OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — A central Nebraska cattle rancher and restaurant owner is making an independent bid for the state's open U.S. Senate seat.

Jim Jenkins announced Wednesday he'll run as a nonpartisan candidate for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, who is not seeking a second term in the 2014 elections.

Jenkins, who'd long been a Democrat before changing his voter registration to nonpartisan two years ago, criticized partisan gridlock in Washington and said voters should demand Congress "focus less on party power and more on the good of our country."

"It is time for a new approach, and, thankfully, Nebraska's state Legislature provides a great example to our country of an effective nonpartisan institution," Jenkins said in a written announcement. "Nebraska's state senators run as nonpartisan and govern without party machinery. This encourages our legislators to put the people's interests first."

He runs a family ranch near Callaway and is a former chairman of the Nebraska Ethanol Board. He also founded the Whiskey Creek Steakhouse restaurant chain and co-founded the Skeeter Barnes restaurant chain.

Among his goals if elected, he said, would be tackling the nation's debt and working to change the two-party grip on Congress. Jenkins also said he wants to see legislation that would open all primary elections to any registered voter who wants to run, allowing the top two with the most votes to advance to the general election.

He also would work to change congressional rules that he says exacerbate partisan fighting.

"Americans are not nearly as divided as cable TV and the political class would have us believe," he said. "The vast majority of us are somewhere in the sensible center. ... I welcome Republicans, Democrats and independents, everyone who is fed up with the broken system in Washington, to join my campaign."

Jenkins is the first candidate outside the Republican Party to enter the race. Four GOP candidates have announced their bids: Omaha banker Sid Dinsdale, Omaha attorney Bart McLeay, former Nebraska State Treasurer Shane Osborn and Midland University President Ben Sasse.

So far, no Democrat has entered the race.