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Nebraska state senator to resign amid accusations from aide

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska state Sen.
FILE - Neb. Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte holds up a spreadsheet as he speaks in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. Nebraska state Sen. Mike Groene denied accusations Friday, Feb. 18, 2022 that he took inappropriate photos of a female legislative aide without her knowledge, but he said he was going to resign next week to avoid putting his family through a public ordeal. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik, File)

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska state Sen. Mike Groene denied accusations Friday that he took inappropriate photos of a female legislative aide without her knowledge, but he said he was going to resign next week to avoid putting his family through a public ordeal.

Groene, conservative Republican who speaks bluntly and often clashes with his Democratic colleagues, said he was preparing a resignation letter. Groene, 66, was scheduled to leave the Legislature next year due to term limits. He recently said he planned to run for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, but he said Friday that he would withdraw from that race as well and retire.

“I'm done. I really don't care,” Groene told The Associated Press. “I don't care about politics anymore. I've got bigger fish to fry.”

His comments came after an online news outlet, Nebraska Sunrise News, reported that a longtime legislative aide had filed a complaint accusing Groene of taking inappropriate photos of her without her knowledge. The article said she discovered the photos on Groene's laptop, which he had given her to complete work-related projects.

According to the article, the staffer said Groene sent the photos of her to others with email captions of a sexual nature. Some of the photos were reportedly zoomed-in close-ups of parts of her body, with explicit subject lines.

Groene admitted that he took photos of the staffer, but he denied that any of them were sexual in nature or that they focused on any specific parts of her body. He also denied that he had shared the photos with anyone else.

He said the photos he took were harmless images of staffers, visitors and family members in his office, and that legislative information technology workers went through his laptop and found nothing that would be considered sexually inappropriate. Groene said he had a cordial, professional relationship with the staffer.

“She's a very modest person, and I guess she was offended" because she wasn't aware of the photos, he said.

Groene said his aide had worked for him on and off for six years, and that he had given her his personal laptop to clean up unwanted emails. He said he apologized to her after she confronted him a few weeks ago and thought the matter was over. She has transferred to another legislative office.

The staffer declined to comment Friday when contacted by The Associated Press.

In a statement, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said he spoke with Groene on Friday afternoon and “we both agreed it was best for him to resign.”

As a state senator, Groene pushed aggressively to lower property property taxes and often riled Democratic lawmakers with inflammatory remarks during floor debate.

Groene served for four years as chairman of the Legislature's Education Committee before he was voted out by his colleagues and replaced with a Democratic state senator. He clashed with Nebraska's public teachers union even before he was in office, leading a 2006 petition drive to limit local government spending.

Formal complaints about senators or staffers are filed with the Legislature's Executive Board, but they're not released to the public unless the committee finds serious misconduct.

The Nebraska Democratic Party blasted Groene in a statement on Friday, calling it another example of how Republican dominance in the state leads to corruption and harassment.

“This is despicable and the latest in a string of inappropriate behavior by Republican officials,” said Jane Kleeb, the Nebraska Democratic Party's chairwoman. “Groene should resign and the public deserves to know all the other senators or staff involved."

Kleeb said Republican legislative leaders need to answer major questions about the ordeal, such as whether the staffer was asked not to share information publicly.

Kleeb pointed to several recent scandals involving Republican office-holders, including the indictment of U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, State Auditor Charlie Janssen taking unusually long work lunches at a Lincoln sports bar, and former state Sen. Bill Kintner resigning after behaving inappropriately in office more than once.

The Nebraska Democratic Party faced its own candidate scandal involving former U.S. Senate candidate Chris Janicek, who made lewd comments about a staffer in text messages. Party leaders publicly disclosed Janicek's behavior after they received that staffer's complaint, and they withdrew resources from his campaign and demanded that he resign.


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Grant Schulte, The Associated Press