October 21, 2014

More and more Nebraskans voting early (AUDIO)

Brent Martin interviews Secretary of State John Gale/Photo courtesy of Sec. of State office

Brent Martin interviews Secretary of State John Gale/Photo courtesy of Sec. of State office

Early voting is underway in Nebraska and the state election authority says casting a ballot before Election Day is becoming more and more popular.

Secretary of State John Gale says ballots for the general election have been mailed to Nebraskans and early voting at election offices began this past weekend.

“Early voting’s off and running and we’re hoping for a really strong surge across the state in early voting. It’s become a very, very popular thing,” Gale tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview.

The May Primary Election drew 28% of the registered voters. Of those casting ballots in May, 18% voted early. Early voting surged in the 2012 presidential election in which 26% of the registered voters in Nebraska cast early ballots.

State law changed in 1998, doing away with the requirement that voters provide an excuse to vote absentee. Since then, the convenience of early voting has become attractive to many Nebraskans. Gale says the political parties also encourage voting early, sending out flyers to registered Republicans and Democrats, encouraging them to not wait to vote.

And though the popularity of early voting is growing, Gale says some still prefer to vote on Election Day.

“In Nebraska, we’re still very traditional. I’m still very traditional. I like to go to my precinct on Election Day,” Gale says. “And a large number of people still do consider it kind of a community, social event. They see friends there. There are precincts that serve pie and coffee after you vote.”

Those wishing to vote in the November election must mail in registrations by October 17th. Registrations must be postmarked by that day, according to the Secretary of State’s office. That also is the last day to register at Department of Motor Vehicle offices, county treasurer offices, state agencies, or departments. The last day in-person voter registrations will be accepted is Friday, October 24th. 

Nebraska residents needing to update voter registration can go to the Secretary of State’s website at sos.ne.gov. You can fine voter forms under the “Elections” tab, where you can also request an early ballot.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Hassebrook-Ricketts air differences in gubernatorial debate (AUDIO)

Gubernatorial candidates Chuck Hassebrook and Pete Ricketts disagreed sharply on immigration and Keystone XL during their debate sponsored by NET and the Nebraska Broadcasters Association.

Hassebrook, a Democrat, said Nebraska should be ashamed that it is the only state to deny driver’s licenses to the children of illegal immigrants, arguing American law holds people accountable only for their own actions.

“And to punish these young people by denying them a driver’s license violates the fundamental, core principle of American law,” Hassebrook asserted during the debate held in the NET studios in Lincoln.

Republican Pete Ricketts disagreed.

“My opponent believes in giving taxpayer benefits to illegal immigrants,” Ricketts stated. “I don’t believe it’s fair or right. It’s certainly not fair to the taxpayers who are paying those taxes that expect them to go to people who are here legally.”

The two answered a number of questions posed by a panel of three reporters during the hour-long debate Thursday night.

Disagreement surfaced on how the two would handle immigration issues and whether to support the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Hassebrook argued that giving TransCanada a presidential permit to build Keystone XL would lead to increased development of crude oil from the oil sands of western Canada, which he said would worsen climate change.

“That’s one of the reasons I’ve opposed developing the Keystone pipeline, because I believe we have a responsibility, a moral responsibility, to our children and grandchildren to step up and address this issue and not just live for today and pass the buck and the cost on to our children and grandchildren,” Hassebrook stated.

Ricketts countered that Keystone XL would bring jobs to the state, tax revenue to Nebraska counties, and increase national energy security.

“This is one of those clear distinction between myself and my opponent. He’s against the pipeline. I’m for it. I’m for it, because it’s going to be good for Nebraska,” Ricketts said.

Both candidates dismissed attempts to smear the other through association.

Ricketts distanced himself from the Platte Institute’s support of a major change in the state tax system after Hassebrook suggested that he supported the stance, because he provides financial backing to the Platte Institute.

Hassebrook denied he advocated restricting the export of genetically-engineered crops after Ricketts referred to a paper he co-authored with an environmental group. Hassebrook said he didn’t approve having his name on that report.

Hassebrook said he would be an engaged governor who took responsibility for state government.

Ricketts said he would bring the private-sector experience he received from his family work in growing Ameritrade to state government.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Domina and Sasse disagree on fate of Obamacare (AUDIO)

Democrat Dave Domina

Democrat Dave Domina

Democrat Dave Domina says flatly the federal health insurance law is here to stay. Republican Ben Sasse says just as earnestly that it must go.

The two primary candidates for United States Senate addressed the topic among others during a candidate forum in front of the Independent Insurance Agents of Nebraska, gathered in Lincoln.

Domina contends Sasse cannot deliver on his promise to repeal the law.

“The Affordable Care Act is not going away. It’s not going to be repealed. It has not caused the decline and fall of the United States of America as was foretold. It has not ruined life in the United States,” Domina tells the group. “It does need to be fixed.”

Domina claims Congress could move to fix the most glaring problems of the law, problems that he says began with an insurance policy mandate.

“Insurance companies should not have been permitted to drop policies, substitute new ones and re-price; drop, substitute, and re-price,” according to Domina. “That produced almost all of the complaints we heard that weren’t related to the horrific computer roll out at the time that the statute became effective.”

Republican Ben Sasse

Republican Ben Sasse

Sasse insists the law cannot be fixed and must be repealed.

“We need to do real health care reform and Obamacare isn’t it. Obamacare is not going to work, but we ended up with Obamacare partly because my party has done such a poor job of explaining what we’re for,” according to Sasse.

Sasse calls Obamacare a Washington-centric solution.

“It’s a monstrosity and it’s going to cause lower quality, higher cost care and it’s not going to solve the un-insurance problem,” Sasse says.

While acknowledging the number of uninsured Americans poses a big problem, Sasse says advocates of the health care law have exaggerated the percentage of Americans uninsured due to pre-existing conditions. Sasse insists there are easier solutions to address that problem.

The forum allowed for no give-and-take between the candidates, who addressed the federal health insurance law, Social Security, and corporate taxes. Domina spoke first, followed by Sasse.

AUDIO: Democrat Dave Domina addresses the Independent Insurance Agents of Nebraska. [16:30]

AUDIO: Republican Ben Sasse addresses the Independent Insurance Agents of Nebraska. [16:25]

Sec. of State Gale rejects claim politics motivated Foley decision (AUDIO)

Secretary of State John Gale denies politics played any role in his decision to remove Lavon Heidemann’s name from the Republican gubernatorial ticket in favor of Mike Foley after the deadline for making changes to the ballot had passed.

Gale, a Republican, says he didn’t allow Republican gubernatorial candidate Pete Ricketts to replace Lavon Heidemann with Mike Foley to help the Republican ticket.

“I know people have accused me of being illegal and unlawful and arbitrary and capricious and lots of other language; cronyism, hyper-partisanship,” Gale tells Nebraska Radio Network in an interview. “Politics had nothing to do with it.”

Democrats accused Gale of playing politics, arguing that the move helped the Republican ticket by removing Heidemann and replacing him with Foley on the ballot.

Heidemann stepped down as lieutenant governor and withdrew as Ricketts’ running mate when his sister received a protection order against him following a heated family dispute. Heidemann’s action came after the September first deadline to request changes to the November ballot.

Ricketts replaced Heidemann as his running mate with Foley, the state auditor, and filed a request with Gale to officially change the name on the ballot, a request that came to Gale’s office at the Capitol in Lincoln while he was on the road in Alliance.

Gale says he first had to decide whether to accept the request for a ballot change. Then, he reviewed legal documents sent from his staff and the Ricketts campaign and reflected on the situation before reaching his conclusion.

Gale calls it a legal, pragmatic decision reached not for the benefit of the candidate, but to eliminate voter confusion; a decision he says he would have made if requested by Democrat Chuck Hassebrook.

“But it had nothing to do with being a Republican or Democrat. It simply had to do with what was right for the citizens of Nebraska who are going to vote in this election,” according to Gale.

Libertarian Party candidate for governor, Mark Elworth, Jr., filed a lawsuit claiming Gale had violated state law and that Heidemann’s name should remain on the ballot.

Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret dismissed the lawsuit a day after holding a hearing on it, stating she could not order Gale to reverse his decision, because state statute provided Gale no clear legal duty to refuse the request.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]

Congressman Smith reacts to Holder resignation

Nebraska Congressman Adrian Smith says that he is somewhat surprised by Attorney General Eric Holder’s announcement  that he is stepping down from the position. Smith made his comments to Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN Radio in Lincoln after Holder’s announcement on Thursday.

“In the greater context, I’m not surprised given the controversies that have developed under his watch,” Smith says. “I think there are unresolved issues that I think he may prefer not to deal with.”

Congressman Smith includes among those issues Benghazi and the IRS situation.

“There seems to be little care at the FBI what took place in the targeting of conservatives,” Smith notes. “It is indisputable that conservative groups were targeted by the IRS.”

Congressman Smith expects his Republican colleagues on the Senate side to conduct a very rigorous confirmation of the new Attorney General nominee. Holder said Thursday he will continue to serve until a replacement is selected and confirmed.

Holder was the fourth-longest serving attorney general in American history.