Jim Jenkins: Nebraska U.S. Senate Candidate Profiles

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October 16, 2014 - 6:30am

Jim Jenkins is one of two independents who gathered enough petition signatures to be on the ballot for Nebraska’s U.S. Senate race. Mike Tobias of NET News examines the background and beliefs of Jenkins as we continue our Campaign Connection 2014 stories on the Senate candidates.

Independent U.S. Senate candidate Jim Jenkins (Photo courtesy Jenkins campaign)


Jenkins speaks to students at the Careers in Ag Day event in York. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)


Jenkins speaks at a spring Lincoln Independent Business Association candidate forum. (Photo by Mike Tobias, NET News)



Jenkins for Senate web site

Watch the NET News U.S. Senate Debate, held Sept. 14 in North Platte

Federal Election Commission (campaign finance information)


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From the stage of York’s City Auditorium, Jim Jenkins is talking to a couple hundred area high school kids at a Careers in Ag event. On this day he’s putting aside his Senate campaign for a while, talking about business, agriculture and entrepreneurship. Businesses that succeeded, and those that failed.

“I tell my kids, as much as I think we need entrepreneurs and we need risk takers, and we need people willing to go out, stick their neck out to start businesses, it can be a very stressful and tough way to make a living,” Jenkins said to the students.

It’s the same thinking that led the 57-year-old from Custer County in the Sandhills to get into the Senate race as an independent, non-partisan candidate.

“I feel like we need risk-takers in politics,” Jenkins said. “People that are willing to push the envelope and to hold accountable those systems that are not right now functioning nearly as well as they should be.”

It’s Jenkins first bid for office, although he considered a run for governor a decade ago as a Democrat. In his 20s he worked in Washington for a short time on the transition team for Republican President Ronald Reagan. Jenkins changed his affiliation to non-partisan three years ago, but had been contemplating disconnecting from the major party system for a while.

“I just think when you see a system not working, not delivering the goods and the services, and this is true in the private sector and I would think it’s also true in our political sector, we need to go in a different direction,” Jenkins said. “We need someone out there, a group of us, holding our present system accountable. Otherwise, I don’t think we’re going to break through this gridlock just by vacillating back and forth from Republicans to Democrats.”

Jenkins was born and raised in Custer County, then left for college, including a graduate degree in business, and jobs in the restaurant and real estate industries. He came back to Callaway about 20 years ago to work with the family cattle ranching operation and found a company that launched the Whiskey Creek and Skeeter Barnes restaurant chains. Jenkins has also had leadership roles with organizations like the Nebraska Ethanol Board and Nebraska Restaurant Association.

Politically, he considers himself a centrist, in what he says is the tradition of Nebraska leaders like former U.S. Senators Ben Nelson and Chuck Hagel. “Most of our political leaders tend to be at the center,” Jenkins continued, “and I think this race, I’m clearly the guy in the center. If people drill down and look at my positions, there’s a few things I’m a little left, but most of the things I’m a fiscal conservative.”

Jenkins calls the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, a “flawed piece of legislation,” but opposes an “eye-for-an-eye approach” that focuses on repealing the law; instead, he’d like to see a bi-partisan effort to fix it. He wants to see an immigration plan that secures the border but provides a “pathway forward” for undocumented workers in good standing. He supports gun rights in the second amendment, calls himself pro-life and doesn’t oppose same-sex marriage.

If elected, his signature piece of legislation? “I would love to see us come up with a comprehensive debt reduction, deficit proposal such as Simpson-Bowles,” Jenkins said, referring to the bi-partisan proposal for debt reduction.

This takes us back to a familiar theme in Jenkins’ campaign, and if elected, he promises a different approach than other independents have taken. “I have promised that I am not going to caucus with either party,” Jenkins said. “I think that’s a big idea and I think it’s the notion that we could begin to send maybe independents who whether they’re a little left or right are willing to say, we’ll work with Republicans and Democrats, but we’re not going to join a caucus. I think that differentiates me from almost anyone in the country.”

Jenkins knows the approach is risky. Add to that his limited campaign funds and the fact that independent candidates have traditionally struggled in Nebraska. But as Jenkins told students at the York Careers in Ag event, he’s always been ready to overcome adversity.

“I’ve had many bumps in my life,” Jenkins said to the students. “Sometimes I thought I wasn’t going to be able to make it through, but I always have. The sun will always come up sooner or later.”



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