LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — Nebraska Lt. Gov. Mike Foley leaned into a budding political rift Tuesday between him and his boss, Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Foley endorsed Republican Charles Herbster for governor and called Ricketts’ criticism of his choice “a compliment.”
“I’m flattered,” Foley said. He said the governor’s response shows his value to Nebraska’s “pro-life” voters.
Foley called Herbster the best candidate to “advance the cause of life” and the culture of life.
But Ricketts, who has endorsed fellow pro-life Republican Jim Pillen, said Foley had made a mistake.
He said Herbster would make “a terrible governor” and fleshed out his criticism of Herbster with the Nebraska Examiner.
Ricketts reiterated his frustration that the Conklin Co. CEO bases his highest-paying jobs in Missouri and Minnesota, not Nebraska.
Ricketts said governors promote their states to business owners in other states. But Herbster, he said, grew jobs elsewhere.
“Any company that comes here will say, ‘Well, why should I believe you?’” Ricketts said.
The governor also criticized Herbster for making late payments on personal and business property taxes nearly 600 times, as KMTV reported last year.
Herbster told KMTV at the time that he was trying to keep his company afloat. But he gave millions of dollars in political donations when he owed thousands of dollars in taxes.
The governor said Herbster acts as if one set of rules applies to him and another set to the rest of Nebraskans.
Herbster is largely self-funding his campaign, donating more than $5 million to the effort. (Ricketts did the same thing the first time he ran, unsuccessfully, for the U.S. Senate.)
“Nobody believes Charles Herbster doesn’t have the money,” Ricketts said. “He’s got the money. He’s rich. He can afford to pay his property taxes. He should do that because when you don’t pay your property taxes, that puts more burden on everybody else who is following the law.”
Herbster did not address Ricketts’ criticism during the news conference he held in the Capitol Rotunda announcing Foley’s endorsement.
He told reporters he likes surrounding himself with people like Foley.
The two have gotten to know each other in several conversations over the past year, Foley said. They sat together at a table at the Nebraska Family Alliance gala in January.
“He has been an incredible leader in all facets of government,” Herbster said of Foley.
GOP voters who oppose abortion hold Foley in high regard from his work as a state senator and as state auditor.
Pillen on Tuesday said Foley had asked to be his running mate in July, but Pillen turned Foley down. Foley described that as a mischaracterization of what happened but wouldn’t say how.
Pillen said Foley spoke about how much of the vote he could deliver, offering his 2014 run governor as an example. Foley earned 19% of the GOP vote that year, finishing fifth.
Campaign texts from July show that Pillen’s team had sought Foley’s endorsement, but Foley “pushed hard to be LT,” Pillen campaign manager Kenny Zoeller texted his team after the meeting.
The campaign said Foley would endorse Pillen only if he was Pillen’s running mate. Pillen made no commitment, his campaign said.
Foley said Tuesday he had been made no promises of a job in any possible Herbster administration. But he said he would take a job as lieutenant governor, tax commissioner or economic development director. He said he would also take the job he’s running for again this year: state auditor.
Herbster’s former running mate, former State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, said she agreed with Ricketts that Foley could do much better than to endorse Herbster, calling them polar opposites.
“I have the utmost respect for Lieutenant Governor Foley,” Thibodeau said. “I like him. He is a wonderful, upstanding guy. I just hope he doesn’t regret it.”
Tuesday was the second time Ricketts and Foley have disagreed on a major race this cycle. Ricketts endorsed State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District race.
Foley endorsed nine-term U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. The congressman faces a federal trial this week on charges he lied to federal investigators about foreign campaign contributions.
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