The key words at the candidate forum in Johnson Sunday were “conservative,” “Nebraska values” and “overreaching federal government.”

The key words at the candidate forum in Johnson Sunday were “conservative,” “Nebraska values” and “overreaching federal government.”

Republican candidates for U.S. Senate, governor, and attorney general spoke at the event hosted by area county Republican committees.

The candidates disagreed on little other than what experience and skills were most needed for the post.

Senate candidates

Candidates on the ballot for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate race are Clifton Johnson, Shane Osborn, Sid Dinsdale, Ben Sasse and Bart McLeay. Johnson, of Fort Calhoun, was not present.

McLeay, an attorney from Omaha, said he was the “voice for freedom” and dedicated to protecting the Constitution. He cited his experience working on “big issues” and cases involving government. He said he has seen an “erosion” of rights by federal agencies. He cited his “conservative values” and said over 80 percent of his funding has come from Nebraskans.

Osborn, of Waterloo, a former Navy pilot, vowed to “put the nation first” and said he has the best leadership experience. As state treasurer, he said he cut the budget and shrunk government. He said he also created a website that makes government spending more “transparent” by allowing the public to “follow the money.” He said he is a true “fiscal conservative” and would focus on debt control and battling regulations that “are killing us.”

Sasse of Fremont, president of Midland Lutheran College, called himself a “non politician” who has never run for office. He emphasized an obligation to protect future generations from “runaway government that is limiting “God-given” rights. He wants to “devolve” government so there is more power locally. He said the country is in crisis.

Dinsdale, of Elkhorn, said that his career in community banking has shown him the “overreach of federal government and federal agencies” making it harder to “start businesses, live our lives and educate our children.” He said federal agencies such as the EPA, OSHA, and FEMA must “stand down” and that federal government is mismanaged. He said he holds conservative views but does not seek “endorsements from East Coast PAC’s.”

In response to a question about who is responsible for the treatment of veterans through the Veterans Administration, all candidates agreed that treatment of veterans is terrible and that they deserve better.

When asked about how the candidates would deal with “Obamacare,” all resoundedly criticized it and called for its repeal.

Sasse called it an “unimplementable” world view that only the federal government can fix things and suggested an alternative plan based on the private sector.

Osborn said all Republican candidates are “going to say they’re against it.” He said the individual mandate was the worst part.

McLeay said it’s easy to say “Obamacare” should be replaced but “quite another thing to say what will we replace it with.” He said he supported a specific plan which included tax incentives, health savings accounts, forming of associations, portability of insurance, and covering pre-existing conditions, among other points.

Dinsdale said he gets “fired up” over the issue and said people had been forced off their health care. He said cost is the problem, not access.

Candidates explained how they would be effective in the Senate.

Osborn said he has proven he keeps his promises. McLeay said he is a proven advocate who can reach out to those who don’t agree. Dinsdale said he has shown through his banking career he can help people and businesses and will “push back” against the federal government. Sasse said that the debt must be controlled in order for “our kids” to have opportunities.

The final question was how the candidates viewed the difference between the Senate and House and decision-making processes in each.

McLeay said the Senate is a “more deliberative body,” but, “end of the day, both represent Nebraskans.” Dinsdale said the big difference is the number of elected officials in each, and, since the Senate has fewer members, “the trust is really elevated.” Sasse said the key to the Senate is a super majority vote can kill bad legislation. Osborn said when deciding on voting on a bill he would ask himself if it is constitutional and “can we afford it.”

Attorney General candidates

Seeking the Republican nomination for Nebraska Attorney General are Doug Peterson, Pete Pirsch, Brian Buescher and Mike Hilgers.

Peterson, of Lincoln, said he has worked at the Attorney General’s office and in private practice where he has argued appeals to the Nebraska Supreme Court. He said his peers have given him a “preeminent rating” for his abilities and ethics. He said the state will face “difficult legal challenges” in areas such as same sex marriage and others related to “Nebraska values,” and he wants to defend those values. He said his support has been from Nebraska and he has experience as an advocate defending Nebraska values.

Buescher of Omaha said he spent three years in Washington D.C. and was eager to return to Nebraska. He said he has represented ag interests against the federal government and fought the federal government, which he said is “out of control,” citing EPA regulations that could “potentially fundamentally change ag.” He also said he wants to end “good time” sentence reductions for repeat violent offenders.

Pirsch, who was unable to attend, was represented by his wife, Laurie, who said her husband had experience as a criminal prosecutor and a state senator. She said he has fought Medicare expansion in the state and sponsored the largest tax cut in Nebraska. She said he has dedicated his life to making Nebraska “a good place to raise our and your kids.”

Hilgers cited his experience as a clerk at the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in patent litigation then with his own law firm. He said the state is under “incredible threat by DC bureaucracy” which is “out of whack.” He said he has a specific plan to fight back against “Obamacare.” He said he will file a lawsuit against the employer mandate. He said he will also cut spending in the Attorney General’s Office.

All candidates opposed legalizing marijuana and said it was a problem that Colorado has legalized its sale when asked how they would help law enforcement in the western part of the state battle marijuana use and distribution.

Hilgers said he would work with Colorado to keep the drugs from “flowing out of the state” and work to get revenue from Colorado to help Nebraska efforts. He said he would file lawsuits against Colorado and increase penalties for distribution. Buescher said the Attorney General’s office can assist agencies across the state and should assist out west. He also supported pressuring Colorado. Laurie Pirsch said her husband considers marijuana a “gateway drug.” She said he has prosecuted drug crimes and saw the relation to violent crimes. Peterson said marijuana is a concern but that the “biggest drug problem” in Nebraska is methamphetamine. He said Colorado has turned marijuana into a “commodity” and is making money off its sale, “but who pays the cost? Surrounding states do.” He supports meeting with other states’ attorney generals to pressure Colorado.

One attendee at the forum asked candidates if a “federal land grab” were possible.

Buescher said it is possible and that he is concerned that the federal government may create a national park in the Niobrara River area. He said he is personally involved in fighting that. Laurie Pirsch said her husband is against “federal government overreach” and would advocate for private landowners. Peterson said federal agencies don’t necessarily “grab,” but do “encoach.” He said he would advocate against “federal government overreach.” Hilgers called the federal government and agencies “bullies” that try to “grind down” opposition. He said he would take the initiative in the fight.

Candidates were asked how they would “rein in the EPA” in regard to agriculture. All agreed that there was “overreach” by the agency and that lawsuits should be filed. Buescher added that it was important to get ranchers and farmers angry so that the public outcry would be heard.

Governor candidates

Tom Carlson, Beau McCoy, Jon Bruning, Mike Foley, Pete Ricketts and Bryan Slone seek the Republican nomination to advance to the general election for governor.

Carlson, of Holdrege, cited his leadership experience, common sense and faith. He said he has experience in the public sector, private sector, legislature, and as chair of committees. He said he is a supporter of agriculture and water sustainability, which is “key to future generations.”

Slone, of Omaha, cited his experience working with the Reagan Administration on tax reform. As an accountant and attorney, he said that he is best equipped to deal with the “number one issue” facing the state, which he said is the need for tax reform.

McCoy, of Omaha, said his small business background and state legislature experience are important. He said he has a conservative record and wants to continue the “great work of Governor Hieneman” during a “pivotal” time for the state.

Foley of Lincoln, said he has been in politics for a number of years and has “championed five pro-life bills.” He said his record as state auditor demonstrates he has been “aggressive” in finding ways to make government more efficient. He said Department of Health and Human Services “is broken” and misspending money. He said as problems are fixed, costs will go down. He said the tax burden is too high and drives away prospective businesses.

Bruning of Lincoln stressed his experience as attorney general and formerly as a state senator. He said Nebraska is a “well run” state. He said he has lead the fight against “Obamacare” and challenged the EPA 29 times. He said he has worked to deny illegal aliens health care from the state.

Ricketts, of Omaha, said the fundamental question is how to grow Nebraska. He said that vocational training and job preparation must be incorporated into the educational system to prepare students for the work force. He said he has a plan to help agriculture grow by addressing property taxes, promoting value-added ag business and opening up export opportunities. He said the state must also attract more and better paying jobs by having “common sense regulations” and decreasing taxes. As CEO of Ameritrade, Ricketts said he has experience in growing a business and making wise investments.

When asked on their stance on “common core” in educational standards, all candidates were in opposition and favored local decision making in education.

Although the vast majority of states have adopted common core, the candidates agreed that the federal government should be fought on the issue. Ricketts called the approach “cookie cutter.” Bruning opposed federal government involvement. McCoy said “one size does not fit all” and said parent and community involvement is key. Carlson called it another “intrusion.” Foley expressed concern that if too many states adopted common core that textbooks would cater to it and would limit Nebraska choices in books. Slone said local control, parent involvement and flexibility for teachers were important in eduction.

The candidates were asked if they favored popular vote for electing the president or the electoral college. All adamantly opposed using popular vote.

Bruning objected to “tinkering” with the Constitution. McCoy said it would diminish the voice of agricultural states. Carlson agreed it would be bad for the state. Foley said Nebraska’s presidential primary should be moved earlier into the election season to get candidates to come to Nebraska. Slone said popular vote does not make sense. Rickets said it circumvents the Constitution and that Democrats favor it because they could falsify votes and have a greater impact.
When asked about the tax burden, all candidates agreed that taxes were too high.

McCoy said cutting taxes wil grow jobs and agriculture. He said he guaranteed he would cut taxes or would not run for re-election.

Carlson said Nebraska needs to decrease reliance on property taxes for education and rely more on sales and state taxes. To do that, the economy needs to improve and farm values lowered. Foley said more efficient state government will decrease costs and allow for tax cuts. He said “heads are not rolling” due to mismanagement of taxpayer dollars but they need to. Then the tax code can be modernized.

Slone said “fundament tax reform” is needed. “We have to do more than nibble at it.” He said he is a tax expert and that this is the time to elect a tax expert.
Ricketts said there is “no silver bullet” but a lot of issues to tackle in growing Nebraska and managing costs. He said he has managed a big corporation and can relate that to the governor’s post.

Bruning said the state is not like a corporation. He said tax reform is going to take someone who can work to get bills passed and that he has experience getting that done. He said he established the Medicaid fraud unit that has recovered a substantial amount of money.