As we’ve discussed here before, the stakes in the federal elections couldn’t be any higher. Hillary Clinton is running against a dangeous GOP nominee who has the potential to wreck the nation – and even the world. The stakes are just as high in this cycle in the legislative races. Nebraska faces an unprecedented challenge from a billionaire, extreme right wing governor who is sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars of his own money into an effort to purchase a compliant legislature. Already, Ricketts has contributed $44,500.00 of his own money to individual Republican legislative candidates. In addition, Ricketts has contributed $260,000.00 to the Nebraska Republican Party and $300,000.00 to the initiative to bring back the fundamentally flawed death penalty.
As much as he has already sunk into these races, Ricketts isn’t done yet. One legislative insider told me on background that Ricketts will put in more than $100,000.00 into the races for the Unicameral between now and election day. Moreover, a legislative candidate speaking anonymously told me that he was actually threatened by one of Ricketts’ most loyal allies in the Unicameral. This candidate told me that Ricketts’ lieutenant said the Governor would “kick his butt” with lots of last minute money. We may only be getting started. Voters in hotly contested districts should expect a blizzard of nasty and dishonest mailings and robo-calls in the next eight days.
Ricketts is pouring his money into the races at a record clip because he wants to cut taxes for the wealthy in a misguided effort to create jobs. Senator Jim Smith – one of Ricketts’ most loyal allies – is preparing a package of income tax and property tax cuts for the next legislative session. Moreover, the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce has it’s eyes on a tax cut for Nebraska’s wealthiest residents. The Governor and his allies are still pushing for a big tax cut even though the state faces a nearly $1 billion shortfall in 2017. Not to be deterred, the CEO of Ricketts’ Platte Institute contended that tax cuts for the wealthy are more imperative than ever despite the record budget deficit faced by Nebraska legislators in the next session.
What Ricketts wants to do has already been attempted – and failed miserably – in Kansas. During the 2012 election cycle, Brownback and the Koch brothers targeted moderate Republican members of the legislature for defeat by radical right wingers who would enact Brownback’s agenda. After this purge, Brownback and his allies passed a series of tax cuts that largely benefited the wealthy. At the time, Brownback brought in the always wrong supply side economist Arthur Laffer to market his extreme plan. Laffer predicted the tax cuts would set off an economic boom and the tax cuts would pay for themselves.
As it turned out, everything that Brownback and Laffer predicted hasn’t happened. As a matter of fact, the polar opposite occured. Currently, Kansas faces a $228 million budget deficit and has the slowest job growth of any state in the Midwest. Brownback has gotten so desperate that he has blamed Obama for Kansas’ problems and canceled a quarterly report on the status of the Sunflower State’s economy. Brownback’s past could very well become Ricketts’ future. We don’t want that to happen here in Nebraska.
We here at the Nebraska Democratic Party recognized the challenge from our extreme right wing billionaire Governor and recruited a bumper crop of excellent legislative candidates. We can thank former State Senator Steve Lathrop and Executive Director Hadley Richters for helping put together this class of five star prospects. For the first time in the term limits era, every Democrat who entered the race finished either first or second in the primary and advanced to the general election cycle.
The class of 2016 consists of the following candidates:
Carol Blood is running in LD3 – which is in Sarpy County. Carol is a member of the Bellevue City Council and she is matched up against an incumbent who was appointed by Heineman. Activists in the Sarpy County Democratic Party have told me that Carol is working it very hard and is well positioned to win.
Mike McDonnell is our candidate in LD5 – which is the seat that has been held by Heath Mello. McDonnell was an Omaha firefighter for twenty four years and served as fire chief during his last six years of service. He is such a good candidate that he was even endorsed by the normally GOP friendly Omaha World Herald.
In LD7 – in south Omaha – Ricketts appointee Nicole Fox finished third and was knocked out of the race in May. The two remaining candidates in LD7 are both Democrats and this race will represent a pickup for the Democrats. Both Tony Vargas and John Synowiecki would do a great job in Lincoln representing this district.
Sara Howard is the incumbent Senator from LD9 or the Midtown area of Omaha. Senator Howard has an impressive record of achievement in her first term in the Unicameral as an advocate for children and improved prescription drug monitoring.
Two Democrats are vying to replace termed out incumbent Tanya Cook in LD 13 in north-central Omaha. Jill Brown is a a Creighton psychology professor and would be a strong advocate for the most vulnerable Nebraskans. Justin Wayne is an attorney and a former president of the Omaha Public Schools board.
Lynne Walz is running in the Fremont area in LD15. Lynne is a small business woman and a former teacher. Activists in the Fremont area have told me that Lynne has been very diligent in working the doors. She is running against David Schnoor who is a very close ally of both Ricketts and the disgraced Bill Kintner.
Like Lynne Walz, Ardell Bengston is a small business owner and retired teacher. Ardell is running in the South Sioux City area in LD17. Our nominee has been active in the community by serving on the South Sioux City parks and library boards.
Larry Scherer is running in northwest Lincoln and Lancaster County in LD21. Larry was designated by outgoing Senator Ken Haar as his successor. Scherer has years of experience in the legislature already by serving as the legal counsel for two committees. He is running against a right wing Republican who has been backed by money from friends of Karl Rove in Texas.
Jim Gordon is running in LD25, which comprises east Lincoln and east Lancaster County. Gordon is a combat veteran of the Vietnam War and has done a lot of volunteer work in the community. Jim has been endorsed by the outgoing Republican Senator in LD25, Kathy Campbell. His opponent is backed by Ricketts and couldn’t identify one issue in which she disagreed with the Governor.
Over on the west side of Lincoln in LD27, Anna Wishart is running hard to replace a termed out Republican Senator. This is an outstanding pickup opportunity for the Democrats. Due to her hard work, Anna finished with 62% of the vote in the primary. Her opponent works for the right wing Platte Institute and was recently arrested for a DUI by the Lincoln Police Department.
Incumbent Senator Kate Bolz is essentially running unopposed in southeast Lincoln in LD29. Kate has had a very successful first term in which she has served with distinction on the crucial Appropriations Committee.
Another incumbent, Rick Kolowski, is running for re-election in the Millard area in LD31. Rick is the former principal of Millard West High School and is well regarded in the community. Due to his leadership in the Unicameral, Rick has been targeted by Ricketts for defeat. This is a critical race and could decide whether or not we have an independent legislature in 2017-18.
We have an excellent pickup opportunity in Grand Island in LD35. Dan Quick is making a strong run to take this open seat. Dan is the President of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1597 and a long time community volunteer. His opponent has come out in favor of abolishing the minimum wage.
Bill Armbrust is running in western Douglas County or LD39. Bill is a farmer and catttleman. He supports the Medicaid expansion and cutting property taxes. He is opposed by a long time former aide to Chuck Hagel.
Incumbent Senator Sue Crawford in Sarpy County and LD45 has been targeted by Ricketts as well. Ricketts has gone after Crawford due to her strong leadership in the Unicameral, where she has served as the chair of the Urban Affairs Committee. Due to her ability to work across party lines, Crawford helped pass the repeal of the Learning Community’s common levy — which will help schools in her district.
We have fielded an excellent slate of candidates this year because the stakes are so high. For the last several years, a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans have held the balance of power in the legislature. That coalition has thwarted radical tax schemes from both Heineman and Ricketts. Now the Governor would like to use his vast personal wealth to break that coalition and impose his will on the people of Nebraska.
This promises to be a close and hotly contested election on the state level. We need to do everything we can to keep Ricketts in check and prevent him from wrecking Nebraska’s economy and budget. The good life is on the ballot this year. Now let’s get out there and get it done!