Ricketts, Krist meet in first debate at State Fair

Aug. 30, 2018, 10:23 a.m. ·

Gov. Pete Ricketts, left, and Sen. Bob Krist, right, debate at State Fair (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

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On subjects ranging from property taxes to prisons, and Medicaid expansion to medical marijuana, Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts and his challenger, Democratic state Sen. Bob Krist, offered contrasting views in a debate at the State Fair near Grand Island Thursday.

The first question was about property taxes. Ricketts touted funneling more than $800 million in state funds to a property tax credit relief fund, and faulted the Legislature for blocking his proposals to do more. Krist said those proposals would have helped upper income people and corporations, and blamed Ricketts for not building consensus.

Ricketts brought the issue up again when he got to ask Krist a question. “The one bill you introduced into the Legislature, LB468, would have actually gutted the property tax credit relief fund. And for your average Nebraska home of about $150,000, that would have driven that property tax up by $263. Given that you’ve been there 10 years and haven’t done anything on property taxes, why should the people of Nebraska believe you now, that you’re running for governor, that you’re actually going to work on this at all?” Ricketts asked.

Krist said his bill was intended to make a point about how Ricketts is handling the state budget. “It was trying to get everyone’s attention to the fact that you’re pulling money out of the rainy day fund and giving money back. We are depleting our rainy day fund. It has less than $290 million dollars in there. When I was there in 2009 we had about $800 million going into that recession/depression and we barely made it out the end. We’re at a point right now if we see that same thing again and the escalation of you taking money out of the rainy day fund and giving money back, we’re going to be in big trouble,” Krist said.

In Krist’s turn to question Ricketts, he asked about the loss of jobs at Cabela’s, the Sidney-headquarted sporting goods chain. “Paul Singer, who’s been called the ‘doomsday investor,’ orchestrated the sale of our own jewel in Sidney, Cabela’s. It cost us 2,000 jobs and many, many families who are hurting because of it. That man gave you a large amount of money for your campaign, and also gave your father’s PAC, your PAC, a large amount of money. Why did you stand by and let us lose that jewel, Cabela’s, and 2,000 jobs?” Krist asked.

“What the senator’s talking about is that Bass Pro, a company based in Springfield, Missouri, basically negotiated with Cabela's to be able to buy them. That was something that was done between Bass Pro and Cabela’s – they negotiated that. And I didn’t have anything to do with that, because that’s a private sector transaction,” Ricketts replied.

The two also clashed over a Medicaid expansion initiative scheduled to appear on the November ballot. Krist supported it. “We can find the kind of support that we need for 90,000 people who are uninsured. Thirty five thousand of those are my fellow veterans. It is not going to cost the state that much money, and it needs to be done. I supported the petition and I will vote for it and I will help enable it as governor,” Krist said.

Rickketts voiced opposition. “The solution has to be that the federal government needs to take this on, and in Congress and working with the President, get real health care reform – something that would make it affordable so people could actually buy it,” Ricketts said.

The candidates also split over the death penalty, with Ricketts in favor. “This is an important tool that we use at the state to be able to protect the public safety. And in particular I think about our corrections officers, who we ask to go into our prisons where we know there’s dangerous people because we put them there. It also helps protect our law enforcement officers. And so it’s really incumbent upon us as the state to be able to carry out the sentences as ordered by the court, and the will of the Nebraska people. Remember, Nebraskans voted 61-39 to restore the death penalty when the Legislature, including Sen. Krist abolished it,” Ricketts said.

Krist, who like Ricketts describes himself as pro-life, defended his opposition to the death penalty. “I will own that vote. I voted to abolish the death penalty, and I voted to override the governor’s veto on the death penalty. Check my record – measure and weigh it -- that’s where it is. The death penalty issue has been an incredibly emotional issue for many people in this state. And I too have traveled around this state. I can tell you, if we are really a state of pro-life, then we need to all phases of pro-life,” Krist said.

On the state’s overcrowded prisons, which have seen riots and inmate deaths during Ricketts' first term, the governor saw progress. “We are working on things. We’ve done things like end the terrible practice of co-ed incarceration. We’re working expanding capacity, we’re working on expanding programming. And we’ve been successful in those areas. Now certainly, it was underinvested for a long time. We’ve got a lot of work yet to do, but we’re on the right track,” Ricketts said.

Krist saw things differently. “It’s not working. Corrections is a debacle. And what we have right now is a one-third turnover of every Corrections officer. Thirty percent attrition. Try to run your business with a 30 percent attrition,” Krist said.

The two also clashed over budget cuts Ricketts proposed for the University of Nebraska. Krist was critical. “What we’ve done is cut $48 million in 18 months and raised tuition by $5,000 a kid. That’s not the way to get to where we need to get,” Krist said.

Ricketts said with farm income down, the University needs to economize like other state agencies. “But the university of Nebraska is run separately. It’s run by a board of regents – it’s got its own management. And it doesn’t report to the governor. So when we go through these tough economic times, we’ve asked them to tighten their belts just like we’ve had to do. And they need to manage that to be able to serve the people, the students that they’re serving,” Ricketts said.

The pair also divided over legalizing medical marijuana. Ricketts said it should be left to the federal Food and Drug Administration. “What I think that all drugs should do is go through the FDA process. This is how we determine whether or not drugs are safe and effective, in what quantities, for what ailments, and make sure there’s no unintended consequences And that people know about those when they take that drug if there are. And that’s what marijuana needs to do as well,” Ricketts said.

Krist supported legalization.” I have a special needs daughter who is surrounded by folks who suffer from seizures and other ailments. And medical cannabis in many forms… it is an amazing drug that brings the unintended consequences and the bad side effects of some of the process under control,” Krist said.

Ricketts and Krist are scheduled to debate twice more before the November election.