Herbster, Lindstrom and Thibodeau Say at an Omaha Forum the Failed St. Francis Contract Was a Mistake

April 6, 2022, 5:45 p.m. ·

KETV televised the Greater Omaha Chamber forum. It featured Charles Herbster, Theresa Thibodeau and Brett Lindstrom
Charles Herbster, Theresa Thibodeau and Brett Lindstrom answered questions from KETV's Julie Cornell at the Greater Omaha Chamber Forum on Wednesday. (Photo via KETV livestream)

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Three of the top Republicans running for governor – Charles Herbster, Brett Lindstrom and Theresa Thibodeau – shared the stage Wednesday at a Greater Omaha Chamber Forum. Jim Pillen declined to participate, according to event organizers.

Many of the topics discussed on Wednesday weren’t new: taxes, brain drain, prison overcrowding and immigration. There were, however, a few new ones – like the state’s failed contract with St. Francis Ministries, which was responsible for caring for some of North Omaha’s at-risk youth.

"Unfortunately, that contract did not serve us well," said Theresa Thibodeau, a former state senator from Omaha.

The state canceled the controversial contract late last year. The Ricketts Administration signed the deal in 2019 with the Kansas company for 40% less than the previous holder. All candidates agreed: the deal was a mistake.

"As a governor, you cannot always look at the best, least expensive (option) – especially when you are looking at our children," Thibodeau said.

State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha said he’s not against the idea of putting the casework in the hands of a third party, but it needs to be the right deal.

"If it means moving them back under (D)HHS, we will take those steps," he said. "But, rest assured, if there is a bid that comes in that doesn’t meet the needs for the people of Nebraska – especially our kids – I will not sign that deal."

Agri-businessman Charles Herbster of Falls City said the decision is an important one because children can’t control what life throws at them.

"So that has to be first and foremost – and probably that means that will not be the cheapest contract," he said. "It may cost us a lot more than that."

The event's moderator also asked the Republican candidates about newer energy sources – like solar and wind.

Thibodeau said these topics and the chance they create worry farmers. She pointed to President Joe Biden's plan to conserve 30% of America's land and waters by 2030, which Gov. Pete Ricketts and other conservatives have called the plan a federal land grab.

The U.S. Secretary of Agriculture disputes that claim.

"That's land that is our right to have," she said.

Herbster agreed, saying he would not give any of his land up to the federal government. "I'm not putting any windmills on my land in Richardson County either because I don't think that is the direction to go," he said.

Instead, Nebraska should focus on producing natural gas and nuclear, Herbster said. Thibodeau, on the other hand, said Nebraska should increase it's ethanol production.

Lindstrom touted state programs that give property tax relief to counties that put in wind farms.

"When you look at energy, a lot of that comes down to local decisions and local control," he said. "Certain communities don't want those, but there's other communities that do."

Nebraska’s primaries – scheduled for May 10 – are just more than a month away.