Ricketts pushes back on claims that GOP ‘establishment’ was behind groping claims against Herbster
Three state senators and other GOP officials challenge ‘justifiably suspicious’ timing of allegations
Gov. Pete Ricketts at a State Capitol press conference in January 2022. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts pushed back Monday against claims that the Republican “establishment” was to blame for allegations by eight women that they had been groped by gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster.
“I would say, just read the article,” the governor said, referring to the Nebraska Examiner’s report last week.
Also Monday, three state senators and a group of local GOP officials released a letter supporting Herbster and questioning the “justifiably suspicious” timing of the allegations.
Ricketts said of the report last week: “That article is probably one of the most well-researched, corroborated articles I’ve ever seen on this topic.”
He added that he believed State Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling, one of the women who said they were molested. Ricketts appointed Slama, a law student, to the Nebraska Legislature in 2019 after she had worked on his gubernatorial campaign the previous year.
The publication of the allegations on Thursday sent shock waves through the Republican primary race to replace Ricketts, who is barred by term limits from running for reelection this year.
Herbster, a 67-year-old Falls City businessman, has been the front-runner in a crowded GOP primary race.
Eight women, including Slama, said Herbster had groped them during events related to politics or beauty pageants that extend back to 2017. Slama was the only one of the eight to agree to be named in the article.
Slama said Herbster had reached up under her skirt, without her consent, and touched her inappropriately during a 2019 political event, an incident witnessed by another person.
Herbster, a Falls City businessman endorsed by former President Donald Trump, fired back, calling the allegations “100% false” and an “unfounded, dirty political trick” inspired by the political “establishment,” carried out by Ricketts and the GOP candidate he has endorsed, University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen.
“It’s only after I’ve threatened the stranglehold the establishment has on this state do they stoop to lies this large,” added Herbster.
Those signing the letter supporting Herbster on Monday included Sens. Tom Brewer, Steve Erdman and Steve Halloran, as well as former Omaha Mayor and former U.S. Rep. Hal Daub, according to News Channel Nebraska.
“It’s unbelievable that this man would inappropriately touch any woman, at any time,” the letter stated, questioning whether the allegations came because Pillen was lagging in the polls.
Ricketts, when asked to respond Monday morning during a press conference on a different subject, said people should “read the story.”
Later in the day, the governor went on Omaha radio station KFAB, telling talk show host Ian Swanson that it was “just ridiculous” to think the allegations were a “political hit job.”
“Julie Slama and I have never talked about any of this stuff. I don’t know who the other women are,” Ricketts said. “I read about it when the story broke. It is something that the reporter researched.”
Ricketts, whose family owns the Chicago Cubs, has said he doesn’t feel that Herbster is qualified to become governor. Ricketts has also acknowledged donating to a group running anti-Herbster ads, besides being a major donor to the Pillen campaign.
Trump comments ‘very different’
Some on social media have criticized Ricketts and other Republicans for condemning Herbster after not doing the same of Trump when a videotape was released during the 2016 campaign that showed Trump boasting that when you’re “a star” you can “grab women by the p***y.”
Ricketts said the difference is in the “nature of the allegations. He said the “lewd comments” about women made by then-presidential candidate Trump were “very different” from the “sexual assault” allegations lodged by the eight women against Herbster.
In 2016, Ricketts said he condemned the comments by candidate Trump and announced he would not be donating to his campaign.
‘Victim blaming wrong’
As for Herbster, the governor repeated his comments from last week that Herbster needs to apologize to the eight women, “seek help” and step out of the race for governor.
Ricketts added that the “victim blaming” engaged in by Herbster is the reason it’s so hard for women to talk about being groped by a powerful man.
“It’s embarrassing and shocking” for a woman, Ricketts said. “It’s something that is traumatizing.”
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