Nebraska lawmakers raise concerns about governor’s pick to lead state health department

Leaders in Nebraska have expressed concern on social media and beyond about the appointment of Dr. Steve Corsi as the new Nebraska DHHS CEO.
Published: Aug. 16, 2023 at 8:43 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 17, 2023 at 11:23 AM CDT
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LINCOLN, Neb. (WOWT) - Gov. Jim Pillen’s appointment for CEO of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services was met with some harsh criticisms from some Nebraska lawmakers since Tuesday’s announcement that the job had been filled.

Dr. Steve Corsi is set to take on the role Sept. 11, replacing Dannette Smith, who exited the department earlier this month after serving at the helm of DHHS since her appointment by then-Gov. Pete Ricketts in January 2019.

Gov. Pillen’s office said in an email reply to 6 News on Wednesday that he chose Corsi because of his track record of conservatism and public service.

“Gov. Pillen was elected because of his strong conservative values. He has now appointed someone who also has a strong conservative track record of competence and experience in state health and social services to lead one of Nebraska’s most significant agencies.

Gov. Pillen expects all public servants, especially those entrusted with leadership responsibilities, to treat others with the utmost dignity and respect. Dr. Corsi has an established record of public service and servant leadership in multiple roles, including as a military officer responsible for the emotional health of all other service members in his care. Dr. Corsi’s experience meets the high expectations set by Gov. Pillen for all cabinet members.”

Response from Gov. Jim Pillen's office

“I hope that he will meet the standards that Warren Buffett uses: first integrity, second intelligence, and third energy, and he looks like he has that potential,” said State Sen. Merv Riepe.

After reviewing Corsi’s credentials, Riepe said he believes he’s well-trained for the position.

And when it comes to his views shared publicly online, Riepe adds that he’s willing to give Corsi the benefit of the doubt.

“There isn’t any place in the state where we need discrimination against either any particular part of the population, whether it’s religious, conservatives or whether it’s the LGBTQ community or even the transgender community,” Riepe said. “[Corsi] has to start at the top with a big view.”

State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh’s input was more direct.

“A simple Google search does bring up some alarming questions of qualifications and really integrity and ethics,” she said in an interview with 6 News on Wednesday. “I’m hopeful the governor has done the due diligence of making those types of inquiries and getting solid answers as to why this is the right fit for Nebraska.”

Cavanaugh, who sits on the Health and Human Services Committee in the state legislature alongside Riepe, said she’s anxious to sit down with both Corsi and Pillen to learn more about him and his objectives for the role.

Right now, Cavanaugh said she’s worried about the trans and LGBTQ youth who are under the direct care of the state.

“Any youth that identifies in a way that is in conflict to how this gentleman believes, may not receive the appropriate care and quality care that they deserve to have, and that’s a huge concern,” Cavanaugh said.

“Hopefully he’s smart enough and wise enough to say ‘Look, I’m willing to try to look at this and say what works for the state of Nebraska, and the people of Nebraska,’” Riepe adds.

State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha posted several tweets Tuesday raising concerns about Corsi, calling into question his credentials and flagging reports from a Wyoming newspaper about controversial punishments implemented during his tenure as the state’s interim director of family services.

She also shared a link to a Missouri newspaper article reporting Corsi had been receiving paychecks from two state agencies simultaneously.

Hunt vowed to block Corsi in next year’s legislative session.

State Sen. John Fredrickson of Omaha also raised concerns in his post on Wednesday morning.

“Corsi’s publicly available record raises a number of flags,” he said in an X post. “The leader of DHHS should not be vetted based on partisan values. They should be vetted on their ability to effectively serve the diverse health and human service needs of Nebraskans.”

Before Corsi’s X account was made private sometime before 6 p.m. Tuesday, 6 News took note of a post he had retweeted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, from a “citizen journalist” website account that perpetuates content from anti-vaccination influencers. A Nebraska Examiner report noted other posts Corsi had “liked,” including one suggesting transgender people are suffering from a mental illness.

According to the state, Corsi will be paid an annual salary of $257,000, corresponding with the salary of former DHHS CEO Dannette Smith.

Most recently, Corsi was the CEO of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center. He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from California Baptist University in the psychology field.