Johanns has set his sights on Sen. Hagel's Senate seat.
(CNN) - Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns officially announced his expected candidacy for the U.S. Senate seat in Nebraska that Republican maverick Chuck Hagel is giving up in 2008.
"It's time to restore the people's trust in a government that, in my judgment, has strayed too far from conservative values - in principles that we hold dear," said Johanns, who resigned his Cabinet post in September.
Before joining the Bush administration in 2005, Johanns served as Nebraska's governor and as mayor of Lincoln, the state capital. He said he would put his "proven record" to work in Washington if elected to replace Hagel, one of several retiring GOP incumbents.
"As mayor, I prioritized law enforcement and held the line on property taxes," he said. "I served as governor during some of the most difficult fiscal times in our state's history, and during the attacks of 9/11. And as secretary of agriculture, I was responsible for the safety nets for all of America's farmers."
Hagel's decision to step down has provided an opening for Democrats, with former senator and governor Bob Kerrey considering a Senate comeback. Despite the state's generally strong Republican leanings, Democrats have won nine out of the last 11 Senate elections in the Cornhusker State.
But Johanns, who won 69 percent of the vote when re-elected governor in 2002, is considered a strong contender to keep the seat in GOP hands. He will face a primary battle against a field that includes state Attorney General Jon Bruning and Hal Daub, a former congressman and mayor of Omaha.
- CNN Political Writer Matt Smith