August 21, 2014

Ricketts vs. Hassebrook for governor closer than many thought (AUDIO)

Pete Ricketts (right) listens to a voter

Pete Ricketts (right) listens to a voter

Republican Pete Ricketts won a narrow primary victory and it seems faces another tough race against Democrat Chuck Hassebrook as the two campaign to succeed Governor Dave Heineman.

A few polls have emerged on the Nebraska gubernatorial race, apparently a closer race than many expected.

Republican Pete Ricketts, the former TD Ameritrade executive, leads, but not by much.

“Well, I think if the polls are right, it’s good to be up, but again there’s nothing to be complacent about,” Ricketts tells Nebraska Radio Network. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us. My opponent is a smart, savvy guy and I expect him to be a tough opponent.”

That opponent is Democrat Chuck Hassebrook, the former Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs. He expects the race to tighten.

Chuck Hassebrook shares a laugh with a voter

Chuck Hassebrook (right) shares a laugh with a voter

“For most of the summer, people aren’t real focused on the gubernatorial election,” Hassebrook tells Nebraska Radio Network. “But starting especially in September they will be and that is when it will be critical for us to get a clear and compelling message out to voters.”

Rasmussen Reports public opinion seems typical of the few polls that have been taken on the race. Rasmussen in mid-May released a public opinion poll from 750 likely Nebraska voters which gave Ricketts a 47-40% lead over Hassebrook.

Ricketts narrowly edged Attorney General Jon Bruning in the Republican gubernatorial primary in which six Republicans vied for the party nod to succeed Gov. Heineman, a Republican. Heineman cannot run for re-election due to term limits.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

EPA claims it seeks clarity, not power grab in Clean Water Act proposal (AUDIO)

A top administrator with the Environmental Protection Agency claims proposed changes to the Clean Water Act won’t harm agriculture, but understands that message is a difficult one to make in farm country.

Deputy Assistant Administrator of the Office of Water with the EPA, Ken Kopocis, denies proposed changes to the Clean Water Act aim at extending the EPA’s reach onto the farm.

“We believe that the proposed rule would cover fewer waters than what the current rule covers. So, we do not believe that we’re expanding jurisdiction,” Kopocis tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview from this Washington, D.C. office.

Yet, Nebraska farm groups don’t believe such assurances and staunchly oppose the proposal.

Sen. Mike Johanns, the former Secretary of Agriculture, has flatly stated the EPA lacks credibility with him.

Johanns, during a recent news conference hosted by the Nebraska Farm Bureau, rejected suggestions by the EPA that its proposed change won’t make a difference in enforcement of the act.

“Quite honestly, they don’t have a lot of credibility with me. I don’t trust them. I think they have given me reason over the past six years not to trust them,” Johanns replied. “And we have to get them to write the rule in a way that says that they’re not expanding their jurisdiction.”

We quoted Johanns and asked Kopocis if the EPA has a trust issue in Nebraska.

“I don’t know whether there’s a trust issue. I won’t speak on behalf of that,” Kopocis stated. “I do know that we have not had the best relations with the agricultural community and both this office and the administrator (Gina McCarthy) in particular are very interested in trying to address that.”

Kopocis says the proposal to change the Clean Water Act seeks to provide greater clarity and predictability to enforcement of the act. He insists the EPA has moved to relieve confusion in wake of a 2006 Supreme Court ruling on the act.

Kopocis says the EPA has heard the complaints from farm country and is reaching out to address those concerns.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Two employees retire rather than be fired; two suspended in prison scandal (AUDIO)

Corrections Director Mike Kenney speaks to reporters as Gov. Dave Heineman looks on

Corrections Director Mike Kenney speaks to reporters as Gov. Dave Heineman looks on

Two state employees have retired, rather than be fired. Two others have been suspended for their part in the prison sentencing scandal.

State Corrections Director Mike Kenney announced his disciplinary action against those responsible for miscalculating prison sentences for nearly 600 inmates this afternoon during a news conference in the governor’s office.

“In response to the sentencing miscalculations, disciplinary hearings have been held for four employees,” Kenney stated. “The General Counsel George Green and Associate Legal Counsel Sharon Lindgren chose to retire, pending discipline. My decision in both of these cases would have been termination.”

In addition, Records Administrator Kyle Poppert has been suspended without pay for two weeks and Associate Legal Counsel Kathy Blum has been suspended for a day without pay.

All the employees are accused of failing to heed two state Supreme Court rulings on prison sentencing, leading to the miscalculations.

Gov. Dave Heineman largely blames Green and Lindgren for the mistake which led to the premature release of slightly more than 300 inmates from state prisons.

“There are two employees of the Department of Correctional Services that are the most responsible for these sentencing errors: The Chief Legal Counsel George Green and Associate Legal Counsel Sharon Lindgren,” according to Heineman. “When confronted with their charges of discipline and facing probable termination, both attorneys immediately retired from state government.”

Heineman told reporters during the news conference Green and Lindgren failed to inform Corrections to adjust prison sentences in accordance with two state Supreme Court rulings.

“Mr. Green and Miss Lindgren are no longer employed by the Department of Correctional Services and they shouldn’t be. Their actions were inappropriate, inexcusable, and irresponsible,” Heineman stated. “They were the individuals most responsible for the sentencing miscalculations and they are being held accountable for their actions.”

Heineman stated the investigation continues.

A Nebraska State Patrol criminal investigation also continues.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman and Corrections Director Mike Kenney hold news conference on sentencing miscalculations. [4:25]

Both Johanns and Fischer see GOP takeover of Senate (AUDIO)

Both of Nebraska’s United States Senators believe Republicans will take the majority in the Senate this fall and both want the Senate to revert back to its old rules.

Sen. Mike Johanns believes Republicans have a very good chance of taking over the Senate.

“Just simply, because the Senate’s not working under Harry Reid,” Johanns tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Johanns, a Republican who is retiring from public office, accuses the Democratic leader of shielding Democrats from tough votes.

“We’re not even doing the basic work that a United States Senate should be doing,” according to Johanns. “And it’s all because Harry Reid doesn’t want his members to have to take a hard vote on something.”

Politics always plays a role in the work of Congress, but it asserts itself most strongly during election years. Johanns accuses Reid of bringing Senate work to a near standstill primarily to prevent votes that could be used against Democrats this fall.

Many national political pundits agree with Johanns, giving Republicans a better than even chance to seize the majority in the Senate.

The Washington Post reports the decision by Sen. John Walsh, a Democrat, to not seek re-election virtually gives the state to Republicans. The Post also sees Republican pickups in South Dakota and West Virginia.

Other states in play are Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, and North Carolina, with Louisiana and Arkansas being the most fertile ground for Republicans.

Republicans need to pick up at least six seats to win the majority.

Sen. Deb Fischer, also a Republican, says the party has strong candidates in states leaning its way. She sees a Republican majority next year.

Fischer says if Republicans do indeed succeed they need to revert to the old rules of the Senate. Reid, as Majority Floor Leader, reduced the vote totals needed to take action from a threshold of 60 votes to a simple majority, effectively shutting the minority out.

“I think it’s very important that each and every member be able to debate, amend, and especially to vote, because we have to justify our votes to our constituents,” Fischer tells Nebraska Radio Network. “That’s what the Senate is supposed to be and that’s what we need to get back to.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

TransCanada disputes “new” study on Keystone XL pollution (AUDIO)

A new study contends Keystone XL will add much more carbon emission to the atmosphere than estimated by the State Department.

TransCanada contends the study isn’t new and doesn’t reflect reality.

The study by the Stockholm Environmental Institute indicates Keystone would increase greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 121 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, much higher than the 30 million tons estimated by the State Department.

Ben Gotschall with BOLD Nebraska says the study confirms the group’s fears.

“This is just another example of findings that correlate with what we’ve been saying all along which is that if we’re really serious about reducing our emissions and reducing carbon pollution, this pipeline probably isn’t the best way to go,” Gotschall tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WNAX.

The Stockholm study claims the State Department failed to consider what additional oil transported by Keystone XL might do to the price of oil. According to Stockholm, a drop of oil prices by $3 a barrel would spur consumption and, thus, create more pollution.

The Stockholm study was published by the Nature Climate Change journal this past weekend.

TransCanada sent an email to news media outlets, claiming the contention of the study wasn’t new, but first was published in November.

The email stated, “There really is nothing new here, other than another attempt by professional opponents to repeat old misinformation in the hope that they can delay Keystone XL – which is one of their stated tactics.”

TransCanada spokesman Davis Sheremata says the book on Keystone was written by the State Department.

“The State Department study is the most thorough one available. It is an invaluable reference,” Sheremata tells Nebraska Radio Network in a follow-up interview. “And I really suggest anyone who’s interested in learning more about the Keystone XL pipeline to go online and read it.”

To read the State Department environmental impact study, click here.

Jerry Oster, WNAX, contributed to this article.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]