Anti-Gay, Jewish, Black Comments by Former Ricketts Campaign Worker Denounced

March 12, 2019, 5:47 p.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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In the Nebraska Legislature Tuesday, senators reacted to revelations of racist, antisemitic and homophobic comments by a former campaign staffer for Gov. Pete Ricketts. And the head of the Education Committee said if a bill he’s proposed passes, the Legislature will have failed.

The online racist comments were made by Bennett Bressman, field director for Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ reelection campaign last year, and posted in a chatroom. Sen. Adam Morfeld read a sample of the posts. “Gays are the scum of the earth.” “My whole political ideology revolves around harming journalists,” Morfeld read.

Bressman’s comments also involved disparaging remarks about Jews and Blacks. He acknowledged to the Lincoln Journal Star the comments were his, saying he regretted them and had written them without the Ricketts or the Republican Party knowing about them.

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh said it was important for senators to speak up for their values. “We don’t think it is acceptable to be intolerant of people just because they are different from you and to spew hatred and division because of that,” she said.

And Sen. Megan Hunt said the incident called into question how well Ricketts vets his employees. “Nobody with white nationalist or antisemitic beliefs should be within spitting distance of government, of any political campaign,” she said.

Morfeld, Cavanaugh, and Hunt are all registered Democrats in the officially nonpartisan Legislature.

But condemnation of the comments became bipartisan, when Sen. Julie Slama, a registered Republican who also worked on Ricketts campaign, rose to speak. “I didn’t work extensively with this person, and the fact that he held those views is a shock to me. Those comments are indefensible and beyond sickening. Those comments are disgusting and have no place in civilized society,” she said.

Ricketts, in a statement released by his campaign, said he was “shocked and horrified” to learn of the statements by his former staffer. “I had no idea he harbored these feelings. He never expressed these views to me. I condemn these statements and this hateful worldview, which do not reflect my beliefs or the beliefs of Nebraskans,” he said.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Legislature’s Education Committee said if a bill he has proposed passes, that means the Legislature would have failed.

Sen. Mike Groene made the comments referring to his proposal, which would adjust the state’s school aid formula to deal with lower-than-expected tax receipts. Groene said the state needs a more fundamental change in how it pays for schools.

“If this bill passes, that means we failed again to address property taxes through addressing funding for our schools, through whatever this Legislature puts together as a property tax-school funding
passage. If this bill comes to a vote and passes, we’ve failed,” he said.

The Revenue Committee is expected to resume its attempt to come up with a property tax proposal Thursday evening.

And the Education Committee also heard testimony on a proposal by Sen. Cavanaugh to require policies on how to handle sexual violence complaints at the state’s colleges and universities.

Among those supporting the bill was Giselle Nevarez, who said she was assaulted while she was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2014. Nevarez said the assault happened off campus, in Douglas County, over the summer. When she found out her assailant would be living in the same apartment building that fall, she reported her assault to university officials. “When I presented that case, they told me that he had rights, too. And yet the inconvenience would fall on me having to move,” she said.

Tami Strickman, Title IX Coordinator at UNL, was among those opposing the proposal. Strickman said the university is “absolutely committed” to preventing sexual misconduct and supporting those impacted by it. But she said the legislation may violate a Nebraska Supreme Court decision that gives the Board of Regents management authority over the university. She also called the bill’s language ambiguous, and said it conflicts with current and proposed federal regulations.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

Editor’s note: An earlier text version and the audio version of this story misspelled Giselle Nevarez's name, and omitted her description of how university officials handled her case.

By way of full disclosure, some NET employees are University of Nebraska employees.