Pro-Tax Republican Loses Primary Battle in Nebraska

Published June 1, 2004

In an upset victory on May 11, an anti-tax candidate brought down one of Nebraska’s leading Republicans in a hotly contested primary election for an open Congressional seat.

Jeff Fortenberry, a Lincoln City Council member from 1997 to 2001, defeated State Senator Curt Bromm with 39 percent of the vote compared to Bromm’s 33 percent. Bromm, the powerful and well-known speaker of the unicameral Nebraska legislature, was endorsed by retiring incumbent Doug Bereuter and widely expected to win. Nebraska Cattlemen executive Greg Ruehle finished third in the seven-candidate field.

Bromm Supported Higher Taxes
“Speaker Charles Bromm … last year led the fight in Nebraska for one of the biggest tax increases in state history,” reported Steve Moore, president of the Club for Growth, a political action committee that raises campaign funds for free-market candidates nationwide, in a May 13 email.

“Then after the Republican governor vetoed the outrageous tax hike, Bromm led a successful fight to override the veto of the governor from his own party!” continued Moore. “After he won the tax fight, he said ‘it may not be enough.’ You can imagine what a trouble-maker this guy would have been in Congress.”

In April, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) criticized Bromm for failing to sign its no tax increase pledge, a pledge signed by Fortenberry. In a May 8 news release, ATR President Grover Norquist was quoted saying, “Curt Bromm left no stone unturned when he was looking for new ways to funnel money through his office in Lincoln. From the income tax to the dog-shampoo tax to the death tax, nothing was sacred or unreasonable for a new or increased tax. The diversity and perversity of this $343 million tax hike is stunning.”

Norquist goes on to say, “Instead of trimming the state budget when times were tough, Curt Bromm took the easy way out. Nebraskans are paying the price now, and they’ll continue to pay it long after Curt Bromm has left the speaker’s office in Lincoln.”

In his defense, Bromm pointed to votes cast during his legislative career to reduce taxes and his advocacy during the campaign of making President George W. Bush’s tax cuts permanent. Bromm explained his refusal to sign ATR’s tax pledge by saying it would be irresponsible to make such a pledge when circumstances and needs could change.

Club for Growth Plays Key Role
According to, front-runner Bromm was endorsed by Bereuter but “battered by a barrage of TV and radio attack ads aired by the anti-tax Club for Growth” and fell behind Fortenberry after starting the race “in the favored … position.” The ads, which ran on Lincoln and Omaha channels, warned that “Nebraska taxpayers can’t afford” a big-spending Bromm in Congress.

Moore was quick to take credit, saying “we’re delighted to report on a big win in Nebraska on May 11. We defeated the powerful pro-tax Speaker of the Nebraska Legislature from winning a primary for a U.S. House seat.

“Thanks to your help,” said Moore’s report, “this RINO [Republican In Name Only] won’t be in Congress next year–or ever. The Club’s PAC spent about $170,000 in hard-hitting TV and radio ads during the last 10 days of the race to defeat one of the most confused Republicans on the planet.”

The Lincoln, Nebraska Journal-Star reported May 12 that the Club for Growth was a decisive factor in the primary outcome. “Speaker Bromm, whose political views were closer to those of [retiring Congressman Doug] Bereuter, was targeted by a $170,000 Club for Growth ad campaign that hammered him for supporting state tax increases to meet budget needs during Nebraska’s recent revenue shortfall. ‘Those negative ads put Bromm on the defensive,’ Bereuter said.”

“We wholeheartedly agree with that assessment,” said Moore. “Our polling showed that once voters became aware of Bromm’s indefensible voting record on taxes, his support fell faster than Enron stock during the accounting scams.

“The happy outcome of this election is a definite trade-up in the composition of Congress,” according to Moore. “The winner, Mark Fortenberry, is a generally reliable free-market conservative. Our strategy of gradually improving the gene pool in Congress by making sure that all open-seat races go to strong pro-growth candidates is working well–though this approach takes time to rid the Congress of RINOs.”

Fortenberry Is “Superb” Candidate
According to KETV7,, Fortenberry “may have surprised some people” by winning the nomination over Republican front-runner Bromm, but U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel and Gov. Mike Johanns said Fortenberry’s win will “put a strong GOP candidate on the November ticket.”

Hagel said Fortenberry is a “superb” candidate for Congress, and that he earned the party’s support by running an excellent grassroots campaign that connected with voters.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Fortenberry was the “only GOP candidate to question last year’s vote to expand Medicare” by adding a prescription drug benefit. “I’m worried that Congress did not fully comprehend, or was unwilling to face, the massive revenue required to fund this new entitlement,” Fortenberry said.

John Skorburg is managing editor of Budget & Tax News. His email address is [email protected].