Krist switches to Democrats; Bolz wants child welfare oversight

Nebraska Capitol (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
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February 12, 2018 - 5:52pm

Sen. Bob Krist, who is running for governor, switched his party registration from nonpartisan to Democrat Monday. And Sen. Kate Bolz called for a special committee to examine deaths, serious injuries and sexual abuse in the child welfare system.

Sen. Bob Krist, a longtime moderate Republican in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature, announced last May he would challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts’ bid for reelection. At the time, Krist said he would remain a Republican. In September, he changed his registration to nonpartisan, and said he would form a new party. Monday, he registered as a Democrat, saying he was following a path that would help him succeed with his independent-minded candidacy.

Sen. Bob Krist (photo courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Republican National Committeeman J.L. Spray blasted the move. “Bob Krist has been disingenuous not only with his constituents, but with the voters of Nebraska. And all these changes – three changes in party affiliation over the course of a mere five or six months – is unprecedented,” Spray said, adding that there us “no question in my mind what Bob Krist’s after, is Bob Krist’s success in the ballot box. And he’ll cut corners or take advantage of whatever rules he can in order to see that process happen."

Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Kenny Zoeller (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Krist dismissed the criticism, and delivered some of this own toward Republican Party officials. “This is typical party stuff. This is an attack on somebody who’s been doing a job for 10 years and, for the most part, doing it the way I thought I needed to do it to represent 1.9 million people across the state, and 40,000 people in my district,” Krist said. “I’ve never taken a party line. I think they’re sad that I’m gone,” he added, laughing.

Kenny Zoeller, executive director of the Republican Party, attacked Krist for what Zoeller called a liberal voting record. “In 2015, he voted to increase Nebraskans’ gas tax by 23 percent, and in 2012 he voted to eliminate the caps on local sales and use taxes. He also received a 100 percent voting record with Planned Parenthood of Nebraska, which is Nebraska’s largest abortion provider. And Krist has consistently supported giving taxpayer funded benefits to illegal immigrants,” Zoeller said.

Krist voted with a majority of other Republicans in the Legislature to override Ricketts’ veto of a gas tax increase to speed highway construction and repair roads and bridges. He was among the evenly-divided Republicans who voted to override former Gov. Dave  Heineman’s veto of a local option sales tax increase. He was among the minority of Republicans who voted to override Heineman’s veto of prenatal care for illegal immigrants. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland says it does not issue voting scorecards; a Project Vote Smart scorecard on abortion issues cited by Zoeller shows ratings of O, 33, 50 and 100 percent, depending on the year.

Krist laughed off Zoeller’s characterization of his voting record as liberal. “I’ve been a conservative all my life, and as far as voting the way they wanted me to vote, and judging me to be the way they are, that’s why I left the Republican Party,” he said.

Krist joins two other candidates already seeking the Democratic nomination: North Omaha community activist Vanessa Ward, and University of Nebraska instructor Tyler Davis. Ricketts in being challenged for the Republican nomination by Krystal Gabel, a freelance editor and writer.

Also Monday, the Legislature’s Executive Board heard a proposal by Sen. Kate Bolz to establish a special oversight committee to deal with deaths, serious injuries, and sexual abuse in the state’s child welfare system. The Inspector General for the system has reported 22 deaths and serious injuries, and 50 cases of sexual abuse over three years.

Juliet Summers of Voices for Children supported forming the special committee. “The deaths and sexual abuse of children in care deserve the scrutiny of the legislative branch. We believe that this body as much as the executive branch has a duty to ensure that this stops now,” Summers said.

Sen. Merv Riepe, chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee, opposed the idea, saying his committee has jurisdiction. And Matt Wallen, director of children and family services for the Department of Health and Human Services, also opposed the proposal, LR288, as duplicative. “To be clear, I do not object to oversight or transparency. I believe we are holding ourselves to a high standard in that regard. The Division of Children and Family Services is always open to working with senators and all stakeholder and will continue to ensure our system protects the children in our care,” Wallen said. “However, I do oppose LR288, given duplication of our existing oversight structure, which also takes more of our time away from serving Nebraskans.”

The Executive Board took no immediate action on the proposal.




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