Six rejection letters add fuel to weekend fight over future of Nebraska GOP

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Posted at 10:31 AM, Jul 08, 2022

LINCOLN, Neb. (Nebraska Examiner) — The Nebraska Republican Party has told six GOP activists who have agitated for changes in the party that they are not welcome at its state convention Saturday in Kearney.

This week, the state party sent letters to a half-dozen people saying it would not credential them because they either had switched political parties, started new parties or supported candidates outside of the GOP.

The letters inflame a years-long fight over the party’s future between populists, like these six, and the part of the state’s political power structure led by Gov. Pete Ricketts, several Nebraska Republicans said.

Five of the six people who got the letters told the Nebraska Examiner on Thursday that the fight involves who should control the state party.

Three of the six challenged GOP incumbents in recent primaries. Two said the incumbents lacked loyalty to former President Donald Trump and his unproven allegations about the 2020 election. A third wants the state to count ballots by hand.

One of the six, Matt Innis, challenged U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse in the 2020 primary. His rejection letter cited his “vocal criticism” of Ricketts as a reason he was turned away. He regularly posts memes targeting political officials and staff.

‘A stupid thing to do’

Innis has called Ricketts’ top political staffer a “dirty trickster” and questioned whether she and Ricketts were behind groping allegations against former gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster. Eight women alleged in an April 14 Nebraska Examiner article that Herbster had groped them.

Herbster has denied wrongdoing. Ricketts has denied taking part in any conspiracy.

Innis said the rejection letters were intended to serve as a “deterrent, so that people don’t go to the convention.”

“But it doesn’t matter. … It was a stupid thing for the committee to do,” he said, adding that he plans to be in Kearney and have his supporters in the meeting press delegates to overrule the credentialing committee and let him in.

Robert Borer, who lost a primary election challenge in May to Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen, was rejected for threatening to create a new political party after he lost.

Borer said Thursday that he is now running a write-in campaign for governor and that he plans to hand out business cards for his campaign Saturday in Kearney.

He said he won’t acknowledge University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen as the GOP nominee for governor because Borer questions the machines that Nebraska uses to count paper ballots. He worries they can be manipulated.

“I think they’re running scared,” Borer said of the state GOP sending him a letter. “It’s an awakened ‘We the People’ against the self-appointed ruling elite.”

He lost faith in Ricketts

Pam Dingman, who chairs the state GOP’s credentialing committee, said in a statement that the state party welcomes debate and criticism from GOP voters.

But, she said, the Nebraska GOP would not let people use its annual convention to help recruit or elect candidates running against Republicans.

Otoe County Republican Rex Schroder, who also challenged Evnen in the primary, said his letter said he was rejected because he sent an email in May to state GOP leaders saying he planned to register as a Libertarian.

He said he never registered to go to the state convention because it cost too much and said he won’t be going because he “wants no part of the Pete Ricketts swamp.”

Schroder said he lost faith in Ricketts because of how aggressively he and his team pressed for Pillen over other Republican candidates worth considering for the nomination for governor.

Some Republicans have spent years trying to wrest control of the party from Ricketts. Privately, some said they have found help from fervent fans of Trump in the state GOP. In other states, Trump supporters have seized control over state and local parties.

Ricketts endorsed Trump in 2016 and 2020. But Ricketts and Trump supported different candidates in this year’s governor’s primary race. Ricketts backed Pillen. Trump backed Herbster, even after Ricketts lobbied Trump to stay out of the race.

“Ricketts controls everything,” Schroder said, including Evnen, who he said should be counting ballots by hand and not by machine.

The letter sent to Lancaster County GOP activist Fanchon Blythe cited one of her social media posts expressing curiosity about a potential write-in candidate for governor, Dave Wright.

“They’re trying not to let people be credentialed that go against them,” Blythe said of the establishment.

More than 600 expected

The letter sent to Lancaster County Republican Faith White said she was denied credentials because she recorded a phone call with state GOP chairman Dan Welch that became the subject of a news story.

In that June 2020 call, Welch told White that the state party had made a mistake by targeting then-GOP legislative candidate Janet Palmtag in a GOP on GOP legislative race. Welch pointed out that Ricketts had made the decision to target Palmtag, who has since re-registered as a Democrat.

The other person who received a letter from the state GOP was Amy Tharp, the newly elected chairwoman of the Custer County GOP. She could not be reached for comment Thursday.

The state GOP expects more than 600 delegates, alternates and guests at the convention. The convention typically draws between 300 and 500 people, party officials said.

Editor’s note: This article has been revised with an updated number of people who typically attend the convention.

Nebraska Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nebraska Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Cate Folsom for questions: Follow Nebraska Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

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