Since he has been inaugurated as Governor, Ricketts has visibly struggled in his job. The Department of Corrections continues to disintegrate and Ricketts has failed to come up with any solutions – much to the frustration of the legislature. At the same time, Ricketts’ regressive and partisan agenda has been stymied by a coalition of Democratic and moderate Republican state senators. The death penalty was repealed over his veto, his large property tax cut plan didn’t even make it out of committee and the effort to change the electoral vote law was halted by a filibuster.
Perhaps Ricketts’ biggest mistake so far is his cover up of the Bill Kintner scandal. Ricketts was aware of Kintner’s sordid behavior as early as July 2015 and didn’t tell anyone about it for about 13 months. It has become increasingly evident that Ricketts covered this up in order to “own” Kintner during the most recent legislative session. It was Kintner’s vote that enabled Ricketts to kill the bill to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. This was legislation that had overwhelming bi-partisan support and was even supported by the Chamber of Commerce.
Ricketts and Kintner have yet to answer any questions why they covered up the right wing Senator’s unacceptable behavior for over a year. Moreover, the press has largely failed to ask this question or follow up on this issue. Both Ricketts and Kintner owe the voters an explanation. If they refuse to address these questions, they should both resign.
Nebraska’s rookie Governor isn’t only presiding over a budding scandal, he is also looking at major budget crisis. Nebraska currently faces a potential budget shortfall in excess of $350 million through 2019, due to declining tax revenues stemming from income tax cuts enacted during the Heineman Administration and sagging commodity prices. There is already talk about a special legislative session this fall to address this impending budget deficit.
Even though Nebraska is facing its most serious budget crisis since the Bush recession of 2008-09, Ricketts and his right wing allies in the Unicameral are talking about an income tax cut that would largely favor the wealthy. The Ricketts founded and funded Platte Institute has proposed a tax cut plan reminiscent of the one that blew up the Kansas economy and budget. The Platte Institute’s plan would finance a tax cut for the wealthy and the corporations with an expanded sales tax on services.
The Platte Institute’s plan wouldn’t be a real tax cut – it would be a tax shift. Wealthy Nebraskans would pay less at everybody else’s expense. An expanded sales tax would constitute a tax increase on the middle class and the poor. Moreover a big Kansas style tax cut would result in higher property taxes and budget cuts to education and infrastructure.
Ricketts will continue to push for a budget busting tax cut for the wealthy even though Nebraska faces a grave budget crisis. This is because Ricketts is an extremist who emphasizes ideology over empirical evidence. A well placed Republican insider speaking on background told me that: “Ricketts is a true believer conservative.” The Nebraska Governor is especially dangerous because – unlike many Republicans – he is well behaved. Consequently, many reporters and voters mistakenly believe he is a moderate.
Nebraska’s Governor is a billionaire who is used to getting his way. Ricketts will do everything he can to elect a legislature that will enact his extreme agenda. Already, in the primary cycle, Ricketts most likely spent over $100,000.00 of his own money to purge Senators who have stood up to him. He will spend whatever it takes this fall to elect radical Republicans who will support his agenda.
As Democrats, we must do everything we can to elect more Democrats to the Unicameral. We have recruited an excellent slate of candidates and we will be running in a very favorable cycle. The GOP has nominated the worst and most unpopular Presidential nominee in U.S. history. We can have a good cycle and thwart Ricketts if we work hard. I know we can do it!