’m not sure I want to spend the time running for the United States Senate,” he said. “But I understand the importance of that job.”
Asked whether his political plans have changed with the recent developments, Attorney General Jon Bruning released a statement saying: “Today we should reflect on Senator Mike Johanns’ commitment to the people of Nebraska and the good work he has done. Throughout his 32 years of public service, he has been a steadfast advocate for Nebraska’s growth and success. I wish him and Stephanie the best of luck in their future endeavors and offer my sincere appreciation for his outstanding service.”
Johanns has a full schedule in Nebraska this week, visiting a dozen cities beginning in Papillion today and then heading west to Grand Island tomorrow.
Here is the entire statement from Mike and Stephanie Johanns:
We would like to share with you a decision we have made about running for re-election to the United States Senate. We have decided not to seek re-election.
Words are inadequate to fully express our appreciation for the friendship and support you have given to us over the past three decades.
With everything in life, there is a time and a season. At the end of this term, we will have been in public service over 32 years.
During these many years, we have cherished our time together. So as we think about the next stage of our lives, we want a quieter time with our focus on each other, our family and our faith. We are also confident that there will be many more opportunities to serve our state and our nation.
We look forward to the remaining time in the Senate. It is an honor to have served in so many ways over so many years.
May God continue to bless Nebraska and our great nation.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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