Omaha, NE.— The Nebraska Governor’s race and the Nebraska Supreme Court are heading for a potentially politically charged showdown.
Why? Because the Democratic Party’s arguably best chance of taking back the governor’s mansion in 20 years is in the hands of a Republican appointed high court.
Omaha State Senator Bob Krist wants on the Democrat Party’s May primary ballot, but a fellow Democrat, Tyler Davis who is also running for governor, is asking the court to keep Krist’s name off the ballot.
Four members of the current 6-member court—the 7th Justice, Max Kelch, recently resigned and has not been replaced—were appointed by Republican governors.
In addition two of those four were appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, the one term incumbent Krist wants to face in November. And it’s no secret that top officials with the Nebraska Democratic Party believe Krist will give Ricketts a fight in the fall, while Davis will not.
In an interview with News Channel Nebraska, the head of the NDP, Jane Kleeb, downplayed suggestions of any legal shenanigans.
NCN: Are you concerned that the current 6-member Nebraska Supreme Court, with four of the six appointed by Republican governors, will politicize the Krist case and take him off the ballot so he can’t challenge Ricketts in November?
Kleeb: If they do it will be a blatant partisan and political act. I’m confident the Supreme Court Justices will look at the law as we have and Krist will remain on the ballot. These political games being played are a distraction from the real issues at hand like funding our public schools and universities.
The key issue in all this is a 20-year-old decision by the Nebraska Secretary of State , first reported exclusively by News Channel Nebraska.
Davis claims that Krist, who had filed as an independent (non-partisan) a few months earlier, missed a December deadline to join the Democratic Party and run for governor this spring.
But a 1998 state memo and present-day email unearthed by NCN say otherwise.
In a letter to the Keith County Clerk dated Feb. 3, 1998 then-Secretary of State Scott Moore said, “It is my position that someone who amends their registration from non-partisan to affiliate with a political party has not affected ‘A change in political party affiliation…’ but has instead chosen to declare an affiliation.”
In other words because there is no “non-partisan” party, someone like Krist wouldn’t be changing parties, just joining one.
In a recent email Deputy Secretary of State Wayne Bena backed up the 20-year-old decision: “While (the memo) is from 1998, it is still the policy of this office,” wrote Bena.
Krist had been a registered Republican for more than a decade before becoming an independent in September as he looked to form a new political party—United Nebraska—in his bid for the governor’s mansion.
In its filing to the high court Team Krist argues United Nebraska never got off the ground and “has not become an organized political party in Nebraska, nor is it a political party in Nebraska with which Mr. Krist has affiliated as a registered voter.”
Davis finds Krist’s party hopping ridiculous. “Nebraska’s elections, and the laws that govern them, should not be treated like a game,” Davis said.
While it’s not clear when the high court will rule Davis believes all this must be decided by March 21— before the ballots go to print.
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