GOP primary: Pillen slams Herbster for basing business, annual meeting out of state

Herbster calls Pillen ‘desperate,’ criticizes his hiring practices

By: - February 5, 2022 2:51 pm
gop candidates

Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidates, from left, Charles Herbster, Brett Lindstrom and Jim Pillen, at a candidate forum in Lincoln. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — Two top Republicans running for governor are getting personal about each other’s businesses.

On Friday, northeast Nebraska hog producer Jim Pillen, the top fundraiser in the GOP primary, attacked southeast Nebraska bull breeder Charles Herbster, the race’s top spender, for locating his biggest business out of state.

“I chose to raise my family and build my business in this great state,” Pillen said in a statement. 

On Saturday, Herbster called Pillen “desperate.” He warned Pillen not to criticize his business practices. And he repeated allegations that Pillen’s hog farm had hired workers who were in the country illegally.

“Just like a typical politician, Jim Pillen has once again gone negative in an attempt to make up for his failing candidacy,” Herbster said in a statement. 

Herbster owns Conklin Co., a manufacturing, marketing and distribution company that makes a lot of its money on roofing. Minnesota is Conklin’s distribution hub. The company’s corporate leaders are based in Missouri. Herbster has a large home in Kansas City, Missouri, that he has previously described as a guest house. He resides in Falls City, Nebraska. He also owns a home in Omaha. 

Conklin employs 104 people, based on its application for federal relief funds in 2020. Most work in Minnesota and Missouri, although the company has distributors in many states, including Nebraska.

Pillen’s campaign chose Friday to level the criticism because this weekend is when Herbster’s Conklin Co. hosts its annual meeting in Branson, Mo. Pillen’s campaign asked why Herbster wasn’t hosting the conference in Nebraska.

The Conklin event draws about 2,000 people and has a local economic impact of more than $1 million, Herbster told the Branson City Council during a public hearing on the city’s conventions. Hotel officials estimated the convention’s annual sales tax impact at $180,000.

Pillen said Herbster’s decision to host the convention in Branson instead of Kearney, Lincoln or Omaha should show he “isn’t cut out” to be Nebraska’s governor.

“Herbster made his fortune from Conklin Company, a company he chose to headquarter in Missouri, not Nebraska, just like his Kansas City home,” Pillen said. “I’ll fight each and every day against out-of-state business owners, like Charles W. Herbster, who want to steal our kids and accelerate our brain drain.”

Pillen owns Pillen Family Farms, which has employees in Nebraska and three other states. The business is headquartered in Columbus. His campaign says he employs more than 850 people in Nebraska, or more than 90% of the company’s workers. He’s a University of Nebraska regent.

Herbster, in a statement Saturday, said voters were “all getting a taste of the real Jim Pillen.” He said Nebraskans are tired of “establishment politicians” making “baseless and misleading attacks.”

“Here’s a message to our opponents: Make sure your house is in order before you go looking at someone else’s,” Herbster said.

Nebraska’s primary election is May 10. Early voting starts in April.


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Aaron Sanderford
Aaron Sanderford

Political reporter Aaron Sanderford has tackled various news roles in his 20-plus year career. He has reported on politics, crime, courts, government and business for the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star. He also worked as an assignment editor and editorial writer. He was an investigative reporter at KMTV.