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

By: and - April 18, 2022 3:40 pm
Ricketts press conference

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.

‘Well-researched, corroborated’

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.

Charles Herbster (Courtesy of Charles Herbster for Governor)

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.

‘100% false’

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.

State Sen. Julie Slama
State Sen. Julie Slama of Sterling (Courtesy of Unicameral Information Office)

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.

‘Unbelievable’

“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.”

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

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.

MORE FROM AUTHOR
Cate Folsom
Cate Folsom

Editor-in-Chief Cate Folsom has more than 40 years of experience in daily journalism, spending the bulk of that time at the Omaha World-Herald. She worked in various roles, including features writer, copy editor, Washington Bureau reporter, assistant city editor, investigative team editor, metro-regional editor and editorial page editor. She has led numerous award-winning reporting efforts, including investigations that triggered resignations of state officials and reforms in state law. Cate, an Omaha native, was inducted into the Omaha Press Club Hall of Fame in 2018.

MORE FROM AUTHOR