Groene resigns after denying accusations that he took ‘objectifying’ photos of aide
LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — State Sen. Mike Groene submitted his resignation Friday afternoon, just a couple of hours after denying accusations that he took sexually inappropriate photographs of a female legislative aide.
Groene confirmed that he had submitted his resignation to Gov. Pete Ricketts and that the governor had accepted it. Groene, an often outspoken lawmaker, was completing his second term in the Nebraska Legislature.
“I am not going to drag my wife, family and friends through the fight it would take to defend myself,” the senator said in a text. “I am resigning and dropping out of politics completely. Life is too short.”
That means, Groene said, that he is dropping out of the race for University of Nebraska Board of Regents, a campaign he announced only two days ago.
The resignation came quickly after an Omaha-based website reported, and legislative leaders confirmed, that a legislative aide of the 66-year-old senator had complained that he had taken inappropriate photographs of her while in their State Capitol office.
The chairman of the Legislature’s Executive Board, State Sen. Dan Hughes, confirmed Friday afternoon that a workplace harassment complaint had been lodged against Groene and that it was being taken “very seriously.”
That came after the Nebraska Sunrise News reported that Kristina Konecko, who had worked on and off for Groene for six years, had lodged a complaint over photos of herself that she had discovered on Groene’s laptop computer.
Konecko, according to the website, considered the photos inappropriate.
“The pictures appeared to have been taken by Groene and then emailed from him to other parties with email captions of a sexual nature,” the website reported.
‘Objectifying and demeaning’
Konecko described the photos as “objectifying and demeaning.” The Sunrise News story said some were “zoom-close-ups of provocative body parts with explicit subject lines.”
Konecko declined to comment Friday when reached by the Nebraska Examiner.
Groene told the Nebraska Examiner on Friday that he had taken some individual photos of Konecko in his office, but he denied that they were sexual in nature. He said that they depicted her full body, not “body parts” as has been claimed.
“There were not pictures that were zoomed in or anything,” he said.
“In today’s world, if you want to take a picture of someone, you should say ‘I’m taking a picture.’ But I didn’t, and I apologized for it,” said Groene.
Groene, of North Platte, said legislative IT workers had gone through his computer and discovered nothing that would be considered sexually inappropriate.
He said that he had given Konecko access to his personal computer to screen and “clean up” unwanted emails. That’s when she discovered the photos.
Not a ‘sexual object’
Groene maintained that he had never treated the legislative aide as a “sexual object.” He said he had taken about 20 photographs of Konecko with other visitors to his office, including his wife, but said he had also taken a few of his aide individually.
“She’s kind of a strait-laced person, and I guess I did something I shouldn’t have,” said Groene.
About three or four weeks ago, the senator said, he was informed that Konecko was offended after discovering the photographs. That, Groene said, is when he apologized.
“I am keeping my part of the bargain,” he said.
But all that changed later Friday afternoon when Groene submitted his resignation to Ricketts, who accepted it.
Complaints about inappropriate behavior by a senator or legislative staff member are handled by the Executive Board of the Legislature, which is headed by Hughes.
‘This is despicable’
Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, lashed out at Groene on Friday, saying it was an example of the “corruption and harassment” that happens when one party, the Republican Party, dominates a state.
“This is despicable and the latest in a string of inappropriate behavior by Republican officials,” Kleeb said in a statement. “Groene should resign and the public deserves to know all the other senators or staff involved.”
Kleeb cited a handful of cases over the years, including the resignation of State Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion for using a state computer for cybersex, and Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, who stepped down after it was discovered he used a state cell phone to make dozens of calls to women other than his wife.
Groene insisted he treated Konecko “like a daughter” and had always maintained a professional relationship with her.
“If I’m going to be drug through the mud on the floor (of the Legislature), I’ll resign,” Groene said only a couple of hours before submitting his resignation.
Later, after confirming his resignation, the senator said he needed to focus on “eternity and my family.”
“Feels like a ton of bricks have been taken off my back,” he texted.
Groene, a registered Republican, was a fiery speaker in the Legislature, often railing against spending and tax policies. He unsuccessfully sought major changes in how state aid to schools was distributed while chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee, then lost his chairmanship last year due to his often gruff and abrasive personality.