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Four Nebraska GOP gubernatorial candidates appear at town hall
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Four Nebraska GOP gubernatorial candidates appear at town hall

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The 2022 Nebraska Republican gubernatorial primary may focus heavily on education, culture issues and opposition to mandates — if Saturday night’s debate in Weeping Water is any indication.

State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, former State Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, Michael Connely and Breland Ridenour took the stage at a town hall at the Cass County Fairgrounds, where they sought to distinguish themselves in a primary field that also includes Charles Herbster and Jim Pillen. Herbster, who received an endorsement last month from former President Donald Trump, and Pillen said they were unable to attend.

Over the course of almost two hours, the four were asked for their thoughts on topics that ranged from education, COVID-19 mandates, immigration and more.

After opening statements, Connely helped set the tone for the evening when he called for replacing the State Department of Education with a new, small Office of Education, which he said would be led by a director appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature.

“It won’t be some independent agency that does all kinds of bizarre things like critical race theory (and) comprehensive sexual education,” he said.

As was noted during the debate, the Department of Education is a constitutionally created office and cannot be unilaterally replaced.

Thibodeau, who was Herbster’s running mate before dropping her bid for lieutenant governor, said the controversial educational topics were one of the main reasons she entered the race this past week.

“Our children are being indoctrinated,” she said. “They’re learning divisiveness. They’re being sexualized in our schools. And it has to stop.”

The four candidates were also passionate about opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates by the federal government and employers.

Lindstrom noted that he was one of the state senators calling for a special session to consider prohibiting vaccine mandates. While the effort fell a few votes short, Lindstrom believes that the topic will be discussed in the next session. He added that, as governor, he would still have called for a special session.

“We will address the concerns of people,” he said. “There are a lot of people losing their jobs. That cannot happen with what’s going on from the Biden administration.”

In addition to opposing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, Ridenour also voiced opposition to mitigation measures imposed by the government, instead calling for personal responsibility.

“(As governor) I will never make a decision that infringes on the rights of the people. I don’t care how bad the situation is,” he said. “I’m not going to force them to stay in their home. I’m not going to force them to wear a mask. I’m not going to force them to take an injection. That’s not going to happen. Not on my watch.”

The four candidates found common ground on election measures, including implementing a voter ID law.

Lindstrom, Ridenour and Thibodeau said they would support a heartbeat law to curtail abortions, with the moderator citing the Texas law — which is currently being challenged in court — as an example. Connely called a heartbeat bill “too sweet.”

“Let’s cut that whole tree down,” he said.

All candidates are vying to succeed Gov. Pete Ricketts, a two-term Republican who is facing term limits.

State Sen. Carol Blood is the only Democrat to declare her candidacy in the gubernatorial race.

Republicans have held a firm grip on the Governor’s Mansion. Gov. Ben Nelson, whose tenure ended in 1999, was the last Democrat to serve in the office.


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