Ricketts, Kleeb react to Trump; governor defends cuts to courts

Jan. 20, 2017, 4:52 a.m. ·

Nebraska Capitol in the fog Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts says he expects President Donald Trump to end federal overreach that’s hurting Nebraskans, while Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb says she thinks Trump will try to shove the Keystone XL pipeline through the state. And Ricketts is defending himself against charges he broke his word by proposing budget cuts to Nebraska’s court system.

Ricketts is in Washington for the inauguration. Speaking by phone from a reception, he said in the new president’s inaugural address, Trump hit many of the same themes he campaigned on. "People who voted him into office should feel very comfortable he’s continuing to make those a priority, and really that he wants to push the power from Washington back out to the people," Ricketts said.

Ricketts said he expects the changeover to the Trump administration will affect Nebraska in various ways. "I expect for example, talking about the overreach of Washington, that we’ll see an end to the regulatory overreach we’ve seen out of the Obama administration. So for example, right now the state of Nebraska is suing the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, the EPA on multiple accounts," Ricketts said.

The Republican governor said he was referring to the Obama administrations’ transgender bathroom rules, overtime rules, the Waters of the U.S. rule, and the clean power plan.

Meanwhile, Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb watched the inauguration on television from her home in Hastings. Kleeb helped lead the fight against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, and said that’s what she was thinking about. "As somebody who worked on the ground in Nebraska for almost seven years stopping a pipeline from risking property rights and water, that’s all I could think about as I watched President Trump, because I know one of the first things he’s going to try to do is shove that pipeline through our state," Kleeb said.

President Barack Obama stopped the pipeline by refusing to issue a permit for it to cross the U.S.-Canadian border. But Ricketts said he expects Trump will pursue it again. "I am a supporter of the Keystone pipeline, and I hope that we continue to look for ways to expand our infrastructure here in our country and to look for additional ways to become energy independent. I think it helps create jobs here in our country, helps us become less dependent on foreign oil. And projects like the Keystone pipeline help us do that," Ricketts said.

Ricketts said the crowds who came to the inauguration were very positive. "People here were really excited. I don’t know if it came across on tv, but as the president finished up his speech and he was saying ‘Make America great again,’ the crowd chanted that along with him. So the people that were here today were very excited about it – there was a lot of cheering and clapping, chants of ‘Trump, Trump’ and ‘USA, USA.’ So the mood was very much upbeat, very excited about the new administration," he said.

Kleeb said not everyone shared that mood. "It’s a tough day. If you’re a Democrat or a progressive, it’s difficult seeing President Trump being sworn into office, knowing that hateful rhetoric that he has said about our immigrant neighbors, about women, about saying that climate change is a hoax," she said.

Meanwhile, in the Legislature Friday, reaction continued to Ricketts’ proposed budget cuts. Thursday, Chief Justice Mike Heavican took the unusual step of criticizing those cuts in his annual address to the Legislature.

Referring to the package of sentence reductions and increased funding for probation known as "Justice Reinvestment," Heavican said the court system "bought into Justice Reinvestment hook, line and sinker." Now, unless the Legislature provides more money, Heavican said, "we are left holding the bag."

Friday, Sen. Ernie Chambers said the Legislature has to act. "When the chief justice is put in the position of saying that the court system bought into what the Legis—I’m paraphrasing – what the Legislature presented ‘hook, line and sinker’ and has now been left ‘holding the bag,’ that’s a horrible thing for a branch of government -- especially the one that deals with justice, equity and the caring for all of society, of various rights and privileges – to have to say that, and the Legislature not react accordingly," Chambers said.

Ricketts said the court system isn’t being singled out. "Our revenues are coming in below forecast. So we’ve all got to participate. We’ve all got to make cuts. My office has done it. My agencies have done it. I’m asking other branches of government to do the same," he said.

The Appropriations Committee is still working on what changes if any it will recommend to the governor’s proposals.