By GRANT SCHULTE
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - An Omaha dietitian who teaches at the University of Nebraska Medical Center will fill an open seat in the Legislature, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced Tuesday.
Ricketts named Nicole Fox to replace former state Sen. Jeremy Nordquist, who resigned in June to take a job in Washington as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford, D-2nd District.
Ricketts said he chose Fox because of her deep understanding of the health care system, which is an issue that comes up frequently in the Legislature. Fox, 40, is a nutrition therapist specialist at Nebraska Medicine in Omaha, where she works with cancer patients. She also serves as an adjunct instructor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“I’m very, very confident that she will be able to bring a fresh perspective on how we deal with health care here in the state,” Ricketts said. “She brings a fresh perspective in general to the Unicameral.”
Fox, a registered Republican, was one of eight people who applied for the seat. She will stand for election in 2016 in a heavily Democratic southeastern Omaha district. Her current appointment lasts through Jan. 3, 2017, after which she will be eligible to serve up to two consecutive terms.
Fox said she applied because of her long-held interest in public service and her experience working with various legislative and public policy committees on health care. Asked for her view on a proposal to expand Medicaid under the federal health care law, Fox said she first wanted to talk with other state senators and look at ways to lower medical costs.
“I have a strong belief in the need to make sure we are providing access to health care, particularly health care that’s preventative in nature,” Fox said. “That will be part of my focus. But really, I’m excited to hit the ground running and get to know the constituents in my district.”
Ricketts said he believes Fox’s values align with the district because she opposes abortion rights, as did Nordquist, a Democrat who was a leader in the Legislature.
Among those who also applied was former state Sen. John Synowiecki, a Democrat who held the seat before Nordquist and who announced that he will run again. Omaha school board member Anthony Vargas also applied. The remaining five were Vince Emmanuel, Darren Garrean, Kyle Reppert, Bill Steckis and Zachary Wyatt-Gomez.
Fox said she expects a challenging race, but will rely on her experience working with people from different educational, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.
“I think I can relate to people, listen, advocate and work hard for them,” she said.
Fox is a registered dietitian and licensed medical nutrition specialist, and she has written papers for various medical newsletters. She holds a bachelor of science degree in food and nutrition-dietetics from Iowa State University.