Of the six candidates running for Nebraska’s Republican nomination for governor, two currently hold statewide office: State Auditor Mike Foley, and Attorney General Jon Bruning. In this third of three NET News Campaign Connection 2014 stories on the race, NET News looks at Foley and Bruning on the campaign trail.
It’s a weekday afternoon at Wheatfields restaurant in Omaha, and Mike Foley is talking to a handful of people, thanking them for showing up. “I know it’s a nice day and it’s tempting to go golfing or do some yard work or get caught up on things. I appreciate your taking a few minutes to visit with me and give me a chance to tell you something about myself,” he says, promising, “I won’t tie you up real long.”
Mike Foley talks to voters in Omaha. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
Foley grew up in western New York and graduated from the State University of New York. He got a Master’s in Business from Michigan State, and was enjoying work with a state utility regulators group in Washington, D.C., when, Foley says, a stray bullet came through his apartment window.
“So you get the stray bullet through the window, and you get your car vandalized for the third time, and you get held up at gunpoint out on the street -- which happened to me one time. All of a sudden you realize, ‘you know, I think there’s another place to live,’ and raise your family.”
In Foley’s case that was Nebraska, where his wife is from. He worked for NPPD, and then was elected to the Legislature from his Lincoln district. He served six years, championing pro-life bills, before being elected auditor.
Now finishing his second term, Foley has drawn credit from some Democrats for his aggressive auditing of the administration of Republican Gov. Dave Heineman. He’s also been criticized as seeking publicity.
Many of his reports on waste in government have focused on the Department of Health and Human Services. Foley says as governor, he’d take the next step. “I’m going to take HHS apart, brick by brick. And I’m going to rebuild that agency. It’s a disaster,” he says.
But the auditor's job is simply to report. As governor, Foley says, he’d be able to do more. “With the new team that’s going to come in and run state government, and working with the new state auditor and his or her staff, we can root out these problems and start fixing some things, and do a lot of good for the people of Nebraska,” he says.
Foley acknowledges his performance has strained his relationship with Gov. Heineman. But he says that’s just part of the job. “I’ve shown that I can be independent. That I’m not just a guy who plays the party game and just kind of shuffles things under the rug and doesn’t make waves. That I’m willing to hold people accountable, including Republicans,” he says. “That’s what I was hired to do as the auditor. I work for the people.”
Like Foley, Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning is also hoping his record will get him elected governor. At a recent gathering at the public library in Fremont, Bruning made his pitch.
Jon Bruning addresses a crowd in Fremont. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
“I’m tested. They’ve seen it. Right to Life decisions. When we’re filing those lawsuits -- defending marriage as between a man and a woman -- I’ve defended those cases. You don’t have to guess what I’m going to do,” Bruning says.
Bruning went to college and law school in Lincoln, and served six years in the Legislature before being elected attorney general in 2002. He helped lead a 26-state challenge to the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, filed in 2010.
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law two years later, but ruled states don’t have to expand Medicaid – Nebraska has not.
Bruning has often sued the Environmental Protection Agency for what he says are expensive and ineffective regulations, as he told the crowd in Fremont last Wednesday. “I’m a guy that for 12 years has been pushing back against the federal government more than any attorney general in our nation. Again, and again, filing lawsuits and winning them. Cross-state air pollution rule—here comes EPA,” he says.
Bruning and his counterparts in more than a dozen states challenged EPA’s cross-state air pollution rules, which are designed to prevent emissions from coal-fired plants from fouling the air in downwind states. The group won in federal appeals court.
However last Tuesday, the day before Bruning spoke in Fremont, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the EPA rules. Asked about the defeat, Bruning said he was unaware of the decision. But he had a ready response. “If that’s what the Supreme Court held -- I have not read it yet, but they’re wrong.”
Bruning claims fellow Republican candidate Pete Ricketts is responsible for anonymous negative ads against him, a charge Ricketts denies. Bruning says he’s trying to keep smiling. “I’m in the fight of my life …the other guy’s a billionaire. Buys a lot of tv ads. We don’t turn the tv on in my place very much,” he says, as the crowd laughs.
Bruning, who’s become a millionaire while in office, has hit back with some anti-Ricketts ads of his own. “They’re spending a lot of that money to beat me up. And I’m certainly going to defend myself by pointing out differences in my record and Pete’s record. And I don’t know any other way to do it. But I’m going to continue to maintain a positive campaign,” he says.
Whether Bruning and Ricketts knock each other out, allowing Foley, state senators Beau McCoy or Tom Carlson, or Omaha businessman Bryan Slone to win the nomination, will be decided by Nebraska Republicans in next Tuesday’s primary. The winner will then face Democrat Chuck Hassebrook in November’s general election.
To see what Foley has reported collecting and spending in the campaign, click here.
To see what Bruning has reported collecting and spending in the campaign, click here.