EXPLAINER: Political world reacts to accusations that Herbster groped state senator, other women

Jon Kipper looks at the reporting behind the story
Posted at 8:33 PM, Apr 14, 2022

What happened?

It’s a day that shook up Nebraska politics. Candidate for governor, Charles Herbster was accused by eight women of groping them from 2017 to this year.

Herbster hasdenied the allegations.

The lone woman coming forward, willing to be named is Republican State Senator Julie Slama.

She told the Nebraska Examiner it happened in 2019 at a Douglas County Republican Party event called Elephant Remembers that brings in local politicians, donors and everyday Republicans.

Slama, a first-year state senator at the time, confirmed that Herbster reached up her skirt without consent and touched her. Slama's account of the incident was backed up by a witness.

The story also details seven unnamed women who made similar allegations at various other events, one of whom said Herbster forcibly kissed her. The incidents occurred over the last six years.

In response, the Herbster campaign called it a political hit piece and 100% false.

Herbster, who leads in early polling in the GOP Governor’s race, points to Slama’s connections to Governor Pete Ricketts and her endorsement of the Jim Pillen campaign.

“It's only after I've threatened the stranglehold the establishment has on this state do they stoop to lies this large. This story is a ridiculous, unfounded dirty political trick being carried out by Pete Ricketts and Jim Pillen,” said Herbster in a statement.

How Aaron Sanderford broke the story

It takes months to corroborate sources on a story like this one. Nebraska Examiner Reporter Aaron Sanderford began speaking to sources months ago while he was still working for 3 News Now. Jon Kipper explains the kind of in-depth reporting that goes into an investigative story of this nature.

EXPLAINER: Herbster accused of groping women & the reaction

The reaction from Nebraska leaders

Here’s a quick round-up of reactions from local politicians and political insiders.

Former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub told 3 News Now he was upset about the Nebraska Examiner story and that media outlets like 3 News Now were following up.

He told reporter Jon Kipper he wants to put Sen. Slama on the witness stand.

"I'd like to ask her what she was wearing,” said Daub.

Senator Julie Slama responded to Daub’s quote by showing a picture of the black dress she wore that night.

She then told KFAB radio on Thursday afternoon that “clothes don’t equal consent.”

Other candidates in the race also spoke up. NU Regent Jim Pillen called it abuse.

“Sexually assaulting women should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to serve as a leader,” said Pillen.

State Senator Brett Lindstrom said it’s personal because he has two daughters.

“I was disgusted reading the stories of my colleague, Sen. Slama, and the other brave women who came forward today.

Former State Senator Theresa Thibiodeau, who was Herbster’s pick for Lieutenant Governor before leaving the campaign, said Herbster’s actions are morally repugnant and “I unequivocally support Senator Julie Slama and the seven brave young women who shared their stories. I pray that these women receive the justice and healing that they deserve."

The Nebraska Republican Party can’t take sides in the primary election, per their rules, but told 3 News Now, “The sexual assault allegations that have been reported on in the media are serious. Without casting judgement [SIC] in this matter, the NEGOP condemns all forms of sexual assault and believes any allegation must be investigated appropriately.”

3 News Now reached out to other politicians who have endorsed Herbster, including Lt. Gov Mike Foley and state senators Steve Halloran and Steve Erdman. None of them returned our calls.

State Senator Tom Briese stood behind Herbster at a press conference earlier this year. He has not formally endorsed the candidate though and says, “The conduct being alleged is reprehensible and it doesn’t sound like the Charles Herbster I know.”

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