March 1, 2015

Debate begins on winner-take-all Electoral College bill (AUDIO)

Sen. Beau McCoy (left) confers with Sen. John Murante during floor debate. Sen. Ernie Chambers is in the foreground.

Sen. Beau McCoy (left) confers with Sen. John Murante during floor debate. Sen. Ernie Chambers is in the foreground, standing.

A very partisan debate is underway among the officially non-partisan state senators as the Unicameral discusses whether Nebraska should again be a winner-take-all state in the presidential elections.

At present, only Nebraska and Maine distribute presidential electors to the Electoral College proportionately.

Maine has had the system since 1969. Nebraska adopted it in 1991.

LB 10, sponsored by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, would return Nebraska to the winner-take-all system.

McCoy told colleagues during legislative floor debate close presidential races seem to be the wave of the future.

“And if so, wouldn’t it be nice to have presidential campaigns campaign in North Platte, campaign in Scottsbluff; not just in Omaha?” McCoy asked

Yet, Sen. Sue Crawford of Bellevue countered McCoy’s bill would do just the opposite. Crawford pointed to 2008, the only presidential election in which the system came into play. While Republican John McCain showed little interest in Nebraska, Democrat Barack Obama sent campaign workers to the Second Congressional District and won an electoral vote from Nebraska even though McCain easily won the state.

Crawford argued the proportional system provides Nebraska with a potentially hot property for presidential candidates.

“I don’t see any possible state interest in giving that advantage away,” Crawford said.

Democrats charge Republicans are pushing the bill as part of a national agenda. Republicans say the current system doesn’t reflect the will of Nebraska voters.

Debate is expected to last most of this week as opponents stage a filibuster against the bill.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin report [:45]

Sexual assault charge filed in Nebraska against Iowa politician dropped

Sexual assault charges filed in Nebraska against an Iowa politician have been dropped.

The charges against 69-year-old Donald Brantz of Mineola, Iowa were originally filed following an incident in Bellevue, Nebraska on October 10, 2014.

Brantz was accused of inappropriately touching a woman and allegedly threatened to choke her. Brantz maintained he was innocent of those charges.

Brantz, who was a candidate for Iowa’s 23rd District Senate Seat vacated by Joni Ernst, was charged back in October with sexual assault in the third-degree, third-degree assault, disturbing the peace and interference with a public utility company.

Sarpy County District Court Judge Robert C. Wester dismissed all but the disturbing the peace charge against Brantz, who pled no contest to that charge and will be sentenced on April 3.

By Chuck Morris

Sec. of State Gale favors voter photo ID and winner-take-all Electoral College

Secretary of State John Gale

Secretary of State John Gale

Secretary of State John Gale backs legislation working its way through the Unicameral to require Nebraska voters to display photo identification to cast a ballot and to end the state practice of proportional distribution of its Electoral College votes.

Gale says other states have had success implementing the photo identification requirement.

“The states that have photo ID, for the most part, have found that it’s worked pretty smoothly,” Gale tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “And that’s one good reason why Nebraska has waited awhile to see how this issue has worked out. There are still some states that are in court and some voter ID systems have been set aside by courts, because states have made it too complicated to get a non-driver ID.”

Gale says the legislature must insure that anyone without photo identification will be given a photo ID without cost. He adds the legislature must factor-in the cost of educating the public about any change in voting requirements.

Gale says it is time for Nebraska to revert back to the winner-take-all format for distributing its Electoral College votes.

Nebraska adopted proportional distribution in 1991. Gale says other states failed to follow, with Maine being the only other states to distribute its Electoral College votes proportionally.

It has only come into play once. In 2008, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won an electoral vote from the Second Congressional District even though he lost the state to Republican John McCain.

Gale says that under certain circumstances that could have had a big impact on the presidential election.

“It would not have been the voice of Nebraska and that is what the U.S. Constitution says, it’s up to the voice of Nebraska as to how to distribute those electoral votes,” according to Gale. “And I think we have to reflect the voice of Nebraska.”

Sen. Fischer moves into leadership position in Washington

Sen. Deb Fischer/Photo courtesy of the Senator's office

Sen. Deb Fischer/Photo courtesy of the Senator’s office

Sen. Deb Fischer says she wants to set a different tone as chairwoman of a subcommittee.

Fischer chairs the Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security Subcommittee, part of the Commerce, Senate, and Transportation Committee.

Fischer says she wants her sub-committee to listen.

“You have these committee hearings and it’s the Senators who give these long, long statements. It’s sometimes Senators who really grill witnesses,” Fischer tells Nebraska reporters. “I have always found committee hearings to be the most beneficial to me when I can get information from people.”

Fischer says she wants her subcommittee to engage in respectful dialogue both with those who appear before it and among the Senators themselves. She likens it to the approach she took in the Unicameral in which she chaired the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee.

Fischer received the chairmanship after Republicans took control of the majority in the Senate.

Fischer complained during her first two years in Washington that the Democratic leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, blocked legislation from coming to the floor and limited debate. She claimed he did it for political reasons.

“You know, you all heard me say I want a Senate that’s working, that’s doing its job, that is a legislature that is following the legislative process,” Fischer says. “It’s exciting to be able to bring up amendments, and (have) discussion, debate them, and to vote on them. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. We’re here to do the people’s business and address the big issues before us.”

Fischer, who has been in the United States Senate for two years, has a greater voice in what big issues the Senate tackles. The new Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has chosen Fischer to be on his leadership team. Fischer will be among a handful of Republicans expected to provide counsel to McConnell.

“It’s an honor to be chosen, being from Nebraska, being able to have Nebraska at the table to express the views of my constituents and hopefully help guide the direction that the Senate will go.”


Ashford finds Congress exciting, challenging (AUDIO)

Brad Ashford on election night

Brad Ashford on election night

Congressman Brad Ashford says it is an incredible honor to serve the Second Congressional District in Washington and his election to Congress is a dream come true.

Ashford is getting settled in his new role as a member of Congress in the nation’s Capital.

“It’s exciting. It’s challenging. It’s something I can really get my arms around I believe and I’m excited to be there, certainly,” Ashford tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Ashford, a Democrat, won election to Congress in November, defeating long-time Republican incumbent Lee Terry.

Ashford served in the Unicameral as a state senator and now moves to the federal legislative branch.

He has scored two important appointments, especially for a freshman. Ashford has been named to the House Armed Services Committee and the House Agriculture Committee.

Armed Services has a direct impact on the Omaha area. Offutt Air Force Base, home to the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM), is next door to the Second Congressional District and has a wide-ranging impact on the Omaha metropolitan economy as well as the state economy as a whole.

Nebraska, of course, is an agricultural state, but Ashford points out Omaha is home to a number of large agri-businesses. And while many might think a seat on the House Agriculture Committee might be more fitting for the Third Congressional District, Ashford says it is vitally important to Omaha, because the committee regulates the trading of commodities and determines the budget for the food stamp program.

Ashford says he’s ready to tackle the issues which will come before both committees.

“Issues that affect this district and the country as a whole and I’m glad Armed Service and Ag give me that opportunity to work on these issues.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]