Lancaster County GOP affirms its shift rightward, returning populist and Trump supporter to top job

Sept. 20, 2023, 9 a.m. ·

Matt Innis speaks to a crowd with the American Flag behind him
(Photo Courtesy of Matt Innis)

HICKMAN — In a reaffirmation of its shift to the right, the Lancaster County Republican Party voted Tuesday night to return a populist and fervent supporter of Donald Trump, Matt Innis, to the post of chairman.

Party delegates also passed resolutions condemning the indictments faced by Trump and supporting the impeachment of President Joe Biden — reportedly the first passage of such statements by a county GOP party in Nebraska.

Innis, who served as the county’s chairman from 2011-15, claimed 163 votes from the 246 delegates who voted during the county’s fall convention at the Hickman Community Center.

He far outdistanced Kris Beckenbach, who had support from the more establishment wing of the state GOP represented by former Gov. and now U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, and Amber Parker, a party activist who promised unity within the party and an insistence on opposition to abortion rights.

Blue shift in the county

Some speakers voiced discontent that Lancaster County has seen a blue shift in its elected offices in recent years.

Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird, a Democrat, recently won a resounding re-election bid over Republican State Sen. Suzanne Geist, and both the Lincoln City Council and Lancaster County Board enjoy Democratic majorities in a decidedly red state.

Innis, in his campaign speech, said he was able to “flip” the Lincoln City Council from blue to red during his previous term as GOP chairman in the state’s second-largest county.

“We put together a plan and we put together good candidates,” said Innis, an outspoken supporter of Trump. “We need candidates who are not abrasive, but are resolute.”

Innis, who unsuccessfully challenged then-U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse for the GOP nomination in 2020 and helped dump Ricketts’ loyalists as state GOP leaders a year ago, called for hand counting of ballots in Nebraska elections and “live view” video of vote counting.

Innis was one of six GOP activists who were told to stay away from the 2021 state GOP convention, and he was later arrested for trying to enter the meeting. Innis, who was eventually not charged with any wrongdoing, then helped lead the revolt that led to the removal of Ricketts loyalists and establishment Republicans as state GOP leaders and the installation of  Eric Underwood, a former Lancaster County GOP chair, as the state chairman.

Later during the Tuesday meeting, delegates approved resolutions on voice votes “condemning” the indictments faced by Trump and supporting the impeachment of Biden.

The Trump resolution called the indictments “character assassination by political rivals” and an attempt to “criminalize the opposition.”

It termed the House investigation of Trump’s action on Jan. 6, 2021, — in which the committee voted to recommend criminal charges — “failed.”

The House voted twice to impeach Trump, first for abusing his powers by soliciting help from Ukraine to win the 2020 election, and then for falsely maintaining that he won the 2020 election and for inciting the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. The U.S. Senate later voted to acquit Trump on both impeachments.

The resolution passed by the Lancaster County GOP called the congressional investigations of Trump “spurious.”

The Biden amendment alleged that the president had “monetarily benefited” to the order of “tens of millions of dollars” from “influence-peddling schemes” involving his son, Hunter.

Send a message

The sponsor of Tuesday’s resolution, Mark Freeouf, said his intent was to send a message to Nebraska’s congressional delegation — in particular U.S. Rep. Don Bacon and U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer — that Republicans in the state’s second largest county support the impeachment inquiry announced recently by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

There has been no proof provided that the president financially benefited by his son’s business dealings, and Freeouf, on Tuesday night, told a reporter he didn’t want to state exactly why Biden should be impeached, out of fear of misremembering the reasons.

But, he said, it was important that the House use subpoena power to get to the bottom of the affair.

 When asked to comment about the two resolutions, State Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb said the GOP had become “the party of grievances that cannot even get enough votes in Congress to confirm key leaders of our military.”

“As the national, state and local Republican Party stays focused on culture wars and grievances, we are putting organized plans in place for record youth turnout and winning up and down the ballot,” Kleeb said.

Lancaster County delegates also passed a resolution opposing human trafficking that included language that officials had “neglected their duty” in investigating the Franklin Credit Union scandal of the 1980s.

Franklin Credit Union scandal revisited

Some delegates attempted, unsuccessfully, to remove the Franklin Credit Union language, with one saying that no one remembered the scandal, which involved the embezzlement of funds from the North Omaha credit union and allegations of a child prostitution ring — allegations later determined to be a hoax by a grand jury probe.

A fourth resolution presented Tuesday night stated that both Gov. Jim Pillen and Ricketts were controlled by “the deep state,” and also faulted current State GOP Chairman Eric Underwood.

That resolution failed to gain any support and was eventually withdrawn by its introducer.