Candidates debate how to move Nebraska forward

Oct. 3, 2014, 6:30 a.m. ·

Republican Pete Ricketts and Democrat Chuck Hassebrook debate at NET in Lincoln. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News)

Democrat Chuck Hassebrook and Republican Pete Ricketts both want to be Nebraska’s next governor. Before voters head for the polls the two candidates met at the NET studios to debate their visions for the state’s future.

Nebraska’s candidates for governor met Thursday night at the NET studios in Lincoln for what may be their final debate before November’s election.

Democrat Chuck Hassebrook and Republican Pete Ricketts answered questions on everything from property taxes to immigration to the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Watch the debate archived at the NET News Campaign Connection 2014 page

The candidates’ were asked their views on the pipeline after state officials this week disclosed information about

train shipments of Bakken crude

from North Dakota through Nebraska. Republican Pete Ricketts, a former business executive with TD Ameritrade, said he supports building Keystone XL because it would be safer to move the oil by pipeline than by rail.

“We spilled more oil last year moving it by rail than the previous 37 years combined because so much more oil is being moved,” Ricketts said. “So from that standpoint we want to build it. We also want to build it from the stand point that it’s going to create about 3,000 jobs while it’s being built and about 300 jobs thereafter.”

Democrat Chuck Hassebrook, a former University of Nebraska Regent and former head of the Center for Rural Affairs, opposes building the Keystone XL pipeline. He says developing the tar sands in Alberta, Canada would worsen climate change. But he does not oppose all pipelines.

“I think it would be good to build some pipelines to move oil from the Bakken range to get that oil into Nebraska markets,” Hassebrook said. He said a large share of natural gas produced in the Bakken region is burned off at the well. “And that’s a great resource we could use for electric generation here that contributes much less to environmental problems like climate change than coal. So we need to build the right kind of pipelines for Nebraska.”

The candidates also differed on the issue of granting driver’s licenses to immigrant children brought to the U.S. by their undocumented parents. After a change in federal policy in 2012, Nebraska is the only state that does not grant licenses to young immigrants who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, or DACA. Hassebrook said it’s a missed opportunity.

“We spend money to educate these young people, to get them through high school,” Hassebrook said. “And then we say that if you want to get a job and drive to work and give something back you have to move to Iowa or Kansas or South Dakota.”

Ricketts said granting licenses and other benefits to the children of undocumented immigrants would extend missteps in federal immigration policy.

“Our president, through his unilateral action, has created a catastrophe at the border with all these unaccompanied minors coming to our country,” Ricketts said. “We at the state ought not be part of that catastrophe, contributing to it, by giving taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants.”

The candidates’ main platforms also came up often during the debate. For Republican Pete Ricketts, it’s property tax reform. He raised the issue in his answer to a question about how to use the state’s $700 million rainy day fund.

“One of the opportunities that we would have (is) to be able to return those tax dollars back to the citizens of Nebraska to get property tax relief,” Ricketts said. “Because as I’ve travelled around the state that is absolutely the number one issue people talk to me about is property taxes.”

A point of emphasis for Democrat Chuck Hassebrook is investing in early childhood education. He mentioned it when the candidates were asked about how to help children raised in single parent families.

“If those kids don’t succeed in school they’re not going to contribute to this state’s prosperity,” Hassebrook said. “They’re going to come back to cost us in special education, in public assistance and in prisons. So I think one of the most important things we can do is expand early childhood education.”

Hassebrook and Ricketts only have a few more weeks to make their case across the state before Nebraska voters choose one of them as their next governor on November 4.