Herbster and Pillen spar over critical race theory

By: - February 8, 2022 1:43 pm

Nebraska Republican Charles Herbster announces his run for governor in April 2021. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Hog farmer Jim Pillen’s latest television ad takes aim at critical race theory. He says he knows slop when he sees it.

Charles Herbster, Pillen’s top opponent in Nebraska’s Republican primary for governor, questioned Pillen’s sincerity. He said he should have done more to protect university students from critical race theory. 

Herbster pointed to Pillen’s 2018 vote, as a University of Nebraska regent, in support of hiring a leader to create a new Office of Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The office was created after being studied for four years following race-related incidents on UNL’s campus. Pillen has been an NU regent since 2013.

“Jim Pillen’s lack of action and courage on critical race theory when Nebraska students needed him the most is shocking,” Herbster said. “His sudden reversal in a paid ad for political purposes is too little, too late.”

Herbster said that, if elected governor, he would work with local school boards and the NU system to “make sure students are taught to love, not hate, America.” 

Pillen’s campaign said that he was the first elected university regent in the U.S. to stand up against critical race theory and that he is a recognized leader in higher ed on the issue.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen
Nebraska Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen (Rebecca S. Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

“Jim will always fight to ensure our schools educate, not indoctrinate, our students,” said Kenny Zoeller, Pillen’s campaign manager. 

The campaigns disagreed Tuesday over who opposed critical race theory first. 

Herbster’s campaign press release said he signed the “1776 Action Pledge” against critical race theory on June 8. Pillen’s campaign provided an email confirming Pillen had signed the pledge a day earlier, on June 7. Herbster’s campaign then provided a document showing Herbster had signed on June 2. 

Critical race theorists essentially believe that race in America must be viewed through a lens that is conscious of color, not blind to it.

UNL officials did not immediately return messages seeking comment, nor did its Office of Diversity and Inclusion. 

The office’s website says it aims to “create a more equitable, and inclusive campus culture.” In interviews, diversity office leaders have previously said it is designed to make sure that UNL is welcoming to all of its students. University leaders have said the office is vital to helping recruit the next generation of students. 

Herbster’s attack on Tuesday followed criticism Pillen leveled against him on Friday. Pillen had criticized Herbster for locating Conklin Co. out of state. Herbster responded by criticizing Pillen’s business, Columbus-based Pillen Family Farms.

Pillen and Herbster are the top two fundraisers in the governor’s race. Eight GOP candidates are vying to see who will face Democratic State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue in November.

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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.