Nebraska Republican Party Chairman Dan Welch was ousted Saturday at the party’s state convention in Kearney in what was seen as a backlash to Gov Pete Ricketts’ iron-handed control of the party for the past 7 years.
A loose coalition of traditional conservatives and Trump-era populists took over the party leadership after Welch was voted out and at least a dozen leaders resigned, including its executive director, two district chairs, the national committeewoman, and the party secretary, treasurer and lawyer.
Party critics pressed for change with several saying they wanted to send a message to Ricketts and party leaders that the state GOP is more than a “party of one.” Among their complaints was that the governor and state GOP leader had taken sides in open Republican versus Republican races..
They pointed to the bitter May GOP primary for governor where Ricketts spent aggressively for University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen, who won over a field that included Charles Herbster, who had Donald Trump campaigning for him.
Further fueling the move for change was the denial of convention credentials to 6 individuals for reasons such as criticizing Ricketts too loudly and strongly. Backers successfully waged floor fights to reinstate 5 of the 6.
One of them, unsuccessful U-S Senate candidate Matt Innis, said Ricketts brought it on himself by letting the state party and staff change the rules and interpret the party constitution to achieve their ends.
The convention drew an unusually high non-presidential year turnout with more than 600 attendees and 346 delegates. Many of the people who pushed for change are fervent supporters of Trump and his claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him by election fraud.
Named to fill out the rest of Welch’s term, which runs through the end of the year, was Lancaster County Republican Party Chairman Eric Underwood, who said he wants to bring the party together to support Republican candidates, including Pillen.
The new party leaders indicated they plan to quickly push farther to the right, including adopting a resolution calling for counting all election ballots by hand.
The change in leaders might affect the party’s finances. Ricketts is its top donor, personally responsible for about 75% of the party’s private funding, while Welch was its second-best fundraiser.