Charles Herbster, the wealthy Falls City agribusinessman whose self-funded early campaign start and insider association with former President Donald Trump vaulted him into an instant front-runner along with political target, says he’d be a governor focused on conservative principles, Christian values and the state’s economic future.
That means protection of agriculture, attraction of business investment, job creation and development of a skilled workforce, he said.
“I am absolutely not a career politician,” Herbster said.
Instead, he said, he has been “in the direct-selling business for 45 years with the opportunity to work with hundreds of small, independent business people in Nebraska.”
And that experience, he said, uniquely prepares him to be governor and lead the way to job creation and economic growth in the state.
“I know we can do better,” Herbster said. “I would market the hell out of our state. I am a job creator.
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“And I think people are ready for a new leader.”
Nebraskans are “asking for the opportunity to have a seat at the table,” he said, and he would provide that as a governor who listens to their ambitions and concerns.
“People just want to be heard (and) I’ll be open-access,” Herbster said during a telephone interview from his campaign vehicle as he headed west into heavily Republican territory on his way to Oshkosh with stops in Sidney and Ogallala on the agenda for the following day.
During a lengthy interview over coffee in Lincoln at the beginning of his campaign a year ago, Herbster said he would focus on tax and school funding reform, including additional property tax relief, while promising conservative government if he is elected governor.
And during a walk to his car afterward he said his campaign strength is likely to be that he’s a lifelong salesman.
Herbster, self-funding his campaign with millions of his own dollars, has been the acknowledged front-runner for nearly a year, with polling results confirming his position at the head of the pack.
But he ran into a buzz-saw in mid-April that has scrambled a Republican race that was already tightening when the online Nebraska Examiner reported that eight women had accused him of inappropriately touching or groping them at public events.
Herbster has categorically denied the allegations, stating in a Zoom conference hookup with members of the news media, including CNN, that “all those accusations are totally false” and that he is the victim of a politically motivated “personal smear campaign.”
State Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling, one of the accusers, is now engaged in a battle of lawsuits with Herbster.
Another woman, Elizabeth Todsen, came forward and was named in a Nebraska Examiner story that was published Saturday. Todsen said she was groped by Herbster during an Elephant Remembers fundraiser for the Douglas County Republican Party in 2019, when she was a 23-year-old employee of state Sen. Dave Murman.
Gov. Pete Ricketts, who originally appointed Slama to the Legislature in 2019, said he believes the women and he has urged Herbster to withdraw from the race.
Ricketts is supporting Jim Pillen of Columbus in what has become a three-man race for the GOP nomination as measured by recent polls.
Also riding into contention now is state Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, according to polling results that suggest he may be making the most recent gains.
Trump is scheduled to visit Nebraska on Sunday evening to energize support for Herbster, who was chairman of the former president’s agriculture and rural advisory committee and became an insider at White House events.
Herbster was in the room at Trump International Hotel in Washington with Trump’s sons and advisers on the night before the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol last year and attended the president’s rally on the following morning, but left for Florida before the storming of the Capitol.
Herbster, a cattle producer and businessman who is owner and CEO of Carico Farms and Herbster Angus Farms in Falls City and the owner and CEO of Conklin Co., a manufacturing and distribution company based in Kansas City, Missouri, usually campaigns wearing a cowboy hat and opens events with a prayer.
This is his second bid for the governorship; he withdrew from his first campaign in 2014, citing his wife’s health challenges. She died of a heart attack in 2017.
“It is time for a Nebraska farmer and rancher to lead our great state toward successful solutions,” Herbster states on his campaign website.
“Property and income taxes are crushing small businesses, creating undue burden on farmers and ranchers, and promoting large government in Nebraska.”
Herbster, who identifies himself as a man focused on “faith, family and freedom,” says he is pro-life and determined to protect the 2nd Amendment and its constitutional guarantee to keep and bear arms.
His pro-life convictions won him the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Mike Foley in a surprising political split with Ricketts, who chose Foley as his running mate in 2014 and 2018.
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