Don Kleine endorses Jim Pillen for governor, weighs in on Slama and Herbster

By: - May 3, 2022 1:24 pm

Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine speaks during a press conference to endorse Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Jim Pillen outside the Douglas County Courthouse in Omaha. (Aaron Sanderford/Nebraska Examiner)

OMAHA — Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, one of Nebraska’s top prosecutors, endorsed University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen on Tuesday in the GOP primary race for governor.

Kleine said he knows Pillen and his running mate, former U.S. Attorney for Nebraska Joe Kelly. Both, he said, will work to help those who enforce the law.

Kleine said he expects Pillen to hold criminals accountable and improve the state’s prisons so people get the help they need to re-enter society.

“He understands that public safety and the safety of the citizens of the state of Nebraska is the most important thing in the role of government,” Kleine said.

Pillen, asked about the impact of law enforcement endorsements, said he was “incredibly, incredibly proud” to be standing next to Kleine and Kelly.

Reporters asked Pillen why he would accept the endorsement of Kleine, a former Democrat, after Pillen’s campaign and other supporters have criticized State Sen. Brett Lindstrom for endorsements and support from party switchers. He avoided answering the question twice.

In a follow-up statement later Tuesday, Pillen said Kleine “has always been pro-life and has always supported law enforcement. He’s a welcome addition to the party, and I look forward to working with him.”

Lindstrom spokesman Pat Trueman, asked for comment, said, “Just as Pete Ricketts welcomed Don Kleine into the Republican Party, Brett welcomes his new supporters.” He said Lindstrom’s new generation of leadership would grow the GOP.

Pillen, in response to another reporter’s question on abortion, said he looked forward to the day he might sign a law outlawing abortion in Nebraska.

“When that day comes, that’s the day to celebrate love and life and help Christian conservatives speak to the issues,” Pillen said. “That’ll be a great day.”

Kleine was asked what he thought of State Sen. Julie Slama’s allegation that she was groped by one of Pillen’s top opponents, Conklin Co. CEO Charles Herbster.

Kleine  said he shouldn’t weigh in but said he knows Slama and several senators who work with her and who stand by her side. He said coming forward took courage.

“I analyze cases,” Kleine said. “I certainly believe that there’s something there, at least at this point in time, but we’ll let that sort out.”

Herbster has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He has sued Slama for defamation. Slama has counter-sued him for sexual battery, scheduling Herbster’s deposition for Friday.

Pillen was asked what he thought about Herbster accusing him in interviews, statements and a TV ad of being part of a conspiracy against him.

“You know,” Pillen said, shaking his head. “People say a whole lot of things that don’t have a lot of truth to it, and that certainly would be one of them.”

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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.