By Mary Jane Truemper, President of the Omaha Liberty Ladies, LLC
I feel compelled during this Easter Season to take time out to speak about the gubernatorial race and Senator Julie Slama’s allegations against Charles W. Herbster.
To sum up, I still support Charles W. Herbster. Actually I am a stronger supporter than I had been, because I believe there is no dirtier political trick than to use sexual allegations against a leading candidate as the first ballots are mailed out to the public, giving the candidate no time for due process or to defend himself adequately.
Full disclosure. I am not paid by or working for any campaign. I call it as I see it. I do have the respect of many within the party, both young and old, and I know that some younger party members view me as a political “Nana” that they can come to. I do not take lightly that respect and credibility, which have been built up over many years.
And although I am President of Omaha Liberty Ladies, LLC, I am not speaking for anyone else on its Board or for the organization itself. These are my personal thoughts and opinion.
First, some back story. We all know that Governor Pete Ricketts has been supporting Regent Jim Pillen’s candidacy. In fact, Jim Pillen is using the same political strategist that Governor Ricketts has used for years and upon whom he heavily relies.
The strategist, Jessica Flanagain, is well known in Nebraska political circles and has a reputation for playing smash-ball politics, to put it politely. The benefit of a current Governor supporting a future Governor is that the current Governor can maintain some of the political power structure that he has built, and the future Governor would be an important ally for any future political aspirations of the current Governor.
There is friction between Governor Ricketts and Charles W. Herbster. According to a previous Politico article, Governor Ricketts wanted President Trump to remain neutral in the gubernatorial race and not to endorse Charles W. Herbster. Of course, we know that President Trump decided to endorse Charles W. Herbster anyway, and that Herbster had a nice lead in the gubernatorial race prior to the Slama allegation.
Governor Pete Ricketts initially appointed Julie Slama to her seat in the Unicameral, and Slama had her first election to hold that seat in 2020. Jessica Flanagain was Slama’s strategist, and Governor Ricketts and/or his family spent a substantial amount of money towards her candidacy either directly and/or indirectly. Slama’s husband, Andrew La Grone, is currently listed as the treasurer for a “dark money” PAC that is running ads against Senator Brett Lindstrom. Governor Ricketts has actually admitted that he and his family contributed to this “dark money” PAC. Governor Ricketts also appointed Slama’s sister as Sarpy County Election Commissioner.
Slama had a GOP opponent in her 2020 primary election campaign — Janet Palmtag, a real estate broker who had been a long-time GOP volunteer and member of the Nebraska Federation of Republican Women (NeFRW).
Janet Palmtag was attacked and labeled as an “Ernie Chambers liberal,” a smear repeated by Slama in her interview with Ian Swanson on KFAB. Palmtag was also accused of malfeasance with her real estate brokerage firm, an allegation that adversely affected her reputation and her business. Women within the NeFRW who knew and supported Janet Palmtag were disgusted and spoke out in favor of Palmtag.
Long story short, retribution from the Nebraska GOP (NEGOP) ensued, and some members/leaders of the NeFRW became persona non grata at NEGOP and Ricketts events, while the President of the NeFRW was effectively removed from the NEGOP Executive Committee.
Although Governor Ricketts is not a titled member of the NEGOP, he heavily influences the NEGOP as the top elected GOP official in the state. From what I understand, Janet Palmtag filed a lawsuit that is still pending against the NEGOP, and the NeFRW has retained legal counsel to counter ongoing attacks from the NEGOP.
Now having the very basic background (because there is much more), you see some of the relationships that you may not have known and that have been causing deepening rifts with the GOP party in Nebraska. I personally have stepped away from the dysfunctional NEGOP, and I spend additional time with more fruitful organizations such as Omaha Liberty Ladies.
Now let’s look at the timing of these accusations. Charles W. Herbster leads in the polls and Jim Pillen was falling further behind, perhaps because he refused to participate in debates or forums and isn’t a charismatic candidate. One poll had Brett Lindstrom in second place, and that might explain the ads against Lindstrom by the “dark money” PAC that has Slama’s husband, Andrew La Grone, listed as its treasurer.
This accusation published by the Nebraska Examiner was released the week after the first early voting ballots were mailed out. There are only four weeks until the primary election, and a candidate is most vulnerable during this window because he has the least amount of time to respond adequately to such allegations.
That’s why I continue to say that Herbster is being “Kavanaugh’d.” We have seen these last-minute smears in the dirtiest campaigns, and Nebraska is now no different. Slama is a political figure, and she knows better than the average person that the worst possible time for a candidate to get smeared is during this part of the campaign. It’s commonly known as the “October surprise”, but in Nebraska the GOP primary determines the race, because we are such a heavily GOP state, so it’s known here as the “April surprise”.
With the “Me too” movement, people have been programmed always to believe the woman and not even ask questions, especially men. The younger voter demographic is very much programmed to this narrative. That’s why I’m asking questions.
As a woman and as someone who was assaulted in my younger years more than once, I understand the decision-making process whether to speak up or not. Sometimes I did, and sometimes I did not. This type of allegation is particularly devastating and, had it been brought up sooner, then it would be more credible. Like the allegations against U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the accusation is compelling but not credible.
I’ve been mulling over many questions since these allegations came out, so I’m just going to put my questions here for you to consider. Once you read my questions, ask yourself why none of these questions were addressed in Aaron Sanderford’s article — and why is Julie Slama’s accusation only backed up by mostly “anonymous sources”? (A second named accuser recently came forth: Elizabeth Todsen Clark, whose husband, Ethan Clark, was the legislative aide to —who else? — Julie Slama’s husband, Andrew La Grone!)
First, who are these anonymous sources? Even if withholding their names, are they political insiders? Are they supporters of any particular campaign? How did Sanderford find these anonymous sources? We know that reporter Aaron Sanderford spoke with these women, but who else has spoken to or influenced these women? Were members of the Pillen Team in conversation with these women and, if so, since when. Who shopped the story to Sanderford and the Nebraska Examiner? Fortunately, these questions may be answered when the Herbster suit against Slama moves forward.
Julie Slama didn’t allow her outrage at Herbster to prevent her from accepting $10,000 from him for her campaign in December of 2020. Per her interview on KFAB, she said that he called on election night to congratulate her and offered her the money after her win. Why did she take the call? Why did she deposit the check even if it was received? It seems incredible to me that Slama lacked the self-respect to refuse money from her alleged assailant.
Herbster was invited by Slama and her husband to their destination wedding that was held earlier this year. [Editor’s Note: the wedding actually took place in December of last year.]. She said on Ian Swanson’s show that they invited donors, and that her husband still had Herbster on his donor list, but she didn’t “catch” it. Are affairs of state to be entrusted to someone who refuses to take responsibility for the guest list at her own wedding?
The alleged incident occurred in early April of 2019. Why did Slama’s then boyfriend/fiancé, former Senator Andrew La Grone, solicit and accept $2500 from Herbster in August of 2019, and another $2500 in July 2020? If Slama removed Herbster from her donor list per her Ian Swanson interview, why did her boyfriend/fiancé continue to solicit money from Herbster? This doesn’t add up.
And the 11th-hour accusation against Herbster continues not to make sense to me. Slama was supposedly worried about Herbster’s political power advantage over her (and the effect on her political career). Slama has Governor Pete Ricketts as a long-time patron to her and to her family. Governor Ricketts is very politically connected and comes from a much more politically connected and wealthier family than Charles Herbster. Why would she not go to Governor Ricketts for counsel? Or did she? If so, when and what did they do or say? Again, these questions may be answered as the Herbster suit against Slama moves forward.
Slama’s husband is an attorney, and she is studying to be an attorney. What drives attorneys — fear or justice? It’s disappointing that someone with Slama’s capacity to champion the rule of law is involved in a plan deliberately timed to deny an accused candidate his due process under the law.
Why wasn’t candidate Jim Pillen worried about loss of support and bad press for not participating in forums or debates during the last weeks of the campaign? Was he expecting an “April surprise”? Does the timing of this accusation and the relationships help to explain the ads against Brett Lindstrom (who was possibly in second place behind Herbster) — ads paid for by the dark money PAC which Andrew La Grone served as its Treasurer?
In my opinion as someone who has followed Nebraska politics for many years, this is a power grab to keep the current power structure in place, pure and simple. None of this is by accident. Herbster is outside of Nebraska’s establishment GOP structure and, like Trump, the current political power structure wants him taken down at any cost. This makes me rethink a lot of things about my perceptions of who has character and integrity in this state and who does not.
Finally, I’m perplexed by this account of someone choosing to “go along to get along” with an alleged assault rather than hold the alleged groper accountable, either privately or through law enforcement channels. The more consequential the behavior that allegedly happened, the more egregious the accuser’s lack of response becomes, apparently guided by her concern for her own political career. To date, we have no police report filed surrounding any allegation. If and when someone files a police report, then the accuser can be questioned by law enforcement and be liable for any acts of perjury, while the accused will have rights to due process under the law.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with my assessment; we are all entitled to our personal opinions based upon our experience and discernment. Since I placed Charles W. Herbster on my personal 2022 Primary Voting Guide, and I’ve received many emails and phone calls asking for my opinion, I wanted to clarify my position. I have every faith in your intellect and ability to draw your own conclusions.
God bless you all as we continue to celebrate the Risen Lord.