Nebraska State Sen. Bob Krist to leave GOP, try to challenge Ricketts as third-party candidate

State Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said he plans to leave the Republican Party to challenge Gov. Pete Ricketts as a third-party candidate.

“This administration, like others, is not listening,” Krist said Friday. “I think we need a change.”

Krist said he would seek the signatures needed to put a new party on the ballot rather than run as an independent, which requires more signatures.

Independent candidates running for governor must gather signatures from 10 percent of all registered voters entitled to vote for office, according to Nebraska law. There were 1.2 million Nebraskans registered to vote in the 2016 general election.

Getting a third party on the ballot requires only 5,000 signatures.

“I am running as an independent party but not in name as an independent,” he said.

Krist, 60, was appointed to the Legislature by then-Gov. Dave Heineman in 2009. He was then elected as a Republican in 2010 and again in 2014. He said he intends to remain a Republican until his term ends. Term limits bar him from seeking re-election in the Legislature.

Krist said he is switching to a new party because he wants to restore a “nonpartisan attitude” in the state that he said he saw in his early days in the Legislature.

Back then, the Legislature was truly a nonpartisan body, he said. But that’s not the case today, he said, with less conversation, less debate and more of “the party highway or no way.”

“It’s divisive,” Krist said. “It’s counter to everything we need to do right now. I believe the emphasis should be on working together.”

Krist also said he would aim to restore a “separation of power” between the executive and legislative branches. The line between the two has blurred during Ricketts’ time as governor, he said.

Ricketts’ spokesman Taylor Gage said the governor “respects the independence of the unicameral.”

Jessica Flanagain, the head of Ricketts’ re-election campaign, said the governor is not commenting on potential candidates for governor.

The Nebraska Republican Party issued a press release Friday afternoon calling Krist’s plan “another flip-flop.”

The release pointed to a May 2 article from the Lincoln Journal Star in which Krist said: “It has been suggested that I should run as an independent … but I am what I am. I’m a Republican and I’m a centrist. I am not going to change my coat.”

Since that article, Krist said, he has been looking more at what his “pathway to success” may be. It would be “impossible to crack the staunch GOP criteria,” lead the state forward and make changes, he said.

“If the definition of ‘flip-flop’ is someone who does what he believes, then I’ll own it,” Krist said.

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