The Nebraska State Capitol pictured at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022.
The Nebraska State Capitol pictured at sunset on Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Zach Wendling/NNS.

A new political action committee — launched with the funding and support of Gov. Pete Ricketts — is jumping into a University of Nebraska Board of Regents race, opposing a term-limited Republican state senator.

Ricketts in September gave $314,000 to the group, the Nebraska Future Action Fund, according to the Omaha World-Herald. The PAC has spent roughly $51,000 to oppose State Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg in his bid for the board. 

Williams, a banker, and his opponent, Kathy Wilmot of Beaver City, who served on the State Board of Education for eight years, are each running for the seat. Regent Bob Phares, the board’s chair, declined to run for re-election for the district that includes much of western Nebraska.

Williams told the Nebraska Examiner the ultimate goal against him is for the regents to replace University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Ronnie Green and NU President Ted Carter, leaders he supports. Wilmot said that’s “crazy,” and she has not yet worked with the two leaders to determine if they should be replaced, though some NU courses are “liberal-leaning.”

Read more here from the Omaha World-Herald’s Erin Bamer on the new PAC. Read more from the Nebraska Examiner’s Paul Hammel.

Speculation continues around Sasse replacement as he meets chilly reception at UF

Speculation over who would or should replace Sen. Ben Sasse, if he resigns from Congress, has continued with national Republicans coming out in support of Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The University of Florida on Oct. 6 announced Sasse as its sole finalist to become its next president, with a final Board of Trustees vote set for Nov. 1. Sasse would likely resign in late November or early December, with state law allowing 45 days to appoint a replacement — falling upon Ricketts or his successor.

The Omaha World-Herald’s Ryan Hoffman and Lincoln Journal Star’s Don Walton reported that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have personally told Ricketts he should pursue the seat.

Ricketts has said if he decides to pursue the seat he’ll allow the next governor to appoint Sasse’s replacement, not appoint himself. 

The Nebraska Examiner’s Aaron Sanderford reports that Jim Pillen, the Republican candidate to succeed Ricketts, declined to speculate about his choice. Meanwhile, State Sen. Carol Blood, the Democratic candidate, said she would choose somebody “nonpartisan by nature” who would commit to not running in 2024 when the seat is up for election.

However, Sasse’s Oct. 10 visit to the University of Florida was not as well received as he may have expected. Hundreds of students protested Sasse over his opposition to LGBTQ issues, including same-sex marriage and anti-discrimination efforts.

According to The Hill’s Brooke Migdon and Al Weaver, students at one point shouted, “Hey hey, ho ho, Ben Sasse has got to go.”

Bacon, Vargas debate twice for Nebraska’s second congressional district

U.S. Rep. Don Bacon and State Sen. Tony Vargas have completed their two debates ahead of the Nov. 8 election, presenting differing issues from inflation and tax reform to abortion health care.

The two debates — one on Thursday, Oct. 13, sponsored by the League of Women Voters and WOWT and the other on Sunday, Oct. 16, hosted by KETV — pitted the two candidates together as they race for Nebraska’s second congressional district.

Bacon, a Republican, first won election to the House in 2016, the same year Vargas, a Democrat, joined the Nebraska Legislature. The district includes the Omaha metro and all of Douglas and Saunders counties, as well as part of Sarpy county.

The Hill’s Caroline Vakil and Jared Gans included the NE-2 race as one the 10 most critical House races to watch this year.

Read more from the Nebraska Examiner’s Aaron Sanderford on the pair’s first matchup, and read more from the Nebraska News Service’s Owen Reimer on their second and final debate.

First lady Susanne Shore breaks from husband, endorses Pansing Brooks

Nebraska first lady Susanne Shore broke from her husband, Gov. Pete Ricketts, in endorsing State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks for Nebraska’s first congressional district.

Ricketts has endorsed Rep. Mike Flood, a Republican, while Shore has again endorsed Pansing Brooks. Both Ricketts and Shore endorsed their same respective candidates ahead of the June special election to replace Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who resigned in March following his conviction in a federal campaign finance case.

Read more on the endorsement from the Lincoln Journal Star’s Don Walton.

AG Peterson announces hotline for suspected cases of sex, labor trafficking

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson on Oct. 13 announced a new, 24-hour available hotline for people to report suspected cases of sex trafficking and labor trafficking.

The new line — 833-PLS-LOOK (833-757-5665) — allows anonymous reporting directly to the Nebraska State Patrol’s information analysis center. Victim services are still available through the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888.

The hotline is a result of a partnership between the State Patrol, Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force and the Attorney General’s Office.

Read more from the Nebraska Examiner’s Cindy Gonzalez here.

Nebraska among lowest ranking politically engaged states: study

A new study has ranked Nebraska as among the lowest in states for being politically engaged. 

The study by WalletHub examined various factors, including voter registration and turnout in recent elections, with the highest political engagement in the Mid-Atlantic and Pacific Northwest regions. 

Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, Washington and Oregon claimed the top five spots respectively. Nebraska (46), South Dakota (47), Alabama (48), West Virginia (49) and Arkansas (50) claimed the lowest five spots.

Read more from The Hill’s Daniel de Visé here.

Looking ahead
  • The Nebraska Legislature’s Judiciary Committee will have a hearing on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at 9 a.m. in the State Capitol’s Room 1113 regarding an interim study on the status of legislative requirements for the Department of Correctional Services. The Legislature notes the hearing may continue into the afternoon with a lunch recess.
  • There will be two public hearings regarding ballot initiatives on November’s ballot to increase the minimum wage incrementally to $15 by 2026 and to require photo identification to vote in elections. These hearings will be on Tuesday, Oct. 18, from 1:30-4:30 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. on the minimum wage and voter ID initiatives, respectively, at the Nebraska State Capitol, Room 1525, in Lincoln.
Zach Wendling is a senior journalism and political science double major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln focused on political, policy and governance reporting. He is the spring 2023 intern for the Nebraska Examiner and has been published in publications across the state as part of the Nebraska News Service. Wendling interned for The Hill and The News Station in Washington, D.C. and worked for The Daily Nebraskan at UNL. He is one of the founding members and inaugural president of UNL's new campus chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.