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 businessman from Falls City, Herbster has made sizable donations to Republican candidates over the years — including his own campaign for governor, which was largely self funded.
He lost that contest to Jim Pillen, a University of Nebraska regent and Columbus hog producer backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts. Herbster heavily leaned into his support for former President Donald Trump, who endorsed Herbster in the race.
The PAC, which will be directed by Herbster’s former deputy campaign manager Rod Edwards, will initially focus on two specific issues: Disallowing state lawmakers from casting private ballots for leadership roles within the Nebraska Legislature; and supporting permitless carry of concealed firearms, often called “constitutional carry” by supporters. The PAC is asking current lawmakers and candidates to pledge their support for the causes, with the intent of compiling lists to share with voters.
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Edwards said that multiple state senators and 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 will not endorse particular candidates.
“We’re putting all of our energy into the Legislature right now,” he said. “Most Nebraskans couldn’t tell you who their state senator is or what they are doing. It’s such an important body when it comes to policies for the state, so one of our goals is just to educate voters and create accountability for senators and those who are running.”
Legislative efforts to pass a permitless carry bill and to make leadership votes public have fizzled in recent years.
Nebraska, like roughly two dozen other states, requires a permit to carry a concealed firearm. The permitting process includes paying a fee and completing a background check and firearm safety course. A bill that would have removed those permit requirements failed to overcome a filibuster in the Legislature earlier this year. State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, the sponsor of that bill, vowed to take up the issue again during the 2023 legislative session.
On Thursday, Brewer told The World-Herald that he supported the effort to secure pledges for permitless carry.
“It’s needed,” he said. “I’m hoping it will help us sway enough of the new legislators so that constitutional carry can pass next year.”
The next session also could bring a renewed debate over the Legislature’s use of secret ballots to select chairs for legislative committees.
Supporters of the process contend that it helps keep the Legislature nonpartisan, as lawmakers may feel more freedom to vote for the person they think is most qualified, regardless of political party affiliation.
Opponents argue that the secret ballot process is devoid of transparency and allows lawmakers to cast votes that diverge from their constituents’ desires. Herbster echoed that criticism, saying that by casting leadership votes in secret, lawmakers are “hiding their representation from the people.”
The PAC’s pledge asks lawmakers and candidates to agree to two things: To make all of their leadership votes public, and to vote to change the rules of the Legislature to make all leadership votes public record.
Nonpartisan Nebraska, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the nonpartisan unicameral system, said in a statement that eliminating secret balloting would have dangerous consequences.
“A recorded vote for legislative leaders would cripple nonpartisanship and severely damage senators’ independence,” the statement reads. “Its negative effects would far outweigh the increased openness.”
Though these two issues are key for Nebraska First, Edwards said there are multiple 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 that they will “aggressively fundraise” and work to get new stakeholders involved.
“This isn’t about Herbster,” Edwards said. “It’s about education and accountability. It’s about the state of Nebraska and the policies moving forward.”
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