September 4, 2015

Gov. Ricketts remains coy about role in death penalty campaign (AUDIO)

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts, the largest individual donor to the death penalty petition campaign, says he’s not sure what role he might play in a general election campaign.

Ricketts donated at least $200,000 to the apparently successful petition campaign to get the death penalty on the November ballot next year. New campaign finance disclosures will be made public later this month and Ricketts declines to say whether they will reveal additional donations.

Ricketts also is coy about whether he will donate to a general election campaign.

“It’s always certainly a potential,” Ricketts tells reporters when asked. “We don’t have any specific plans or nobody has talked to me about what the campaign after this would look like.”

Ricketts says talk of a campaign or of whether he would push for executions is a bit early.

“There’s a process in place here I think we need to follow,” Ricketts says. “And that process is verifying the signatures and then, once we know what that means, we can talk about what the next step after that will be.”

The petition campaign run by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty gathered nearly 167,000 signatures. They have been filed with the Secretary of State’s office, which sorted and organized them and then shipped them to the counties for verification. The process could take up to 40 days.

The petition campaign began shortly after the Unicameral overrode Gov. Ricketts’ vetoed LB 268 and repealed the death penalty.

The campaign needs approximately 57,000 signatures from registered voters to make the November 2016 ballot. If organizers gathered nearly 114,000 signatures from registered voters, the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty does not take effect.

Ricketts won’t say whether he’s confident it reached the second threshold.

“Well, I’m very confident that Nebraskans will have the ability to vote on this,” Ricketts says. “Whether it suspends the law or not will have to wait and see.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

Congressman Smith makes opposition to Iran deal unanimous (AUDIO)

Congressman Adrian Smith

Congressman Adrian Smith

Congressman Adrian Smith has come out against the Iran nuclear deal.

Smith took time before making public his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the United States along with Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China.

“My conclusion after studying the issue, after going to many meetings, and just interacting on the issue itself, I’ve concluded that I think it’s a bad deal,” Smith tells Nebraska Radio Network. “I think that no deal is better than a bad deal.”

President Barack Obama has been campaigning tirelessly for the deal, making calls to Democrats in Congress to support it. The president is working a two-front strategy. Obama wants to block a bill in Congress opposing the deal, but if he proves unsuccessful in that effort, the president wants to at least retain enough support to uphold a veto.

As part of his pitch, the president has claimed that the choice is between this deal or war.

“I think the president saying it’s either his deal or war is a very irresponsible statement,” Smith says. “I think it’s simplistic. I think it’s inaccurate”

Smith, a Republican, is the last of the Nebraska Congressional delegation to announce his decision on the nuclear deal with Iran, making the delegation’s opposition unanimous.

Earlier, Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, a Republican, and Brad Ashford, a Democrat, came out against the deal. Both of Nebraska’s United States Senators, Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse, oppose the deal. Both Fischer and Sasse are Republicans.

Congress is on its August recess. When members return to Washington, the Iran nuclear deal will be the top issue they face. Congress has until September 17th to vote on the measure.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Gov. Ricketts pleased with death penalty petition drive success (AUDIO)

Gov. Pete Ricketts stands with supporters of the death penalty at an earlier news conference.

Gov. Pete Ricketts stands with supporters of the death penalty at an earlier news conference.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is pleased that it appears Nebraska voters will decide the fate of the death penalty.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty gathered far more signatures than needed to force a vote on the death penalty next November. The Secretary of State’s office has begun the verification process.

“Well, I’m very pleased with the results of the petition gathering,” Gov. Ricketts tells Nebraska Radio Network. “I’m confident that Nebraskans will have the opportunity to vote on this issue. I think it’s something they deserve to have.”

Ricketts invested time and money in this campaign. The governor was the largest individual donor to the effort, giving at least $200,000 to the effort. Ricketts won’t say how much more, if any more, he has contributed, stating only that that would be disclosed in the coming campaign financing report.

Ricketts defends his contributions.

“Ultimately the citizens of Nebraska will make the decision about whether or not they want to retain the death penalty or not,” Ricketts says. “I’m merely facilitating that.”

The petition drive gathered nearly 167,000 signatures. Only about 114,000 need to be verified as those of registered voters to keep the repeal of capital punishment from going into effect.

Ricketts vetoed LB 268, but the Unicameral overrode his veto and repealed the death penalty.

Shortly after the override, a petition drive began to force the issue to a vote of the people in November of 2016.

Ricketts expects voters to overturn the legislature’s repeal.

“I believe the legislature was very out of touch with the way the overwhelming number of Nebraskans feel about this issue and I think this demonstrates that Nebraskans want to have the opportunity to be able to vote on it.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

People likely to decide ultimate fate of ultimate penalty (AUDIO)

Vivian Tuttle speaks to reporters before petitions are turned in to Sec. of State

Vivian Tuttle speaks to reporters before petitions are turned in to Secretarty of State

Organizers of a referendum petition drive to place capital punishment on the ballot next year express confidence Nebraska voters will retain the death penalty.

The group, Nebraskans for the Death Penalty, appears to have enough signatures to keep the death penalty repeal from taking effect and force a vote.

That likely is a considerable understatement.

With 166,692 signatures turned in to the Secretary of State’s office, the group would have to have tens of thousands thrown out as invalid to not reach the thresholds needed: approximately 57,000 to place it on the November 2016 ballot and around 114,000 to keep the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty from taking effect.

State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte argued unsuccessfully during the legislative session against LB 268. Groene at the time said state lawmakers were acting against the will of the people.

Groene now says the ultimate poll will be taken: a vote of the people.

“We have to decide in the state of Nebraska does a civilized society have as punishment for certain crimes, the death penalty? That decision will be made by the people,” Groene says.

Debate on capital punishment built slowly during the legislative session, inching closer and closer to an historic vote. After overcoming a filibuster, LB 268 easily passed the Unicameral. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the measure, but the Unicameral overrode his veto.

The referendum petition drive sponsored by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty began shortly thereafter, culminating in nearly 167,000 signatures.

The repeal of the death penalty was to take effect Sunday. The Attorney General issued a ruling that it would be blocked from taking effect, arguing that the signatures submitted are assumed to be valid during the verification process.

One of the volunteer circulators was Vivian Tuttle, whose daughter Evonne was shot to death in the Norfolk bank robbery in 2002.

“Wherever I was, there were people who said, ‘We want to help do this. We want this to be done. The people of Nebraska need to vote’ and, over and over, they kept saying, ‘Why don’t the people get to make this choice? Why should the legislature make this choice?’” Tuttle says.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Death penalty petition drive delivers 166K signatures to Sec. of State (AUDIO)

Don Stenberg answers a question standing with supporters and boxes of petitions

Don Stenberg answers a question standing with supporters and boxes of petitions

A referendum petition drive to have Nebraska voters decide whether the state retains the death penalty has turned in signatures to the Secretary of State.

“I’m sure you’re all interested in the numbers and, according to the staff count, we have 166,692 signatures,” State Treasurer Don Stenberg, honorary co-chair of Nebraskans for the Death Penalty said during a news conference held in the Capitol Rotunda.

“There’s a lot of significance to that number,” according to Stenberg. “First and most importantly, it means that Nebraska voters will be given the opportunity to decide this issue in November of 2016.”

Organizers of the petition drive need just shy of 60,000 valid signatures to place capital punishment on the November ballot next year. If approximately 114,000 prove valid, the petition drive succeeds in preventing the repeal of the death penalty from going into effect.

The Secretary of State will sort, date-stamp, and number the petitions which then will be returned to the counties for verification by local election authorities.

The Unicameral repealed the death penalty this past legislative session. Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed LB 268, but lawmakers overrode his veto.

State Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, a co-chair of the petition drive, is confident the signatures turned in will stand.

“And now the people of Nebraska will get the opportunity to vote on this issue in November of 2016,” McCoy stated. “I think that’s healthy for our way of government. I think it’s healthy for the state of Nebraska.”

Boxes of petitions stacked in the Capitol Rotunda

Boxes of petitions stacked in the Capitol Rotunda

The petition drive began on June 6th. Organizers turned signatures in a day before the deadline.

State Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte was one of nearly 600 people who circulated petitions throughout the state.

“And many of the comments we heard were the people need to vote on this, this is too important an issue to be decided by the give-and-take, the compromise of politics. This needs to be voted on by the people,” according to Groene. “And it will be. It will be, because of the efforts of the second House, the people of Nebraska”

A spokesman for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty said that about half of the circulators were paid; the remainder volunteered.

The repeal of the death penalty was to go into effect Sunday. The Attorney General’s office reports LB 268 will be suspended during the verification process, because the signatures are presumed to be valid.

AUDIO:  Nebraskans for the Death Penalty news conference opening. [12 min.]