Rick Sheehy, a two-term mayor of Hastings who was a Democrat until becoming a Republican two years ago, will serve as lieutenant governor under Gov. Dave Heineman.
The Republican governor announced his pick of the central-Nebraska mayor on Monday. Sheehy resigned as mayor in the morning shortly before being scheduled to take the oath of office.
Heineman said the fact that Sheehy had been a Democrat didn't affect his decision.
"In this state the people expect us to do what's right for the state," Heineman said. "We're not a very partisan state and that wasn't a factor at all."
The pick of Sheehy is clearly a calculated political move to shore up support in western Nebraska for the 2006 campaign, said state Democratic Party Chairman Steve Achelpohl.
"He's following Mike Johanns' battle plan with a view to running in 2006," Achelpohl said.
Heineman will serve the remainder of former Gov. Mike Johanns' term through 2006. He can seek election to a four-year term that year.
Heineman became governor following the confirmation of Johanns as U.S. agriculture secretary on Thursday. Heineman had served as lieutenant governor since 2001.
The selection of Sheehy comes after Heineman flew to western Nebraska on Friday, his first full day as governor, and pledged his intent to reach out to people all across the state.
State Sen. Carroll Burling of Kenesaw, whose district includes Hastings, praised the choice of Sheehy.
"I believe the mayor will bring a rural, outstate Nebraska perspective to the executive branch," Burling said.
It will be interesting to see whether it hurts Heineman that neither he nor Sheehy are from one of Nebraska's two largest cities, Achelpohl said.
"Maybe the idea is to find somebody that won't be so much of a divisive figure in the Republican Party," Achelpohl said. "There again I don't know this guy from Adam. ... It's kind of curious that the people running our state are such unknowns."
Sheehy has served on the Hastings City Council since 1994. A paramedic and manager, he has worked for a Hastings-area ambulance service since 1977.
He was a frequent visitor to the Capitol last year as Johanns pushed through his reform of the state's mental health system. The reform plan calls for more community-based care and the elimination of regional center services in Hastings and Norfolk.
Burling said he has found Sheehy very cooperative, accessible and easy to work with.
Who Heineman was to pick to succeed him as lieutenant governor was a tightly guarded secret with a number of prominent and relatively unknown contenders bantered about for weeks.
Other rumored candidates included Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek, Omaha Chamber of Commerce official Natalie Peetz, former state Sen. Curt Bromm and Lauren Hill, director of the governor's policy research office.
Sheehy will take over Heineman's role as the state's director of homeland security. By law, Sheehy will also serve as the presiding officer of the Legislature.
Heineman said Sheehy will also take on a role not yet fully defined related to economic development.