Former Republican gubernatorial candidate Charles W. Herbster announced Thursday that he is forming and funding a political action committee to promote “traditional Christian conservative values” in Nebraska politics.
Herbster, who was the runner-up in the May Republican primary, said in a press release that the new Nebraska First PAC represents his continued involvement in Nebraska politics. A Falls City businessman, Herbster has made significant donations to Republican candidates over the years, including his own largely self-funded gubernatorial campaign.
He lost that contest to Jim Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent and Columbus pork producer backed by Governor Pete Ricketts. Herbster leaned heavily on his support for former President Donald Trump, who backed Herbster in the race.
The PAC, which will be led by former Herbster deputy campaign manager Rod Edwards, will initially focus on two specific issues: banning state lawmakers from voting behind closed doors for leadership roles in the Nebraska Legislature; and supporting the unlicensed carry of concealed firearms, often referred to as “constitutional carry” by supporters. The PAC asks current lawmakers and candidates to pledge their support for causes, with the goal of compiling lists to share with voters.
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Edwards said several senators and state candidates have reached out to sign the pledges, and others have reached out with their own ideas for future ones. At least for now, Edwards said, the PAC will focus on the Nebraska Legislature, though it won’t endorse any particular candidates.
“We’re putting all of our energy into the Legislative Assembly right now,” he said. “Most Nebraskans couldn’t tell you who their state senator is or what they do. It’s such an important body when it comes to policy for the state, so one of our goals is simply to educate voters and hold senators and those who are running to account.
Legislative efforts to pass a deferral bill without a permit and to make leaders’ votes public have failed in recent years.
Nebraska, like about two dozen other states, requires a license to carry a concealed firearm. The licensing process includes paying a fee and completing a background check and firearms safety course. A bill that would have removed those permit requirements failed to overcome a filibuster in the Legislative Assembly earlier this year. State Senator Tom Brewer of Gordon, the sponsor of this bill, has pledged to take up the issue in the 2023 legislative session.
On Thursday, Brewer told the World-Herald that he supported the effort to obtain license-free transport promises.
“It is necessary,” he said. “I hope this will help us influence the new lawmakers enough so that the constitutional postponement can pass next year.”
The next session could also spark a new debate on the Legislative Assembly’s use of secret ballots to select chairs of legislative committees.
Proponents of the process argue it helps keep the Legislative Assembly non-partisan because lawmakers can feel freer to vote for whoever they think is most qualified, regardless of political party affiliation. .
Opponents argue that the secret ballot process lacks transparency and allows lawmakers to cast votes that diverge from the wishes of their constituents. Herbster echoed that criticism, saying that by secretly voting for leaders, lawmakers are “hiding their representation from the people.”
The PAC pledge asks lawmakers and candidates to agree to two things: make all their leadership votes public, and vote to change the rules of the Legislative Assembly so that all leadership votes are public.
Nonpartisan Nebraska, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the nonpartisan unicameral system, said in a statement that eliminating the secret ballot would have dangerous consequences.
“A recorded vote for legislative leaders would cripple impartiality and seriously impair the independence of senators,” the statement said. “Its negative effects would far outweigh the increased openness.”
While both of these issues are key for Nebraska First, Edwards said there are several other topics on the back burner that will likely be added to the agenda later. Herbster provided the initial funds for the PAC, but Edwards said they would “aggressively fundraise” and work to engage new stakeholders.
“It’s not about Herbster,” Edwards said. “It’s a matter of education and responsibility. It’s about the state of Nebraska and the policies moving forward.
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