Six Nebraska’s candidates for governor participated in a forum in Lincoln hosted by the Nebraska Chambers Association. From left: State Sen. Carol Blood, Charles Herbster, State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, NU Regent Jim Pillen, Breeland Ridenour and former State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)
OMAHA — State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, an Omaha Republican facing a new round of dark money TV ads attacking his record as being centrist, was endorsed Thursday by the Nebraska teachers union, which risks reinforcing the ads’ message to GOP voters.
The Nebraska State Education Association endorsed Lindstrom in the Republican primary election and Carol Blood in the Democratic primary race.
Jenni Benson, the NSEA president, said the union had worked well with both Blood and Lindstrom and said both earned their recommendation.
“Education is not, nor should it be, a partisan issue,” Benson said.
The complication for Lindstrom is timing. A new dark money group, Say No to RINOs, started running TV ads this week in Scottsbluff, Lincoln and Grand Island attacking Lindstrom’s record. The group lists former State Sen. Andrew La Grone as its treasurer.
The ads hammer Lindstrom’s 2019 vote to increase the gas tax by six cents over Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto. The bill was expected to raise about $75 million a year to repair and maintain roads and bridges across the state.
La Grone, a frequent ally of Ricketts’ during his legislative tenure, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. Ricketts has said he is not funding dark money ads against Lindstrom. He has acknowledged that he is funding ads against Charles Herbster in the governor’s race.
The Lindstrom campaign called the attacks on him “desperate and dishonest.” The campaign said others are upset because Lindstrom has a record of cutting taxes, including helping to pass the latest tax relief package the Legislature approved on Thursday.
“Voters know Brett is Nebraska’s top tax slasher, and they like it,” Lindstrom spokesman Pat Trueman said. “Brett’s positive and optimistic message stands out in this increasingly negative environment and is resonating with voters.”
The NSEA represents 25,000 Nebraska teachers, professors and school support staff in communities large and small. Lindstrom’s team had no immediate comment about the endorsement.
Blood said she was pleased to have the teachers’ support.
But she questioned why the union also backed Lindstrom, who she said has supported school vouchers and did not vote to approve an amendment she offered to legislation that would have given teachers additional retention pay for sticking with teaching during the pandemic.
“As an enthusiastic supporter of public education and a firm believer that public dollars are meant for public schools, I was surprised by a dual endorsement,” Blood said.
Lindstrom’s top opponents in the GOP race also criticized the NSEA endorsement.
Herbster’s campaign issued a statement: “The liberal teachers union endorsing Omaha State Senator Brett Lindstrom comes at no surprise to us. We have always known that he’s a RINO,” or a Republican in name only.
University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen said in a statement, “Lindstrom has a liberal voting record and now the support of the liberal NSEA, a left-wing Nebraska organization. … No conservative should accept the endorsement of the NSEA.”
Former State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha tweeted out that she was “honored” not to have earned the union’s support, calling the NSEA the “largest, most liberal lobbying organization in Nebraska.”
Benson, the union’s president, responded Thursday afternoon: “NSEA’S 25,000 members include registered Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. This Association has worked in support of public education for 154 years, and our members will continue to advocate for teachers, education support professionals and students, regardless of name-calling and false attacks from some politicians.”
Historically, Democrats have been elated to receive the NSEA’s endorsement, said John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Republicans face a more mixed response from voters to the union’s backing, he said.
Some of the most fervent Republicans who vote in primaries, including those who believe in school choice and private education, might make the argument that being endorsed by the NSEA is a bad thing, Hibbing explained.
Lindstrom and Blood, however, should benefit from the reality that teachers are spread across the state, Hibbing said, and that they have relationships in the communities they serve.
“I’m not sure how much this would change the basic dynamics of the Republican primary race,” Hibbing said of the NSEA endorsement. “Lindstrom was already viewed as a little less conservative than Pillen and Herbster. He’s got his lane. The question is: Will there be enough moderate Republicans who support him?”
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