Like most of Nebraska’s Republican Senate candidates, Bart McLeay is a newcomer to running for office. But a seed of interest was planted long ago by a big name Nebraska politician. In this NET News Campaign Connection 2014 Signature Story, Mike Tobias has more on the background and politics of business attorney Bart McLeay.
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“My campaign has a single message,” McLeay told the Washington County forum crowd. “Freedom has worked, and I want to be the voice for freedom, and I want to restore the constitutional law that protects that freedom.”
McLeay says he’s talking about freedom in his U.S. Senate campaign as a way of bringing people together, and as a starting point for potential legislation.
“Does this advance our freedom? If so, let’s do it. If it doesn’t advance our freedom, then we withdraw from that and do something else,” McLeay said in an interview. “Freedom is one of those common denominators that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Republican who is establishment or Tea Party, or a Democrat who is liberal or moderate, that you can’t also agree that is something that is at bottom the most important concept for our country."
The stump speech and campaigning is mostly new for McLeay. More than three decades ago he won a student senate election at the University of Arizona, where he earned an accounting degree and played football for a year. Afterward, he earned a law degree from the University of Virginia, then returned to Omaha, where he was born and raised, to practice law with the firm Kutak Rock. There his work included managing more than 100 attorneys as head of the firm’s litigation department and representing Nebraska in water rights cases.
“My legal background allows me to serve Nebraskans in a way that’s unique,” McLeay said. “I don’t believe I’m going to be fooled or pushed around on legal or constitutional issues. So it’s that background, financial advocacy skills, and legal and constitutional understanding, that sets me apart.”
McLeay said he sought the counsel of former Nebraska U.S. Senator David Karnes, a Republican, when deciding whether to enter this race. But it was a former Democratic U.S. Senator who first sparked his interest in politics. McLeay had a college internship with Sen. Ed Zorinsky, who switched from Republican to Democrat before running. McLeay says he was enamored with the way Zorinsky was able to operate from that position.
“The Republicans and conservatives all liked him very much and they knew that he would vote with them almost all the time,” McLeay said. “But he caucused with the Democrats and on occasion, where he saw an issue that was important to Nebraska or that he felt strongly about, there wasn’t a lot of them, but he would be also pursued by Democrats to some extent. That independence that I witnessed in him had a major impact in my thinking and the kind of legislator that I would want to be.”
McLeay himself changed parties in 2000, saying that he’d grown unhappy with Democrats on issues like abortion. Like the other Republicans in this race, he describes himself as strongly pro-life and conservative, for limited government and gun rights, and against the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. In the GOP Senate debate in Lincoln, McLeay talked about his plan, modeled after a proposal by Georgia Congressman Tom Price.
“Refundable tax credits and deductions,” McLeay said during the debate. “It allows for increases in health savings accounts. It allows people to join together in association, individuals in small businesses. It brings down costs. It allows for insurance to be sold across state lines. I want to add a private exchange to that. It has a best practices defense for doctors so you won’t have unnecessary tests. They’ll know that if they stay within their guidance of their expertise that’s all they have to do. It has portability and we deal with pre-existing conditions. These are all things in the plan. It’s free market. You truly keep your own doctor and you truly keep your own insurance plan if you want.”
On immigration, McLeay says border security must come first, but then he varies some from the four other GOP candidates on the issue of immigrants already in the country illegally, saying deportation of 11 million people isn’t practical.
“I do not support citizenship for people who broke the law criminally in coming across to this country,” McLeay said during the debate. “I would, however, agree with a pathway to residency meeting background checks and also having employment and other such things. I won’t allow for federal benefits or the right to vote but it will allow people to be here with their families. It will allow us to build community so there is an opportunity for people to be here. I’m also willing to consider a panel of prosecutors to identify the punishment for those people short of deportation. We know deportation is not possible.”
Even though he’s never held public office, McLeay told the Washington County forum crowd that he’s ready for the job. “You have to think about what we’re doing,” he said. “We’re sending somebody up the podium and the chamber of the United States Senate to argue and fight for Nebraskans' rights. I’ve done that.”