Sparks fly in final 1st District House debate between Flood, Pansing Brooks

Oct. 3, 2022, 6 a.m. ·

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and State Sen. Mike Flood of Norfolk
State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and U.S. Rep. Mike Flood of Norfolk. (Photos courtesy campaigns)

LINCOLN — Both candidates in Sunday’s debate in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District boiled down the decision in their race to a question of trust.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, a Democrat from Lincoln, urged voters to trust her political consistency in defending women’s reproductive rights on abortion and birth control.

“You have to determine who you trust in this election,” Pansing Brooks said. “Do you trust my opponent?”

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Flood of Norfolk urged voters to trust his party’s record on inflation, taxes and the economy over the House Democrats Pansing Brooks would join if she won the election.

“Inflation, crime is increasing,” Flood said. “Who do we have to thank for this mess? It’s the Democrats.”

The hourlong KLKN-TV debate on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus — their second and final general election debate — hit four issues hard: abortion and birth control, inflation and taxes, gun control vs. gun rights and student debt forgiveness.

Pansing Brooks warned early that she would spend much of the debate fact-checking Flood. She called “Flood alerts,” as she called them, at least five times. Flood called it a good “gimmick.” Flood, at one point, called her “Patty Pansing Pelosi.”

Abortion and birth control

On abortion and birth control, Flood said he believes life begins at conception and emphasized his role in passing Nebraska’s current ban on abortions after 20 weeks. 

He stressed his support for exceptions for the life and health of a mother, echoing a tonal shift adopted by Republicans since the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade

Flood sponsored and supported a bill this year in the Legislature that would have banned abortions in Nebraska without exceptions for rape or incest.

He also said he supports retaining access to birth control but said he could not vote for House Democratic legislation that would have added legal risk to doctors unwilling to prescribe it.

Flood tried to turn the issue toward his opponent, arguing that Pansing Brooks supports abortion rights until birth — a more expansive view than most Americans support — which she denied.

She has told the Lincoln Journal Star that she supported H.R. 8296, which would eliminate many state restrictions on abortion.

“That’s not where Nebraskans are,” Flood said. “That’s not where Americans are. That is out of bounds.”

Pansing Brooks repeated her position that decisions about women’s reproductive health care should be “left to a woman and her doctor,” not to Flood.

She said she supports balancing the viability of a fetus against a mother’s health. She said that would likely land any potential restrictions at 20 weeks, as in current Nebraska law.

“I have never said abortion at any time,” Pansing Brooks said. “What I believe in is basically what Roe (v. Wade) set forth.”

Flood has said he prefers leaving the matter to the states but said last month that he would support a bill by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., to restrict abortions nationally to 15 weeks.

Pansing Brooks said she would support codifying women’s access to birth control in federal law. 

Inflation and taxes

On inflation and taxes, Pansing Brooks said Flood is not telling the truth about the broader causes of rising prices, supply chain issues tied to the pandemic and war in Ukraine. 

She criticized Flood and his Republican colleagues for voting against the Inflation Reduction Act that Democrats passed and against federal efforts to cut prescription drug costs.

She said Flood talks about problems with food and fuel costs but said many of his ideas to fix things include steps already being taken, including increasing domestic drilling of oil.

“It’s great to hear all this that’s going wrong,” she said. “Tell me what you would do to make it right.”

Pansing Brooks also said Flood has a warped view of middle-class taxpayers if he thinks someone earning more than $400,000 who saw their taxes increased by Congress is suffering.

Flood said he would cut federal spending and lower taxes. He did not specify how. He blamed much of spiraling costs globally on increased federal spending since the pandemic began.

He criticized the Inflation Reduction Act’s investments in renewable energy as “big energy giveaways” that will “make it more expensive to have reliable and affordable energy.”

“We can’t afford this in America,” Flood said.

He pointed to the GOP tax cuts of 2017 as a model for what the country needs to get private investment moving again. He criticized Pansing Brooks’ legislative votes against tax cuts.

He said House Republicans would in a better position to pressure President Joe Biden to prioritize energy independence instead of trying to get OPEC and Saudi Arabia to pump more oil.

Gun control vs. gun rights

On gun control and gun rights, Flood said he would protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners from unlawful government restrictions. He said he would not restrict AR-15s.

“She wants to talk about restricting gun use…,” he said. “I do not support infringing on the rights of lawful Nebraska citizens.”

He said he would work with schools to harden their buildings to protect kids. He argued for additional funding of secure mental health facilities for people who need more serious care.

He answered Pansing Brooks’ past criticism of his support for arming teachers by saying that he supports giving local school boards the authority to make those decisions for themselves.

Pansing Brooks said she backs “reasonable, common-sense gun laws.” She said she supports background checks, red flag laws and petitioning a court when a family member is in crisis.

To her, she said, this is not about hunting, which she supports. She said this is about making sure federal law isn’t making cities, towns and schools less safe.

“We have to find reasonable restrictions,” she said. “We have to move forward and protect our communities.”

She said that most teachers don’t want to be armed and that they want to feel safe doing their job. She said Flood voted against sending federal dollars for mental health care to local schools.

Student debt forgiveness

On student debt relief, Pansing Brooks said she supports Congress doing something to ease the pain students feel, particularly those of meager means who received Pell grants.

She said the pandemic and inflation have increased costs of many things, including college.

People who accepted Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness for businesses like her own law firm and Flood’s news outlet should not begrudge students the same relief, she said.

She said Flood and other Republicans like to complain about blue-collar workers subsidizing doctors and lawyers but said the student loan forgiveness program includes wage caps for relief.

“What I think about tuition forgiveness is it’s a very, very difficult issue,” she said. 

Flood said he does not support paying down the college debt of Ph.D.s, doctors and lawyers “on the backs of “waitresses, plumbers and electricians.”

“I think it’s wrong,” he said. “If you take out a loan, you have to pay it back.” 

Flood said he understands that some students have an argument that they were gouged, and he said that might be worth taking a look at, because people shouldn’t be taken advantage of.

Immigration, more

Flood and Pansing Brooks agreed on the need to better secure the nation’s southern border. Pansing Brooks said she would invest more in law enforcement there and not a wall. 

Flood emphasized the need to codify former President Donald Trump’s “remain in Mexico” approach under which immigrants applying for asylum stayed in Mexico until their court hearing.

On a question about gay marriage, Flood pointed to a Supreme Court decision making it legal and said the majority in the Dobbs decision wrote that gay marriage is not at risk. Flood voted against a House bill to codify gay marriage.

Pansing Brooks pointed to a concurring opinion from Justice Clarence Thomas arguing that the decision could undermine the basis used for legalizing gay and interracial marriage. She said that her son is gay and that she has advised him to marry soon. 

On a question about finding a way to be bipartisan, Flood and Pansing Brooks pointed to their records. Both also criticized their opponent as less bipartisan than they say.

Flood said he had worked hard as Speaker of the Legislature to make sure to include a wide spectrum of views. Pansing Brooks pointed to 60 bipartisan bills she said she passed.

Flood called Pansing Brooks one of the Legislature’s more partisan members. Pansing Brooks said Flood was bipartisan in his first stint in the Legislature, but not the second.

This story was originally published by the Nebraska Examiner.