Republican businessman David Karnes, a political newcomer, was appointed Wednesday to serve the remainder of the U.S. Senate term left vacant by the death of Edward Zorinsky, a Democrat.
While Gov. Kay A. Orr had been expected to appoint a Republican, the appointment of Karnes, who managed her campaign in the 2nd Congressional District last year but who has never run for office himself, came as a surprise.
"I believe in David Karnes and he believes in Nebraska," the Republican governor said.
Zorinsky died of a heart attack Friday after performing at a press club gala in Omaha. The appointment of Karnes narrows the Democrats' edge in the Senate to 54-46.
Admirer of Zorinsky
Karnes, 38, said he had been a friend of Zorinsky for many years and admired his independence, common sense and integrity.
"He left big shoes to fill, no doubt," Karnes said.
Karnes said he could best be described as "moderate to conservative" Republican, and is most especially conservative on fiscal matters.
He is a senior vice president and general counsel of the Scoular Co. of Omaha, a lumber and grain business. He also is serving a fourth term as chairman of the Federal Home Loan Bank in Topeka, Kan., which serves Nebraska, Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.
Karnes said he would seek the GOP nomination and a chance to win the seat in his own right in 1988.
In appointing Karnes, Orr turned away from Rep. Hal Daub and Rep. Doug Bereuter, both Republicans. Omaha attorney Kermit Brashear, a former state GOP party chairman who ran second to Orr in the Republican gubernatorial primary last year, also had been considered a leading contender.
"My reaction is one of disappointment," Brashear said. But he added: "It was the governor's decision to make, and I think David is a lucky young man and I congratulate him."
Bereuter also said he was disappointed he was not chosen, but Daub said he was not surprised and commended Orr for her "decisiveness and her dispatch" in appointing Karnes.
CeCe Zorinsky, the senator's widow, said Orr called her to let her know of the appointment.
Mrs. Zorinsky said she was flattered that she had been considered a potential successor for her husband, but does not consider herself "senator material."