Custer County rancher, Jim Jenkins is driving on change, and he is fed up with the status quo. He strongly believes one route to change is through the political process, but following a lifetime of entrepreunearship, he wants to tread down paths less trodden.
With Ben Nelson’s announcement that he was not going to rerun for the U.S. Senate, Jenkins focused on a seat in the U.S. Senate.
In conversation with the Custer County Chief, as well as through a press release, Jenkins said he is considering placing his name on the ballot.
He initially wanted to do so as an independent, but changes in voter registration laws prohibit Jenkins from running as an Independent per se in the upcoming election. Jenkins changed his political affiliation from Democrat to Independent too late, but current laws do allow him to create a new party. One Jenkins says this could be a gathering place for Independent thinkers.
Jenkins said he believes strongly that a “working independent” can best represent the needs and values of Nebraska as well as the Nation. He added that his respect for the Nebraska voter reinforces that belief.
“Nebraska voters are open minded,” he said. “And independents are the fastest growing segment of the Nebraskan voting population.”
Jenkins points out that Nebraska’s Unicameral Legislature is a great model for non-partisan problem solving.
“Nebraska taxpayers and voters are hard-working and expect their political leaders to roll up their sleeves and come up with common sense solutions to the issues of the day. Nebraska’s success in dealing with fiscal issues is a testament to a sensible approach to politics.”
As a long time, but increasingly disgruntled Democrat, Jenkins said he finds it interesting that so many of his Republican friends have encouraged him to run. Over the last week he was encouraged as commitments of support started to surface from the entire political spectrum.
Jenkins points to his Ag background, business know-how and entrepreneurial spirit as what he offers to the voters. “I’m not a carrier politician. Like you, I’ve been on the receiving end of the political system.”
Because Jenkins officially changed his voter registration from Democrat to Independent Jan. 10, of the current year, state statute does not allow him to run for office under the umbrella of the party (Democrat, Republican or Independent) in the same year in which he registers. According to Custer County Clerk Connie Gracey, Statute 32-616 was put on the books last year.
Other options do exist.
A ruling from the Secretary of State Tuesday confirmed the direction Jenkins says makes the most sense, and paints a “clear way” forward.
If Jenkins can gather the signatures of 4,700-5,000 people (1 percent of the voters of the last gubernatorial race) a new Independent party can be formed, and he will be eligible to run for office under the umbrella of the newly formed party.
“Does this idea capture the imagination of the Nebraska citizens?” he asks. He doesn’t know.
Historically, an Independent candidate has never won in the state of Nebraska. As of October 2010, there were 549,105 registered Republicans, 380,321 registered Democrats, 320 registered Libertarians and 212,501 registered Independents.
“I want to start the discussion this year and see where it takes us,” Jenkins said, adding that he was pursuing the path “eyes wide open.”
“I look forward to the debate, and if I decide to run, I look forward to the campaign ... I don’t mind comparing credentials and I want to express ideas. Most of us aren’t that far apart on issues. We all know the deficient needs to be reduced ... It’s about sending the right people, it’s about honesty, integrity and character.
Jenkins says he is willing and able, he just needs to find out if there is support out there.
Jenkins is a graduate of Principia College. In 1996, he founded Wild West, Inc., the company that started the Whiskey Creek Steakhouse restaurant chain. After selling the business in 2001, he co-founded Skeeter Barnes and Pane Bello restaurants.
Jenkins is a Nebraska Cattleman, and a past president of the Nebraska Restaurant Association. He served for several years as the executive director of the Nebraska Corn Fed Beef Program and was appointed to the Nebraska Ethanol Board by then Governor Mike Johanns, re-appointed by Gov. Heineman and served as chairman during his tenure. For nine years he served on the Custer County Planning Commission.
Jenkins’ roots in Nebraska go deep. He now runs his family's cattle ranch established in 1876.