Six Republican candidates for governor debated Sunday in Broken Bow, highlighting differences in experience and emphasis.
Toward the end of the ninety minute debate, Omaha lawyer and businessman Bryan Slone stated the obvious. “On the issues, there’s a lot of similarity between the candidates. Let’s just admit it. We all have a lot of similar positions on the issues. We all want to cut taxes. We all want to keep spending down. So where do you draw the differences?” Slone asked.
“Well here’s the difference. On the one number one issue in this state from corner to corner – taxes – and cutting property taxes and income taxes, you’ve got one candidate who’s actually done it and done it on a big scale.” That candidate, according to Slone, is Slone, from his work drafting tax legislation for former Congressman Hal Daub and implementing it with the IRS under Ronald Reagan.
There were some differences among the candidates on issues. State Auditor Mike Foley differed from the others in opposing the death penalty. “We don’t have a functioning capital punishment system today in Nebraska. Yet we’re spending millions of dollars pretending that we can execute people. We can’t do it. We don’t have the drug protocol in place, we don’t have the legal structure in place to carry out that objective,” Foley said. “The real issue here is, how are we going to protect society from the vicious and the violent? That’s why we have our maximum security prisons. And that’s where those men belong.”
But differences in tone were more common. All the candidates expressed reluctance to build a new prison to relieve overcrowding, which is reaching the point of lawsuits challenging its constitutionality. Attorney General Jon Bruning said “You know, there’s a lot of people you got mom, dad, and three kids in a three bedroom house; two of the kids sharing a bedroom. So what? So you’ve got the inmates sharing a cell. If they don’t like it, don’t get sent to prison.”
Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege said violent prisoners should serve their entire sentences. However, Carlson added “Somewhere along the line, they have to be given an opportunity to develop some hope. If you have hope, you have something to live for. If you don’t have hope, you don’t have anything.
“Some of them need mental illness treatment. They need to get that. Because if theyre not in for life, they need to be in a position when they do get out that we don’t see ‘em again,” Carlson said.
The candidates tried to capitalize on their life experiences. Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts stressed his experience outside government. “We need to reform state government. And to do that, you need someone that’s got a fresh perspective. A track record of success in the private sector. A real world conservative,” Ricketts said. “I will control the growth of state government. I will cut taxes, get rid of useless regulation. Allow our companies to create jobs and unleash the potential that we have here in this state,” he promised.
Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy stressed his efforts to do things like that in the Legislature. “The number one challenge facing agriculture today in Nebraska is the backbreaking level of property taxes. Farmers and ranchers today for agricultural land pay the third highest property tax burden in America, after California and Texas,” McCoy said.
“That’s why I’ve worked in the Legislature with Gov. Heineman to lower property taxes, to add more money to the property tax credit relief fund that all Nebraskans get a break from, and to change the ag land valuation from 75 percent to 65 percent,” he added.
The candidates agree the state should not expand Medicaid. But they differed in how specific they were about how to deal with people who lack coverage. Slone said “The problem we have in this country with health care is the Obama Administration has turned it into an insurance issue. It was not an insurance issue. It’s a delivery issue. It’s how we deliver health services and how expensive we deliver health services in this country and the availability of those health services.”
“What I have to do as governor is get into the question of the delivery and the regulations we put around that delivery, so we have more access to more clinics closer to the people who need those services at a cheaper cost,” Slone added.
Said Carlson “If we had a high deductible medical plan for these people and they walked into a doctor’s office, I think the doctor would not turn them away. Right now the doctor can refuse service. But if they have a medical plan, you can’t refuse service. So we’ve got to figure out a way that they can be able to come into a clinic and get treatment.”
On education, Ricketts stressed the need for alternatives to preparing kids for college. “I’ve talked to employers who tell me they can’t find enough welders, or machinists, or electricians. And when I was in junior high, everybody had to take industrial arts. We took those classes. It was a requirement. Well, Westside School District doesn’t make it a requirement anymore,” Ricketts said. “I think we do a huge disservice to our kids if we don’t expose them to the opportunities available in the trades at an early age,” he added.
All the candidates rejected legalizing marijuana, although Foley said he needs to study medical marijuana more. Bruning took a law enforcement perspective on the trade in neighboring Colorado. “You can go buy an ounce in one store, show no ID, go three blocks down, buy an ounce at another store, don’t show ID and go on and on and on, come back with 10 ounces and they show up in Nebraska. It gets sold to our kids. To your kids. And to me, this is a problem,” he said. “I don’t want to see it expanded here. I would fight against it. I would work against it. I’m trying to work with law enforcement so we can give it more resources.”
Several candidates said Nebraska is a well-run state. But Foley, who’s been critical as an auditor, disagreed. “If the people of Nebraska could see what I see, they would be furious. Because there’s a lot of inefficiency in state government. We can do a better job. And what we have right now is imposing an inefficiency tax on the people. And that’s not fair,” he declared.
At the end, McCoy summed things up this way. “Our six year old, Nora, tells me ‘Dad, make sure youre not boring.’ I don’t know how well I succeeded at that. Our three year old, Tess, has been asleep since the opening statement.”
Voters will have their say on Primary Day, May 13.