Gov. Dave Heineman said Tuesday he's all-in for Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy's 2014 gubernatorial bid and will campaign for him as well as share his own extensive campaign contributor list.
"I will be a strong and very active supporter of Rick Sheehy," the governor said.
"He's been an outstanding lieutenant governor, and he's ready to be governor."
Sheehy and Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood are on a high-profile collision course leading up to the 2014 Republican primary election, and others are likely to join the GOP race for the first open governor's seat since 1998.
Heineman appointed Sheehy as lieutenant governor in 2005, and he has been elected twice as the governor's running mate.
During a half-hour interview in the governor's office, Heineman was quick to point to an issue that is likely to confront Flood throughout his campaign.
Heineman identified taxes, state spending and illegal immigration as the big issues in the 2014 Republican primary.
The latter, the governor said, is likely to be "a very difficult issue" for Flood since he voted this year to override Heineman's veto of a bill that would provide prenatal medical care for illegal immigrants along with other low-income women.
Flood has said that fundamentally was a pro-life vote as well as an economically wise decision since newborn babies with untreated health issues can have high-cost medical conditions that impact taxpayers. Those babies automatically become American citizens at birth.
Heineman singled out Flood for public criticism at the time of his vote.
"It is an illegal immigration issue for Nebraskans," Heineman said. "We support prenatal care for those mothers provided by churches and private donors, but not by taxpayer funds. That's the issue."
Funding benefits for illegal immigrants with tax dollars means "there will be not as much money as we'd like to have for the education of Nebraska kids," the governor said.
In broad-based remarks on other matters, Heineman said:
* Additional road construction funding should be allowed to take effect next July 1, as scheduled, rather than rejected or delayed because of budgetary challenges. The road construction legislation, crafted by Senator-elect Deb Fischer, uses revenue derived from one-quarter cent of the current sales tax rate.
* A "big-idea" tax reform proposal designed to make Nebraska more competitive for job creation and economic growth is being carefully formulated, and "everything is still on the table," including the possibility of eliminating the state income tax.
* As he enters the final two years of a record 10 years in the governor's office, he's purposely going to avoid any consideration of what he will do next because "I do not want to put myself in any kind of conflict-of-interest position."
Heineman said Republican successes in last week's election once again demonstrated the value of a hotly-contested primary scrap. The winner comes out battle-tested and strengthened, he said.
Nebraska Democrats, he said, make a mistake when they "attempt to anoint a primary nominee," rather than encourage competition.
"Neither I nor Mike Johanns, or Deb Fischer or Jeff Fortenberry, were the favorites in primaries" that led to their election to major office, Heineman said.
In 2006, he upset Tom Osborne in the GOP gubernatorial primary election, using illegal immigration as an issue. Heineman parted company with Osborne over legislation that provided resident college tuition rates for Nebraska residents who are the children of parents who came to the country illegally.
Heineman said he believes Fischer was elected to the Senate last week because "she worked very hard" during the campaign and "she was in sync with Nebraskans on taxes, government spending and Obamacare."
Democratic nominee Bob Kerrey, who easily was outdistanced by Fischer, "brought this on himself by allowing the narrative to be set on Day One," when he suddenly returned from New York City to Nebraska to file as a candidate, prompting the criticism that he was a political carpetbagger.
"If Bob Kerrey had moved back a year ago, that would not have been an issue," Heineman said.
Kerrey's campaign also relied too heavily on "negative (ads) about a 20-year-old fencing dispute" between Fischer and one of her neighbors, the governor said.
As he approaches the legislative session that will begin in January, Heineman said, he is focusing on tax reform and the next two-year budget that will be adopted to fund state government.
The scheduled funding change that will accelerate road construction is "part of our economic strategy," he said.
"Good roads probably are our most immediate short-term challenge."