Suzanne Geist, a Nebraska State Senator who is now running for Mayor of Lincoln, was the guest speaker at the Pachyderm luncheon at Ahmad’s Persian Cuisine on Monday, January 9. She could not appear in person, however, due to a filibuster underway in the unicameral over committee assignments. Theresa Thibodeau stated that this “means Republicans did a good job.” Geist was able to speak courtesy of Thibodeau’s cell phone.
Geist spoke on her campaign for Mayor, focusing on Lincoln’s rising crime rate due to the police force being “down almost 100 police officers from being fully staffed in our city.” She also touted her pending endorsement from the Lincoln Police Union. She also discussed the state of the city’s roads, which she would help revitalize without raising taxes through use of casino funds. Nebraska legalized gambling statewide through a voter petition in 2020. Geist’s third campaign issue was streamlining the permitting process to make it easier to open and run a business in the city of Lincoln.
A surprise guest at the luncheon was former Gov. Pete Ricketts, in one of his first public appearances since officially leaving office. Ricketts followed up Geist’s talk by hitting on many of the same issues. He excoriated Lincoln’s current Mayor, Leirion Gaylor Baird, on her handling of public safety, specifically the George Floyd riots of 2020. “The mayor of Lincoln would not let the police do their jobs,” he said. “She told them to stay inside their police headquarters building while the rioters were destroying property and putting people’s lives at risk. She went out there and knelt down with the rioters, but that didn’t make a difference. In fact, she actually called me to get my state patrol to stay inside as well.”
Ricketts also criticized Baird on the condition of Lincoln’s roads, the difficulty in operating a business in the city, and her handling of Covid. “She wanted to shut down Lincoln until there was a vaccine,” Ricketts said, “I said ‘Mayor, there may never be a vaccine.’” He also criticized Baird for preventing children from participating in sports while her own daughter participated in a tennis tournament.
Ricketts took a few questions from the audience afterward. None of the attendees asked about Ricketts’ future plans, as he is widely expected to be appointed to fill the seat recently vacated by Senator Ben Sasse. While no one asked Ricketts about this directly, he did say, “I am interviewing with Jim [Pillen] tomorrow [Tuesday, January 10], so one step at a time we’ll see where it goes.”
I asked him about the current divide in the Republican party between the “establishment” and the “grassroots,” particularly how it relates to both the recent fight over Speakership in the U.S. House of Representatives and the upset at the Republican state convention in Nebraska last summer.
“I’m as conservative as probably any one of those guys that was holding out on Kevin McCarthy,” Ricketts said. “But we also have to understand that as conservatives you still have to work with everybody else too to get things done.” He emphasized the need to make broad coalitions in a broad party tent and avoid the fragmented system in parliamentary systems around the world that have routine struggles for leadership like the one that happened in the House. He did not criticize the American system itself, however. “It’s a messy process — it’s supposed to be messy,” he said, “You want a very clean process? Go to Russia. Go to China. They’ll just tell you what to do. That’s very straightforward.”
On January 23, the luncheon will happen again with a panel discussion on the future of the Republican Party. The three panelists will be Jim Rose from KFAB, Aaron Sanderford of the Nebraska Examiner, and Randy Atkins, Senior Associate Dean of the Social Sciences at UN-O.