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Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine joins Republican Party

Published: Oct. 7, 2020 at 9:52 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 7, 2020 at 2:42 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The Nebraska Republican Party added a high-profile Democrat to its bench: Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine formally joined the GOP on Wednesday.

This afternoon, the lifelong Democrat — who’s been in office for 13 years and isn’t even up for election yet — walked into the election commissioner’s headquarters and changed his party affiliation.

With some of the state’s top Republicans behind him, Kleine explained during a news conference Wednesday afternoon that he had been thinking about switching parties for a while, and that the decision to act now was spurred by what unfolded this summer.

Kleine, who came under scrutiny this summer after announcing days after the death of 22-year-old James Scurlock during protests in the Old Market that no charges would be filed against the business owner who fired the fatal shot, calling it self defense. He later called for a grand jury investigation that resulted in an indictment of manslaughter for Jake Gardner.

Kleine said Wednesday that he followed the law — and that he hasn’t seen any evidence to change his initial decision.

What came next was something several of the Republicans spoke about Wednesday: The Nebraska Democratic Party voted in favor of a resolution saying Kleine’s decision to rule the shooting an act of self-defense was “perpetuating white supremacy.”

"It was very vile and hurtful to me. It was something I couldn’t believe had happened... To politicize that office is something I won’t stand for... We can’t be pressured into making bad decisions,” Kleine said.

“People can say anything about someone, but it’s not who I am. People know that. Anyone who knows me can see my work over the years,” he said.

Gov. Pete Ricketts reinforced that sentiment in his own comments on the matter.

"Those of us who know Don Kleine know that those accusations will be long forgotten because his service to the public will be his legacy. ... His service and his record will be valued,” the governor said.

Protesters spent more than a month outside the entrance to Kleine’s southwest Omaha neighborhood, demanding he step down.

“People have the right to protest. I don’t mind people protesting peacefully, not damaging property. ... I felt bad for my neighbors," he said. “For 36 days, they had to listen to ‘Don Kleine must resign.’ Some of those people were part of the group of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party.”

Kleine was officially welcomed to the GOP by the Nebraska Republican Party at an event Wednesday afternoon at the Douglas County Election Commissioner’s office. Ricketts, Sen. Deb Fischer, Congressman Don Bacon, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, and Omaha City Councilmembers Brinker Harding and Aimee Melton were among those in attendance.

“A man who has dedicated himself to justice and fairness,” Stothert said Wednesday.

Kleine said he had already cast his vote for President Trump.

“I already have — I always thought it was nobody’s business," he said. "I don’t play the political game with the county attorney’s office. I’m a law-and-order guy, and the president is a law-and-order guy.”

Kleine also put in a good word at the podium for Congressman Bacon, who up for re-election in November.

Justin Wayne, the attorney for the James Scurlock family, told 6 News on Wednesday following the news conference that he is more concerned than ever about the judicial process not being blind since, in his view, elected officials stood together today on behalf of part and politics, not people.

Watch Wednesday’s news conference

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