But when Mr. Ensign announced last week that he would step down, effective next Tuesday, because of an ongoing ethics investigation, Mr. Sandoval was tasked with picking a replacement to serve the senator’s remaining 20 months in office.
The governor said he chose Mr. Heller, a House member since 2007, because “the people of Nevada deserve a new senator who can begin work immediately.”
“Too many important issues face our state and our nation to name a caretaker to this important position,” Mr. Sandoval said. “Nevada needs an experienced voice in Washington.”
Mr. Heller’s move to the Senate triggers a scramble for his House seat, which has attracted significant interest from members of both parties, including Republican Sharron Angle, who lost a Senate challenge last year to Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.
The process for filling Mr. Heller’s seat is uncertain, as state laws on holding a special election are vague. The governor and Secretary of State Ross Miller still were researching procedures Wednesday.
Mr. Ensign’s Senate exit stems from his 2009 admission of an extramarital affair with a former member of his campaign staff. He also is accused of helping the woman’s husband, a former top Ensign aide, set up as a lobbyist after he found out about the affair.
Mr. Ensign’s resignation is expected to wind down the Senate Select Committee on Ethics’ investigation into the matter, though the panel may release more findings later.
Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, and Vice Chairman Johnny Isakson, Georgia Republican, said in a joint statement last week that Mr. Ensign “has made the appropriate decision.”
The Justice Department had dropped a criminal investigation into the matter, Mr. Ensign’s legal staff said last year. The Federal Election Commission also halted its investigation.