Whether state Senator Bob Krist can legally run as a Democrat for governor is being challenged.
Nebraska Republican National Committeeman J. L. Spray first raised the possibility Krist might not be eligible to run as a Democrat during a Nebraska GOP news conference February 12th which criticized Krist’s switch to the Democratic Party that morning.
Spray pointed out Krist hadn’t declared his party affiliation by the first Friday in December as required by state law.
“Certainly, this now creates a cloud for the Democrat’s ballot as well as Sen. Krist,” Spray told reporters.
Krist announced the party switch the next day during a news conference in Lincoln attended by a number of prominent Democrats.
When asked about eligibility, Krist stated the campaign knew what it was doing and was moving forward.
Asked specifically about Spray’s comments, Krist took a swipe at Spray, the former state party chair of the Nebraska Republican Party.
“I stopped listening to J. L. Spray a long time ago,” Krist said to applause and hoots from those present, adding, “Not to be flippant, of course.”
Krist, a former Air Force pilot, was appointed a state senator in 2009 by former Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican. Krist won election to the officially non-partisan Unicameral in 2010. Krist was re-elected in 2014. He was registered as a Republican until last year, when he registered officially as non-partisan.
Krist considered running as an independent and had even filed a federal lawsuit challenging new state law which greatly increased the signature threshold for an independent candidate to qualify for the ballot. Krist toyed with forming a third party. As a Democrat, Krist has access to the ballot and, if he wins the primary, access to the party’s organization and fund-raising as he mounts his challenge to the re-election of Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Though Krist might be flippant about the issue, it has become serious.
An objection has been filed with the Secretary of State’s office by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tyler Davis who has a simple message for Krist.
“Play by the same rules that the rest of the candidates have to play by,” Davis told Coby Mach, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN this week.
Davis said Krist didn’t follow the rules and shouldn’t be allowed to run as a Democrat.
Davis is represented in his objection before the Secretary of State by attorney Joseph Wilkins of Mattson Ricketts Law Firm, the same law firm to which J. L. Spray belongs.
Nebraska Democratic Party chair Jane Kleeb dismissed questions about Krist’s eligibility when asked by Nebraska Radio Network.
“This issue has actually come a lot, not just with Bob Krist but lots of races this year, and that because he was a non-partisan, it was not too late for him to switch parties,” Kleeb said.
That stance doesn’t sit well with Davis, who claimed he hasn’t received any encouragement from Kleeb.
“Jane has made it clear that she did not want us running from the beginning,” Davis told Mach. “We watched the state party be undemocratic to other candidates.”
The Secretary of State’s office, in an email to Nebraska Radio Network, said Secretary of State John Gale and his legal team will review all the facts and law relevant to the complaint and will then issue his opinion.
Davis is an instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Vanessa Ward, a pastor and north Omaha activist, has also filed as a Democratic candidate for governor.
Technical writer Krystal Gabel has filed as a Republican candidate for governor.
PDF of objection filed with the Sec. of State’s office: Bob-Krist-Objection
AUDIO: Brent Martin reports [:50]