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The State Troopers Association of Nebraska endorsed Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bob Krist on Thursday, questioning Gov. Pete Ricketts' leadership of the State Patrol and raising concerns about whether current state trooper levels are adequate for public safety.

"There are occasions when there is minimal staffing on the road," Brian Petersen, president of the troopers association, said at a news conference in the Capitol Rotunda.

"We need to take a long, hard look at staffing levels," he said. "Nebraskans need more authorized strength."

But the primary reason cited for the troopers' unusual endorsement of a Democratic challenger to an incumbent Republican governor was alleged lack of support for troopers in past disputes that affected them.

"Our state troopers work hard in a dangerous, demanding job," Petersen said.

"They deserve leadership that is accountable and responsible, not a governor who passes the buck and tries to place the blame on rank-and-file who are just dong their job.

"Accountability and transparency starts at the top," Petersen said.

"It's time for a governor who understands the needs of the State Patrol and wants to work with us in the interest of public safety," he said.

Those statements reach back to 2017 when an investigation of two-high profile 2016 cases involving a tactical vehicle intervention and a use-of-force incident led to the firing of former Superintendent Brad Rice and the discipline, firing, resignation or retirement of seven State Patrol officers.

"Some of those cases are still pending," Petersen said.

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The troopers association endorsement of Krist and sharp criticism of Ricketts comes at a time when the governor is seeking re-election and is viewed as the likely leader in his bid for a second four-year term in November.

"I know that going against the incumbent governor is not an easy thing to do," Krist said, "but it speaks to the urgency of this campaign and the moment.

"We are gaining momentum every day from all corners of the state," Krist said during the news conference.

Krist, an Omaha state senator, is "the governor we need to protect public safety and support the hard-working men and women of our State Patrol," Petersen said.

Troopers voted "overwhelmingly in support of Sen. Krist" when members of the association were surveyed, Petersen said. The association counts about 400 members.

The Ricketts campaign did not respond to requests for its reaction.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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