Ricketts, Hassebrook offer contrasts in race for governor

May 14, 2014, 5:35 a.m. ·


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In a six-way primary, Nebraska Republicans nominated Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts for governor. Meanwhile, former University of Nebraska Regent and former director of the Center for Rural Affairs Chuck Hassebrook won the Democratic nomination unopposed. That sets up a choice among contrasts in the November election.

As attention shifts from the Republican nomination contest to the general election, Democrat Chuck Hassebrook is counting on voters to consider his background.

“I spent my entire life fighting for working families in Nebraska," Hassebrook said. "I spent 18 years on the Board of Regents, working to get tuition assistance for ordinary working Nebraska families. I spent 36 years at the Center for Rural Affairs – 17 years as director – and during those 17 years we helped 2,000 small businesses get started. My entire time at the Center for Rural Affairs was working to create fair public policies for small business and family-sized farms and ranches.”

Republican Pete Ricketts worked as an executive for what’s now the TD Ameritrade online brokerage founded by his father. He currently sits on the board of the family-owned Chicago Cubs. Ricketts said his business background will benefit the state.

“Having been somebody who’s helped build a small Nebraska company into a big one, I know what it takes. And the policies we’ll put in place will help grow the state. And I think my opponent’s going to have policies that won’t grow the state,” Ricketts said.

One example of policy differences is taxes. Hassebrook says cutting the top state income tax rate would disproportionately benefit high-income Nebraskans and take away funds for needed public services.

“The most important economic strength we could have in the 21rst century is an education system that is second to none in America in preparing our people to succeed as employers, as employees, as entrepreneurs and citizens,” he said. “We won’t have the money to invest in pre-school and job training if we focus on cutting taxes for the rich.”

Ricketts said he wants to cut taxes for everybody in order to make Nebraska competitive.

“When we’re looking at tax cuts, it’s going to be for everybody, because that’s what’s going to help us grow the state,” he said. "It’s very clear that when you make it a level playing field, folks will respond to that and they’ll grow the state.”

Another area of contrast is expanding Medicaid coverage for poor people. The state would eventually have to pay 10 percent of the cost, which Ricketts says is too much.

“We can’t expand Medicaid. That will crowd out our investments we need to make in education and roads, and things that are going to grow the state,” he said.

Hassebrook disagrees.

“Not expanding Medicaid, in my judgment, is really the triumph of partisan politics over common sense,” he said. He added it hurts the working poor, rural hospitals, and Nebraskans who do have health insurance by making them pay higher premiums.

A third area of contrast between the candidates is over raising the minimum wage. Ricketts opposes it.

“That’s another example of how you would actually hurt the very people you’re trying to help,” Ricketts said. He cited the owner of a restaurant in Syracuse, who said if the minimum wage increased, his income would not, and he would have to lay people off. Ricketts said it would be better to invest in things like training programs to enable people to get high-paying manufacturing jobs that are available.

Hassebrook said most economic studies say raising the minimum wage is not counterproductive.

“You’re putting more money in the pockets of ordinary working people and that creates some economic stimulus,” Hassebrook said. “They have more money to spend, and that money circulates in the economy.”

These and other contrasts will be highlighted as the campaign moves toward November. Hassebrook said the Democrats will be competitive.

“Of course I’ll be outspent. But you know, a lot of times, the person with the most money doesn’t win,” he said. “We’ll have enough money to get our message out.”

For his part, Ricketts said he doesn’t plan on coasting.

“I have no doubt that Chuck is going to be a tough competitor. We’re not taking anything for granted,” he said. “The planning for the general election starts today. We’re going to continue to have a grassroots campaign like we have for the primary. I’m confident we’ll put together a plan to beat my opponent. But we got a lot of work to do.”

Ricketts and Hassebrook will be joined on the ballot by Libertarian Mark Elworth, Jr., who was not immediately available for an interview.