Written May of 2021

An insight into Herbster’s background, connections, and political goals

Supporters wait for Herbster’s announcement at the Heartland Country Barn. Photo by Kenneth Ferreira, The Journal Star

Former Trump adviser and agricultural business mogul Charles Herbster formally launched his campaign for Governor of Nebraska on Monday at a barn outside of Fremont, hoping to make Nebraska, “an even greater state than it is,” but his political and financial connections allude to a focus elsewhere.

Still more than a year away from the election, which is in November of 2022, Herbster’s campaign is focused on growing trade markets for farmers, implementing a consumption tax system, securing the country’s borders, and carrying on former President Trump’s America First policies.

“We are going to fight for the best Nebraska we’ve ever had tax-wise, education-wise, immigration and all the things that are important to us,” he said in his campaign kickoff.

This isn’t the first time Herbster has run for political office. For the 2014 Nebraska Gubernatorial election, he was in the midst of becoming the Republican candidate. In August of 2013, however, Herbster denounced his campaign as his wife Judy Herbster recuperated from heart surgery. She died in May of 2017, but Herbster never ruled himself out of politics.

The Falls City, Nebraska native is the owner of Herbster Angus Farms, an angus breeder farm that profits from selling their cattle’s sperm. The farm started out as a homestead in 1847 by Herbster’s great-great-grandfather. When Herbster was 11, his grandmother bought him 65 registered Angus cows. He then used them as the foundation to develop Herbster Angus Farms into the successful angus breeder farm that it is today.

Herbster is also the CEO of the Conklin Company, a manufacturing business based in Kansas City, Missouri that sells agricultural products, roofing systems, vehicle products, as well as health and hoe products. His other businesses include North American Breeders Inc. in Virginia, Agri-Solutions Inc. in Iowa, and Judy’s Dream Inc. in Omaha, NE.  Former Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman is part of the board at Conklin, but current Governor Pete Ricketts isn’t fond of Herbster taking business out of Nebraska.

“I have worked on growing the state by getting companies to move here,” Ricketts said in an interview with KMTV News Now Omaha. “I think Charles Herbster is going to have a hard time convincing the people of Nebraska he should be governor when he moved the main company headquarters for his organization, and he put that in Missouri.”

Herbster’s political connections stem far from Nebraska and closer to Washington D.C. In 2016 he was appointed by former President Trump to be National Chairman of the Agricultural and Rural Advisory Committee. In this role, Herbster focused on mobilizing rural voters and developing agricultural policy.

Herbster has been friends with Trump since 2005 when they met at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s resort in Florida. The farmer was at the rally in Washington D.C on January 6th, but he reportedly left before the insurrection. During his campaign kick-off on Monday, he reassured the crowd that he would not alienate himself from the former president.

 “Everybody said: ‘You’re going to run for governor? You have to take the Trump (license) plates off,’” Herbster said. “And this is how loyal I am to the 45th president of the United States, I said: ‘If it’s the difference between being disloyal to President Trump or becoming governor of Nebraska, I will not be disloyal to the 45th president.”

Data from The Center for Responsive Politics shows that throughout 2020, Herbster donated $355,000 to the National Republican Party and $269,100 to Donald Trump and his campaign. The same data also showed that $600,000 of Herbster’s money has gone to various Republican parties in 42 of the 50 states. The Republican Party of Colorado received the biggest total donation of $30,000 on October 7th, while the Republican Party of Nebraska only got $20,000 on August 27th.

Little Sis, a database that details the connections between powerful people and organizations, also listed him as a member of Trump’s Transition Team Finance Committee, and since September of 2020, the Council for National Policy.

The watchdog group, Documented, describes the Council for National Policy as an “influential network of conservative think tanks, right-wing religious extremists, Republican operatives, elected officials and wealthy GOP donors.”

The organization was created during Ronald Reagan’s first year in office in 1981 and has been meeting ever since behind closed doors, for four decades, to advance their social and political agendas. Its current members include big names like MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell and Executive Director of Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk. Among their leaders are NewsMax Founder Chris Ruddy and president of the Media Research Center, L Brent Bozell III.

Videos leaked to the Washington Post show meetings from February and August of 2020, where conservative politicians and influencers discuss election strategy, conspiracy theories, and voter suppression.

“I think we’re going to do real well with younger voters. The democrats have done a really foolish thing by shutting down all these campuses,” Kirk said. “It’s going to remove ballot harvesting opportunities and all the voting fraud that they usually do on college campuses so they’re actually removing half a million votes off the table so please keep the campuses closed, like it’s a great thing.”

In these meetings, which were months before the presidential election, CNP members were already predicting that the election would be stolen by the Democrats. As they condemned ballot harvesting from the left, they were embracing it for the right.

 “And so our organization is going to be harvesting ballots in churches,” Ralph Reed, chairman of the nonprofit Faith & Freedom Coalition said to the crowd. “We’re going to be specifically going in not only to White evangelical churches, but into Hispanic and Asian churches, and collecting those ballots.”

Herbster portrayed this same attitude in his campaign announcement on Monday.

“We know the system hates us. We know how it is in politics. We understand all of that,”  Herbster said. “But we believe in the people in Nebraska more than all of that. It’s not about us, it’s about a purpose and a mission.”

Jane Kleeb, the Chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, is worried about the direction of the GOP in Nebraska as candidates like Herbster use fear mongering to reach their political goals.

 “They (GOP) have no bottom in the type of people they feel emboldened to run because their leader is Trump,” Kleeb said. “People like Herbster, who literally lie to their voters in order to stir up controversy, divide Americans, so they can win with a smaller, and smaller number of constituents.”

So far, Herbster’s only competition in this race is Jim Pillen, a University of Nebraska Regent and owner of Pillen Family Farms in Columbus, NE. Although current Governor Pete Ricketts is yet to formally endorse a candidate, his trusted advisor, Jessica Flanagain, is serving as a guide for the Pillen Campaign. Herbster’s running mate, Theresa Thibodeau, also has connections to Ricketts, however, as in 2017 she was appointed by him to represent Omaha’s District 6 in the Legislature. 

Despite the criticisms against him, Herbster continues to emphasize his roots and life as a farmer.

“I combine, I pull calves and I farm,” he said in an interview with the Fremont Tribune. “It’s my love. If you were to ask me what I would give up of all the various things that I do, the one thing I wouldn’t give up is my rural life in Falls City, Nebraska.”