2nd District Congressional Candidates Reflect on Key Issues
By Bill Kelly , Senior Producer/Reporter Nebraska Public Media
April 28, 2022, 3 p.m. ·
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Four people want to be the next congressional representative in Nebraska’s 2nd District.
One, Rep. Don Bacon, has held the office since 2017. In the May 10 primary election he faces one Republican opponent for the nomination, Steve Kuehl.
Two candidates, Alisha Shelton and Tony Vargas, are asking for Democrats to advance them to the fall election.
Nebraska Public Media News asked all four candidates to answer questions addressing key issues in terms of what legislation they would advocate or oppose should they be sent to Congress.
Here are transcripts of their replies. Answers have been edited for brevity.
You can hear their responses by listening to the audio file above.
- Party Affiliation: Democrat
- Born: New York City
- Occupation: Former Teacher
- Education: University of Rochester (BS) Pace University (Masters)
- Political Experience: Omaha School Board, Nebraska Legislature
- Party Affiliation: Democrat
- Born: Staten Island, NY
- Occupation: Clinical Supervisor, Behavioral Health Services
- Education: Xavier University (BS) Bellevue University (Masters)
- Political Experience: 2020 Candidate U.S. Senate
U.S. Economy and Inflation
SHELTON: This is a big focus, right? I saw a couple of days ago that we are at our highest inflation rate since 1982. That was almost 40 years ago. So, the very first thing that I would do is support a temporary suspension of the gas tax. Here in Nebraska, our gas tax is 18 cents per gallon of gas. I know that sounds like a small amount, but if you have a household where four or two people are driving, a temporary suspension would be so helpful to have relief right now.
What I mean is a temporary suspension for three to six months so that we have a little bit more relief at the gas pump. When I'm talking to voters, what they're asking about is how can you help me with gas? How can you help me with groceries? Ultimately, being able to make sure that they can continue to pay their bills for their families. This is where all of our families are focused on, these kitchen table issues.
VARGAS: I think the one way we really can control this is we need to control our spending at the federal level. We need to make sure that we're doing everything we can to help support any legislative initiatives that are going to increase wages or increase health care access and try to make it easier for families. If we don't, we're making it a lot harder for families.
One thing about me is, I've served on the (Legislature's) budget committee for the last six years, and one of the things I'm most proud of is we protected investments in education and making sure that we're supporting health and human services, and things that are affecting families. And we've really slowed our spending and actually increased efficiencies in most of our departments and agencies.
VARGAS: I want to make sure that we are securing the right to vote and not putting additional barriers for people that are citizens to be able to vote. I've tried to expand, making sure that we have better hours for our voting right now. I introduced legislation to expand what hours are available to be able to vote early and go to the election commission.
I continually hear from voters that they want more information, not less. They need to know where their voting location is. Luckily, we've been putting out vote-by-mail applications to individuals. I just want to make sure that these things are accessible.
SHELTON: I would support the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. I think that it is so important for us to be able to express our vote. It's just interesting that we're back here when this country stands for freedom and democracy. We should have that at every level.
We do a really good job at having secure elections in our state. I would support doing a study to understand what exactly happened (and) where the flaws have been. We've been watching the news last year and the last election cycle to understand if these ballots were tampered with or not. Ultimately everything that (was claimed to have) happened sounded like, there was nothing that occurred. So, I think we need a further investigation. I would support legislation for a study to first take a look at what is it that we're even dealing with? Where are the problems? Where are the laws? Then I would support legislation to help with our election security.
SHELTON: I think we need a clear path to citizenship. We need to update the way that you seek citizenship. When we have folks coming from other countries and we say that you can seek asylum, if this is a process that we can no longer manage, then let's change the way that they come and seek asylum.
I would be in support of a humane immigration reform policy and making sure that we have a clear pathway for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. We are rebuilding trust with the government. Unfortunately, these past few years there are some people who are getting their knowledge from social media versus the news. The more transparent we can be in government proceedings, the better it will be for all of us.
VARGAS: I think sometimes when people go to Congress they only focus on what they're going to introduce or oppose. This is about culture. This is about what has existed.
I'm not under no assumption that there's been work done that's tried to solve the issue of addressing immigration reform. The problem is we're electing people to office that see this as a black and white issue or are unwilling to view what can be changed and figure out what their North Star is. How do we find a pathway for legal citizenship that is earned? That is humane? That is compassionate? That is pragmatic? How do we get the right people in the room that are problem solvers; that are not going to make this a political issue?
War in Ukraine/Sanctions
VARGAS: Congress has been very supportive of economic sanctions and working with NATO and trying to do everything they can to make a clear message on these actions by Russia.
I mean, they're an international bully taking on a country and it is abundantly clear to the public. I also think this is actually a bipartisan issue.
I will come in and I'll make sure that I listened to everything that's been done. Right now, I know we're in the right direction of holding Russia accountable for how they are treating Ukraine. They're a bully on the international stage. We can't accept that.
SHELTON: Man, there's a lot going on there. The first thing I will say is that I am very proud that we, in the very beginning, have done some work to support Ukraine. Our fabric of this country is democracy and freedom and I'm proud that here in the US, we are making sure that we can offer support.
I definitely hope that we choose the method that minimizes (involvement of) our troops, where we do not have to mobilize and be boots on the ground in Ukraine. I definitely hope that we can continue to send supplies.
The Highest Priorities for Constituents
SHELTON: I am surprised when I speak about healthcare, and I ask (the audience) questions, they are bringing up mental health. I think we are finally at a level where people are seeing, as inflation is increasing, (as) crime is increasing, there are tons of people who are not managing their mental health in this pandemic. I think that is pushing it.
We cut the mental health facilities that caused this problem. That's something that I've been surprised to hear about at the door.
VARGAS: At the end of the day, the one thing that I continually still hear is people don't have faith that the government is always working for them and that oftentimes, the way that we divide ourselves is much more of what defines Congress.
I have been an elected official for 10 years and I've always seen beyond the black and white. I fought for what's right and principled. I've also been able to find common ground on things where most people don't think we can. And I think that's missing in politics. That's what I hear from people. They're ready and want to elect leaders that don't just say, 'here's my party affiliation, here's the only thing I care about,' but instead, 'this is what I stand for.'
- Party Affiliation: Republican
- Born: Omaha
- Occupation: Commercial Consultant
- Education: Eastern Michigan University (’97)
- Political Experience: First-time Candidate
- Party Affiliation: Republican
- Born: Momence, Illinois
- Occupation: Retired United States Air Force
- Education: Illinois University (BA) University of Phoenix Nat'l War College
- Political Experience: U.S. House of Representatives (elected 2017)
US Economy and Inflation
Bacon: The average family has paid more than $400 a month for just basic goods. That's like a $400 pay cut every month, and the average family feels that significantly and the trigger for that is the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill passed in March of 2021. Even Democrat economists warned if you support it you will trigger inflation. It added 10% to the money supply, which means you're gonna devalue our money supply by about 10%. Today, inflation is at 5%. So when Democrat economists say that and the administration still passes it, basically they voted for inflation. It is the number one issue in this district.
Kuehl: Take care of our people here, and stop printing money. You know, when you talk about inflation? Well, the easiest thing, I guarantee, to get inflation is when you print and devalue the dollar, you spend too much. They don't run their economy, our economy, like you and I run our economy at home. It shouldn't be this difficult.
War in Ukraine/Sanctions
Kuehl: I guess when you're dealing with the Putin's of the world, you have to know, in a sense, that the evil exists. If sanctions will put the U.S. in a stronger position to deal with somebody like Russia, then I agree with what Mr. Biden did. But it's a tough one.
Words matter and what people say you take them for what they mean. I'm not privy to some of this, some of the intelligence or quite frankly, most of it, but gosh, you're looking at potential war. So how much can we get involved? This is where something, legislatively, we need to bring everybody involved. Our allies all have to push. This is one where you really, really need your friends and allies.
Bacon: I do see America providing more aid to Ukraine. I also think we should be having the highest sanctions right now. It always baffles me when the (Biden) administration says they're going to add more sanctions. Why aren't we sanctioning them to the most right now? If we don't have a firm hand against Ukraine or against Russia, in this unjust, unprovoked war and stand up to the bullying, it is very much more likely he'll attack a second country to follow.
Bacon: This district, I've come to realize, will welcome legal immigration, but they do not like illegal immigration, and people getting in front of the line breaking our laws. Now we're at a 20-year high, in illegal immigration. So we need to enforce our border. And once you have a secure border that allows for compromise and consensus building on legal immigration, but there's little appetite to do it when you have the worst border situation in two decades.
Kuehl: It's an emotional topic. We're just so compassionate and so welcoming. It's a fine line when you've detained the good-intentioned people or the people that want to do harm to this country who aren't going to show up to a court date.
I'm all for building the wall. It's an emotional topic, but to me, I don't understand because a wall is a deterrent. It slows people down.
We're a nation of laws. We welcome everybody, but also sovereign nations have to protect their borders. You know, you can't just have people coming in that we don't know who they are. It's a national security risk.
Bacon: When I do polling in our district, (voting and election security) rank about 10th in the priority. It's not on the highest of the issues, at least for Nebraska voters.
You'll hear concerns from the left and right on our election laws. I think we do pretty darn well with our elections. I want to defend states' rights to regulate their own elections. The Constitution gives normal power to the states to control their elections. The only exception would be if a state was violating the civil rights of people in their state, which that's not the case here (in Nebraska).
Kuehl: I believe the system works. I believe there are some enhancements that need to be made. Three things that I would enhance. I'm for voter identification. I'm for a national election day, even a couple of days. I'm not a proponent of the mass mailouts or mailing ballots.
The Highest Priorities for Constituents
Kuehl: I think the First Amendment is a big one (in relation to how social media sites are restricting users). Just for the life of me, I can't figure out the whole (concern over) misinformation. Conspiracy theories. Those are questions to me. I don't care if you're right or wrong. Who dictates misinformation? It's funny. I want to know if somebody's intentions or their words are really bad or if they are racist as racist can be. I want to know who's saying those things. It's almost like keeping your friends close and your enemies closer.
Bacon: The number one issue in this district, by far, particularly swing to moderate voters, is inflation.
The second issue: the voters want energy independence. They see an administration hostile to the American fossil fuels industry. And I don't think it should just be fossil fuels. I support solar, I support wind. I support hydro. I think it should be all the above. If we have all the above, we won’t import as much energy.
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