Janssen Sowing Seeds in Open Gubernatorial Field


Janssen Sowing Seeds in Open Gubernatorial Field




He's out there sowing seeds, planting his flag.

Charlie Janssen has been to a gun show in Brule, a fish fry in Louisville, a meet-and-greet in Cedar Creek. He has traveled to Ogallala and Hastings and Kearney and Norfolk and Wayne.

A few days ago, he participated in a St. Patrick's Day celebration in Omaha, where he already has located his state campaign headquarters.

Janssen, a two-term state senator from Fremont, is the sole active candidate in the 2014 gubernatorial race. And he's trying to make hay now while he's alone in the field. 

"I'm running hard," Janssen says. "Nobody's going to outwork me."

On Monday, Janssen says, he fielded 58 donations to his campaign, most of them in the $20 to $40 range. The largest was $500. The fuel that powers a statewide campaign is beginning to trickle in.

It's more than a year until Nebraska Republicans will choose their gubernatorial nominee, but Janssen is out there taking advantage of what is now an open race emptied by the withdrawal of former Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood and the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy.

Flood withdrew to care for his family when his wife, Mandi, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sheehy resigned under fire and silently left the race amid reports of improper use of a government cellphone for thousands of private phone conversations with women.

Both were considered early front-runners for the GOP nomination.

Janssen, 42, is a candidate firmly planted on the political right and generally associated with hot-button issues, particularly his staunch opposition to benefits for illegal immigrants.

"I'm pretty far right," he says, "but not radical right. I'm a principled conservative. I don't compromise my principles by swapping votes."

But, in terms of today's labeling, Janssen says, he does not consider himself to be a tea party politician.

His critics suggest he is out of the mainstream.  

However, with 3rd Congressional District conservatives the dominant force in statewide Republican primary elections -- due in large measure to higher voter turnout numbers -- Janssen could be a candidate whose views match up well with Republicans in western and central Nebraska.

"I'll spend a lot of time out there," he says. "I think I connect well out west, and I think that will be an advantage. But I hope to develop strength in all three congressional districts."

Janssen's opening announcement in Fremont was bedecked with U.S. flags and featured a stage full of veterans. He enlisted in the Navy when he was 18 and was deployed offshore near Kuwait during the Gulf War as a member of a search and rescue swim team.

Look at the bills Janssen has introduced in the 2013 Legislature to get an idea of some of the hot-button issues that could attract Republican primary voters:

* End prenatal care medical benefits for illegal immigrants.

* Attempt to prohibit or limit enforcement of new federal restrictions on guns in Nebraska.

* Institute photo ID requirements for voters.

* Restore a winner-take-all presidential electoral vote system in Nebraska.

Janssen also sponsored legislation this year to provide tax exemptions for Social Security and military retirement benefits.

"I believe I have shown the courage to take on tough issues," he says. "The bills I have sponsored are very popular, but some people do not have the courage to take them on."

Janssen's critics say he is not an influential voice in the Legislature, but several of his colleagues joined him at his announcement in Fremont last month to express their support.

As a state senator, Janssen says, he has been an effective "navigator for people," responding to constituents and other Nebraskans who have problems or seek state services. 

"There's not a lot of daylight between the governor and me (on issues)," he says.  

Gov. Dave Heineman has been politically popular throughout his more than eight years in office. 

In 2006, when he defeated Rep. Tom Osborne in the Republican gubernatorial primary election, the governor drew a sharp line between himself and Osborne on legislation related to illegal immigration.

Osborne declined to oppose a new state law enacted over Heineman's veto that provided resident college tuition rates for the children of illegal immigrants who had settled in the state. 

And that issue was considered one of the paramount ingredients in leading a majority of 3rd District Republican voters to choose Heineman, who had moved up to the governorship from the post of lieutenant governor when Mike Johanns resigned to become U.S. secretary of agriculture, over their own three-term congressman in the GOP primary election.

Janssen acknowledges he has name recognition challenges ahead of him, a fact of life for virtually every state senator not named Ernie Chambers.

"Statewide, you've got to define yourself," he says. "Many people don't know what you're all about. But I think people are connecting with me when they find out."

Although Janssen stresses that he's concerned about a lot more than illegal immigration -- including strong support for the conservative basics of lower taxes and less government regulation -- he says most Nebraskans see opposition to benefits for illegal immigrants as an important issue of fairness.

"Nebraska taxpayers are overstrapped and they shouldn't be paying for benefits for people who have broken the law by coming here," he says.

Janssen says Nebraskans also "connect with me on my experience as a businessman who started a business in my two-bedroom home that has grown into a company that employs 40 people in Fremont and roughly 300 nationally."

RTG Medical is a service that places temporary nurses into jobs with health care clients, essentially hospitals.

"I'm a small businessman who believes in small government," Janssen says.

One-on-one contact is important to voters in Nebraska, he says.

"People want to meet you. They want a guy who is 'touchable,' who they can talk to. I'm going to exchange ideas with Nebraskans throughout this campaign."

Janssen was elected to the Fremont City Council in 2006, then won a legislative seat in 2008. He was re-elected to his second four-year term in 2012.