Former Republican Wright could join Nebraska governor’s race as nonpartisan

His running mate, Dierks, is still registered as a Republican

By: - September 4, 2022 5:45 am

David Wright of Ewing speaks to a Nebraska Freedom Coalition rally in Kearney in July. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — Nebraska voters looking beyond the two major political parties and a Libertarian could have a fourth choice on November’s general election ballot for governor.

Long-odds candidate David Wright of Ewing is trying to get on — as a nonpartisan candidate.

Wright, a former Republican who has re-registered as a nonpartisan, should hear next week if he turned in enough valid signatures to petition onto the fall ballot.

Wright spoke at a Kearney event organized in July by the Nebraska Freedom Coalition to help topple the former leaders of the Nebraska Republican Party. He is a long-time conservative who advocates replacing income and property taxes with a sales tax on goods and services called a consumption tax.

His campaign declined to comment Friday about the signatures. Wright is a rancher who helped found the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska. He owned weekly newspapers in Neligh, Ewing and Clearwater, which his campaign website said he sold in 2019. 

A partisan nonpartisan

An interesting quirk: His pick for lieutenant governor on a potential nonpartisan ticket is still registered as a Republican. Tom Dierks, a social worker and a former legislative candidate in Lincoln, is the son of former State Sen. Cap Dierks. 

The Secretary of State’s Office said it could find no state law that prevents Dierks from running as a nonpartisan candidate for lieutenant governor while being a Republican.

Nebraska election law prevents gubernatorial candidates from running as nonpartisans if they belong to a party. It does not ponder the running mates of nonpartisans petitioning onto the ballot.

Potential impact on GOP

If Wright makes the fall ballot, he could pull some conservative voters away from the GOP nominee for governor, University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen of Columbus.

Nebraska GOP gubernatorial nominee Jim Pillen speaks during the Nebraska Republican Party’s “unity rally” May 11, 2022, in Lincoln. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Another wrinkle could be the write-in candidacy of former GOP Secretary of State candidate Robert Borer, an election denier who has said Pillen is not his GOP nominee.

Borer has until Oct. 28 to file the affidavit to have his write-in votes counted, officials said. He will also have to pay a $1,050 filing fee. He had not filed as of Friday afternoon.

Borer, in a message to supporters Saturday, described his effort as a “war” on “the self-appointed ruling class.” He said “patriots” should vote against Pillen and Blood.

Wright, Borer and Libertarian candidate Scott Zimmerman of Omaha could shave off some of the 258,000-voter registration advantage that the GOP and its candidates enjoy over Democrats in Nebraska.

State Sen. Carol Blood speaks in La Vista to the Nebraska Bankers Association. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

But Pillen remains the race’s favorite over Democratic State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, political observers said. 

GOP, Dems react

New Nebraska Republican Party chairman Eric Underwood said in a previous interview that he respects the right of Republicans and former Republicans to speak out and run.

But, he said, the party and his fellow Republicans support Pillen as their nominee.

State GOP spokeswoman Meg Kallina preached unity behind Pillen and other conservative Republican candidates “rooted in the Constitution.” She called him the “governor-elect.”

“Republicans are the party of conservative values,” Kallina said in a statement Friday. “One message, one goal…one team.”  

Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said she sees something else, a Republican Party that is “torn at the seam.”

“They do not have a unified party,” Kleeb said. “There are at least three competing factions that will divide up their voters, giving Democrats a clear path, not only for Congress and governor, but for the Legislature as well.”

What’s next

Under state law, Wright must gather 4,000 signatures statewide, including 750 from each of Nebraska’s three congressional districts. Verification takes days.

Election officials at the state and county levels will have to hurry because the November ballot must be finalized by Sept. 16 to print ballots for early voting.

Nebraska Examiner Senior Reporter Paul Hammel contributed to this story.

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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.