It isn’t every day that a story pushes a state official to resign.
But when we started reviewing the cell phone records of Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy a month ago, it quickly became apparent that they contained something very serious and troubling.
The cell phone records, for a phone paid by taxpayers, contained hundreds and hundreds of phone calls, often late into the night, with that went to the same 10 phone numbers in Omaha, Holdrege, Colorado Springs and Arlington, Texas, over the past four years.
It took some work and some skillful help from one of the newspaper’s librarians, to match up those numbers with the recipients — four single women, none of them married to Sheehy.
When you added them all up, it came to more than 2,300 calls stretching for 28,000 minutes.
That is a lot of phone calls on a piece of government-issues equipment that is supposed to be used for official business only. Some ”essential” personal calls, like those to schools, doctors, day-care centers, spouses and family, are allowed. But these phone calls were for something else.
One of the women, when contacted, said they were about sex and making a new life with her.
Another woman didn’t talk to us, but she had been seen around Lincoln with Sheehy before his wife of 28 years decided to file for divorce in July. And Sheehy’s car was seen at her apartment.
Two other women confirmed that they were friends with the lieutenant governor, but said the long, late and repeated phone calls weren’t about romance but just friendly chit chat. It was a lot of chit chat, over and over, late into the night, with a then-married man.
The calls confirmed rumors we’d been hearing for some time, and moved Gov. Dave Heineman to say that Sheehy, his hand-picked No. 2, had betrayed his trust, and violated the trust of the people.
Sheehy quit in a hurry, and didn’t follow through on a pledge to discuss the phone calls with the newspaper.
We had held the story so that we could get the comments of the lieutenant governor. But he never followed through. That’s too bad. We might have been better able to understand why a friendly, hard-working lieutenant governor, one who had a better-than-decent chance of becoming governor in 2014, could engage in such self destructive behavior, repeatedly, in the middle of the night.
Who knows. But it was obvious from the records, and interviews, that this was someone looking for something.
But doing it while married, and with a state phone? That doesn’t earn you many points in Nebraska.
Several people, including several Republicans, told us they’d heard the rumors about Sheehy and were sure they would come out, ruining Sheehy, possibly amid the governor’s campaign in 2014.
Some campaign donors had reportedly withheld their full financial support due to this fear.
Some have said this didn’t affect his work, so it shouldn’t matter.
Reaction around the State Capitol ranged from sadness, for the ruining of a man’s reputation and the stress it puts upon an already fractured family, to relief, that stories that had circulated for months had been proven true, via the records and interviews.
Plenty of people wonder why Heineman didn’t know about these stories and do something sooner.
The governor said he’d heard the rumors and had confronted Sheehy more than once. But he said he didn’t have proof of the indiscretions until the World-Herald handed him a summary of its investigation Friday.
Heineman’s comments about broken trust suggest that Sheehy had been less than truthful in those come-to-Jesus meetings. They could also suggest that the governor maybe didn’t probe deeply enough.
It was right there in the phone records, but who snoops into the phone records of someone you know and trust?
But it’s hard to imagine, as some have suggested, that the governor knew the whole story and was hoping this would blow over. I can’t see this teetotaling, hyper-focused governor tolerating such behavior.
Now we have a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office, and an old lieutenant governor looking for a new job and to restore his reputation.
We’ve got a wide-open GOP race for governor in 2014, and a better opportunity for Democrats to capture that seat.
And we’ve also got a refresher on the old adage that you can’t always tell a book by its cover.