KEARNEY, Neb. — Nebraska GOP Chairman Dan Welch opened the state’s GOP convention on Saturday, saying he hoped the event would “clear the air” in what he admitted to be a divided Republican party .
Nebraska GOP delegates voted to oust Welch after eight years as party chairman in a tumultuous convention that also saw a party activist arrested outside the venue, winning reinstatement as a then delegate. that he was still in jail, then come back to the meeting.
Welch was then replaced by Lancaster County GOP Chairman Eric Underwood by a majority vote of the delegates. Underwood had laid out the moves that led to Welch’s firing.
“I’m not asking you to trust me tonight…but I’m asking for the opportunity to earn your trust,” Underwood said after being picked to complete Welch’s term, which runs this year. The State Party will elect a President for a full term at the end of the year.
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A wave of resignations followed Welch’s firing, including party executive director Taylor Gage, who previously served as spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Other resignations included Lydia Brasch, national committee member, president of the first and second districts, treasurer and party secretary, as well as deputy president and deputy state party president.
Welch blamed the turmoil on divisions caused by the hard-fought gubernatorial primary race, which was won by Jim Pillen. He said many believe Nebraska’s GOP took sides in the election to favor Pillen, though he claims the party was “absolutely neutral.”
“The only thing I wish you knew was the real information,” Welch told delegates in some of his last words as president.
Those who supported Welch’s firing said the upheaval was because some Republicans in Nebraska felt left out and ignored by the party establishment led by Ricketts.
During the primary campaign, Ricketts endorsed Pillen. That put him at odds with fellow Republicans who backed former President Donald Trump and Charles Herbster, the gubernatorial candidate Trump has endorsed. Herbster came second to Pillen and has so far refused to endorse Pillen.
The division was on display during morning speeches by Republican leaders. Although all of the speakers shared messages touting similar conservative talking points, Ricketts and Pillen did not receive the same standing ovations as other speakers, such as newly elected U.S. Representative Mike Flood, Representative Adrian Smith and Senator Deb Fischer.
Prior to Welch’s dismissal, delegates passed a resolution to amend the state party’s constitution to allow delegates to immediately remove an officer with or without cause by majority vote. Welch supporters called his firing a “coup” and criticized other delegates for trying to push extensive motions without debate.
“Go start your own party,” shouted one attendee.
Tension was high from the start of the convention after the state party credentials committee last week revoked the credentials of six delegates. One of those delegates, Matt Innis of Crete, Nebraska, was arrested in the morning for third-degree assault and second-degree trespassing, according to Buffalo County Jail records.
But after his arrest, a majority of GOP delegates voted to reinstate him, along with four others who were barred from attending the meeting.
Their credentials had been revoked for speaking out against Republican leaders or candidates, including Ricketts and Pillen.
The debate on the question of credentials dragged on until lunchtime, delaying it by more than an hour. In the end, delegates also voted to cancel several workshops that had been scheduled in the afternoon to buy time for more debate on party resolutions.
The convention was scheduled to end at 3:45 p.m. but continued late into the evening after Welch’s withdrawal, which resulted in a vote of 204 to 120.
Tensions rose during the credentials debate as some delegates questioned the authority of the GOP leadership to block certain delegates and criticized the decision as an attack on free speech. One delegate compared the GOP leadership to Soviet Russia and the British monarchy before the American Revolution.
“It’s not America, and it’s not the Republican Party,” the delegate said.
Loud cheers and boos echoed through the convention center during comments and attempts by GOP leaders to handle them. Welch repeatedly asked the crowd to remain civil and refrain from applauding or booing the speakers – to no avail.
On Saturday evening, after the leadership changes, delegates began to consider a number of policy resolutions.
One of these resolutions called for increased election security. As amended by delegates present, the resolution also supports the manual counting of ballots under continuous video surveillance.
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