Nebraska GOP backs Californian Harmeet Dhillon as RNC chair

Party backs consumption tax, hears update on July ‘break-in’ at state HQ

By: - January 21, 2023 7:46 pm

Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Eric Underwood speaks to the State Central Committee’s meeting on Saturday, Jan. 21, in Omaha. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — The Nebraska Republican Party stepped into the fight Saturday over picking the next chair of the Republican National Committee.

State GOP chair Eric Underwood let the State Central Committee decide whom he should support.

Nebraska Republican Party National Committeeman J.L. Spray speaks to political consultant Rod Edwards before the party State Central Committee’s meeting in Omaha on Jan. 21, 2023. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

The party’s steering committee voted 62-41 to support California lawyer Harmeet Dhillon over current RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who is fighting to retain her position. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell finished third with 14 votes.

Some grassroots Republicans have criticized McDaniel and other party leaders for Republicans’ performance in the 2020 and 2022 elections. 

Dhillon rose to national attention by siding with former President Donald Trump in his legal battle in a defamation suit brought by adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. Dhillon has gained momentum in recent weeks with support from conservative commentators and some Trump loyalists.

Trump has avoided taking sides in the RNC fight. McDaniel appeared to have the backing of several central committee members from Douglas and Sarpy Counties. Dhillon has the backing of Trump donor Charles Herbster. 

“Sometimes change is what we need,” Herbster posted on his Facebook page after meeting with Dhillon in California. “By any standard, our party has underperformed over the past several election cycles. We cannot afford to fail in 2024.”

Some speakers during Saturday’s meeting at the Aloft hotel defended McDaniel, including state GOP committeeman J.L. Spray, who has a vote in the race, too. Spray said McDaniel has done a good job of involving more national committee members in the party’s work. 

Another delegate said McDaniel is a strong fundraiser. 

Christina Campbell, a Lancaster County delegate, argued for change at the national level. She acknowledged that McDaniel raised a lot of money but said election results didn’t impress.

Underwood told the group he had rescinded his initial endorsement of McDaniel and offered up his vote for RNC chair to the State Central Committee because he had heard from a number of Nebraskans who wanted something different. 

“It’s something I wanted to do to represent the will of the people,” Underwood said.

The RNC leadership vote will be held during the group’s Jan. 25-27 meeting in California. 

Update on headquarters investigation

State GOP leaders talked about the need for party unity moving forward. But the wounds from last summer’s battle to wrest party control from Gov. Pete Ricketts’ team were visible in some discussions.

Party leaders shared an update from former Nebraska State Patrol Col. Tom Nesbitt, who runs a private investigations firm, on a reported break-in last July at party headquarters in Lincoln, hours after the new GOP leadership team took over.

Nesbitt, who was hired by the party to investigate, described walking into the state offices July 10 and seeing missing security cameras, physical and digital files. Cabinets and drawers were left open with “files out of them.”

Former Nebraska State Patrol Col. Tom Nesbitt speaks to members of the Nebraska Republican Party’s State Central Committee Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023, in Omaha. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

Nesbitt expressed frustration that the Lincoln Police Department decided no crime had been committed, although he praised the Lincoln officer who investigated the case. He said he and his investigators are still working to get the final police report, which wasn’t made public.

Preliminary police reports estimated the loss of property and data at about $1,000.

Some missing items, including the security cameras, have been returned. But Nesbitt said people tied to the former leadership team did not hand over passwords to access security camera footage in the cloud and said he had to recover 200 gigabytes of deleted emails. He said he would keep investigating.

“It’s wrong,” Nesbitt said. “I don’t care who it is, who’s involved. Someone has orchestrated this whole thing. I guarantee you that, and I’ll get to that person at some point.”

Backing consumption tax

The central committee approved a series of resolutions, including one supporting passage of the EPIC consumption tax, which would replace local property taxes and state income taxes with a larger state sales tax.

State Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard is pushing for a petition drive in 2024 for the change. He said it would help fix the state’s “broken” tax system and make Nebraska more affordable and accessible.

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry has argued that a consumption tax would require a state sales tax rate of between 12% and 20% to replace the tax revenue currently collected. They worry the change would make Nebraska uncompetitive.

Delegates opposed to the consumption tax resolution argued the bill would cede local control over spending to regional boards. One man said he worried about letting some out-of-town person decide whether local people need a fire truck. 

Another delegate said getting rid of the property tax system was worth the risk for burdened property owners.

Pressure state senators on abortion

The party also passed a resolution to pressure GOP state senators to “protect the unborn.” The resolution included an exception for protecting the life of the mother. Proponents overcame a David City man’s late push to allow no exceptions.

“The babies that are being excluded in this resolution, are they being given equal rights?” he argued. “They are not.”

The committee also rolled up the welcome mat for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and any other Senate and House Republicans who voted in December for the omnibus bill to keep the federal government funded through the end of the fiscal year.

The committee passed a resolution saying none of the offending GOP members of Congress would be invited to speak or allowed to attend any state or county GOP event in Nebraska until Jan. 3, 2025.

Both of Nebraska’s of U.S. Senate seats are up for election in 2024. U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., and incoming Sen. Ricketts will both be facing the voters that year, and both will likely get McConnell’s help.

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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 spent several years as an assignment editor and worked two stints as an editorial writer. From 2005 to 2007, he served as communications director for then-Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman. Aaron most recently was the lead investigative reporter for KMTV 3 in Omaha, focusing on holding public officials accountable. His work has received awards from the Associated Press, Great Plains Journalism and more.

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