LINCOLN — Chasing Gov. Pete Ricketts’ tail and pocket, University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen cruised to victory Tuesday in the race to be the next governor.
Pillen, a veterinarian and pig farmer from Columbus, was leading his Democratic rival, state Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, by a 56-41 percent margin.
In remarks at the Election Night party, Pillen said he was incredibly humbled by his election and asked Nebraskans to “put aside special interests and work not for what’s in my best interest, my district’s best interest, or my community’s best interest.” “, but for the state as a whole.
‘It’s time …’
“It’s time, once and for all, to fix the property tax problem,” he said, echoing the promises of former governors.
To loud applause from the crowd at Lincoln’s Marriott Cornhusker Hotel, Pillen pledged to protect “innocent life,” the right to bear arms and “restore faith in the public square where it has always belonged.”
Tuesday’s election marked a continuation of Republican dominance of all Nebraska constitutional offices that began in 1998. On Tuesday, the GOP retained control of the governor’s office, as well as the offices of attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer and state auditor.
A Democrat has not served in a constitutional office since 1999, when then-Governor Ben Nelson left office due to term limits.
Blood said her campaign “energized a lot of Nebraskans” and didn’t try to “buy our way into office,” a reference to being outvoted by a nearly 20-to-1 margin.
“We were told from the start that we didn’t stand a chance in hell,” she said.
“What we loved about our campaign is that we brought hope to people who thought their voices hadn’t been heard for decades. So to those people, I say, don’t give up hope. we hear you We will continue to fight for you. That will never change,” Blood said.
“This is a red state, my friends. We are proud of our numbers and I got to make a lot of new friends in Nebraska.”
Pillen, a 66-year-old former Nebraska football player, was buoyed by early and lucrative backing from Ricketts, a millionaire member of a family that owns the Chicago Cubs and founded TD Ameritrade.
Ricketts poured nearly $1.3 million and his parents added $250,000 into a political action committee that attacked Pillen’s primary GOP rivals in the spring, Falls City businessman Charles Herbster and state Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha. Ricketts also gave $100,000 directly to Pillen’s campaign.
The most expensive gubernatorial race
It was a controversial heavyweight fight in the spring with former President Donald Trump pitting Herbster — who has spent more than $10 million of his own money in the 2022 race — against Pillen, who was endorsed by Ricketts and his family, who are big national donors to GOP causes.
By the end of the primary, it was already the most expensive gubernatorial race in state history.
Pillen received a rare primary endorsement from the state’s largest agricultural group, the Nebraska Farm Bureau, which mobilized its members to put up signs and promote his candidacy.
Mark McHargue, chairman of the Farm Bureau, said Tuesday night that it’s huge for a farmer to hold the governor’s office. His election is expected to continue Ricketts’ strong support for corn-based ethanol.
“He’s going to hit the ground running,” McHargue said of Pillen.
Former state Sen. Jim Scheer of Norfolk said he was impressed when he worked with Pillen in the past. Pillen, he said, was a good listener who was “always looking for the right answer,” not just for someone to agree with his opinion.
There was also controversy in the race, as the Nebraska Examiner reported that eight women, including a current state senator, said they were inappropriately groped by Herbster. All eight accounts were corroborated by witnesses or people to whom the women told what happened immediately afterwards.
As is often the case, the winner of the Republican primary still won the governor’s office in Nebraska, where the GOP enjoys a 606,967 to 345,292 voter registration lead over Democrats statewide.
Pillen, according to the latest state campaign spending report, spent nearly $9.3 million this year to win the governorship, compared to $506,000 spent by Blood, a nearly 19-to-1 margin.
No government debates
Notably, the election campaign did not include debates between the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates. Pillen began rejecting debates during the primary, calling them political theater.
Blood tried to capitalize on Pillen’s reluctance to engage in live debate, but failed to move the needle much. Neither did Blood’s attempts to paint agribusiness businessman Columbus as a candidate without a plan.
The farmer as governor
Pillen, the first farmer to serve as governor of Nebraska in at least six decades, built his campaign on his conservative credentials and support for gun rights, opposition to abortion rights and the “health standards” proposed by the Board of State for Education and a stance against the teaching of critical race theory in the state’s K-12 schools and universities.
As NUregent, Pillen proposed a resolution to block the teaching of CRT at NU, but the resolution was defeated 5-3 after students and faculty objected, saying it was an important theory for students.
Pillen also campaigned on pledges to “modernize” the state’s fiscal system and revamp the state aid formula for K-12 schools by distributing aid on a per-pupil basis instead of a formula that tries to equalize aid between the poor and the fiscal. – affluent school districts.
A Lincoln-based think tank, the Open Sky Policy Institute, criticized the per-pupil change, saying the state’s largest school districts, which educate 78 percent of the state’s students, would lose about $270 million in state aid, forcing painful local property tax increases.
Other statehouse races
Re-elected Tuesday against token opposition were Secretary of State Bob Evnen and State Treasurer John Murante.
State Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, the current Speaker of the Legislature, was elected attorney general. And voters returned Lt. Gov. Mike Foley to the state auditor’s office, a post he held from 2007 to 2015.
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