Fortenberry, Flood trade charges as 1st District race heats up

By: - January 28, 2022 12:41 pm
U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry talking to reporters in US Capitol

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-NE, in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. (Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The race for the Republican nomination in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District heated up Friday, with incumbent U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry attacking State Sen. Mike Flood as having a “history” of not following conservative principles, particularly on immigration issues.

Flood, in a response from a campaign spokesman, later accused the congressman of “desperately lying” to divert attention from the federal charges faced by Fortenberry.

The Fortenberry campaign launched an ad Friday that slams Flood’s role in overturning a veto of a 2012 bill by then-Gov. Dave Heineman. The bill required the state to provide prenatal care for immigrants to ensure that their babies, who automatically become American citizens at birth, were born healthy. 

Fortenberry charged Friday that Flood had “joined with liberal activists to give taxpayer-funded health care to illegal immigrants.” A campaign spokesman said the liberals were several Democrats and Nebraska Appleseed, a Lincoln group that advocates for the poor.

“Squishy politician’

The ad also maintains Flood was a “squishy politician” who was siding with President Joe Biden on immigration issues, issues that are causing a “flood” of immigrants at the border.

Flood argued in 2012 that taking care of the children was a “pro-life” imperative and that denying prenatal care could translate into more costly medical bills for the state if children were born with birth defects that could have been prevented with proper medical care.

His campaign, on Friday, pointed out that Nebraska Right to Life and the Catholic Conference were among those supporting the prenatal care bill.

“Mike Flood has always fought to protect innocent life,” said campaign spokesman Ryan Kopsa. He added that Flood had “prioritized his pro-life principles on a difficult bill.”

Text poll done

Heineman last week joined Gov. Pete Ricketts in endorsing Flood’s primary challenge of Fortenberry, who has represented eastern Nebraska’s 1st District since 2005. Both Heineman and Ricketts said that Flood, who runs a statewide media chain based in Norfolk, is a conservative candidate who would ensure that the 1st District seat remains with the GOP.

On Thursday, the Nebraska Examiner learned that a text poll was being conducted that seeks to probe voters’ feelings about the federal indictment faced by Fortenberry, including whether he was “set up” by the FBI.

Fortenberry, 60, has been indicted on three felony charges of allegedly lying to federal agents investigating illegal campaign contributions from a Nigerian billionaire living in Paris. 

The congressman, a former Lincoln City Council member, has denied the charges but is fighting for his political life in court. Some leading Nebraska Republicans, including Ricketts and Heineman, also calculate that a Democrat could capture the 1st District seat because of Fortenberry’s legal problems. State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, a well-known Lincoln Democrat, is running. 

Sen. Mike Flood announces for Congress
Gov. Pete Ricketts and former Gov. Dave Heineman both endorsed the congressional bid of State Sen. Mike Flood at a January press conference. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

The poll, which was distributed via cellphone texts this week, asks voters their opinions of the FBI, Fortenberry, Flood and Ricketts.

It also asks respondents who they might vote for and whether they would change their minds if they knew Fortenberry was “set up” by the FBI or if they knew the prosecutor was a Democrat.

Court records indicated that FBI agents, in a recorded 2018 phone call, had an informant tell Fortenberry that contributions he had received at a Los Angeles fundraiser in 2016 “probably” originated from Gilbert Chagoury, a billionaire living in Paris. 

Prosecutors allege that Fortenberry then lied later about his knowledge of the illegal donations. Fortenberry’s lawyers maintain that he merely didn’t recall that phone conversation.

The main prosecutor in the case, Mack Jenkins, contributed to a group called “Stop Republicans,” according to Politico. Stop Republicans is a Chicago-based group which says it works to increase voter turnout, fight “disinformation” and “resist the radical Republican agenda.”

 

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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