August 30, 2015

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The Unicameral repealed the death penalty this past legislative session.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.]

Death penalty petition drive heads into final week (AUDIO)

Voting BoothsA deadline fast approaches and those behind the effort to have Nebraska voters decide the fate of the death penalty are cautiously optimistic.

A referendum petition effort must deliver signatures to the Secretary of State by Thursday.

“Well, we launched this campaign back in the first week of June and from the outset we said that we were cautiously optimistic or felt pretty good based upon the support of Nebraskans for the death penalty that we would have some success in gathering signatures,” Chris Peterson, spokesman for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Peterson says the petition drive has been well received throughout the state; finding its strongest support in northeast Nebraska where support for capital punishment remains strong in wake of the Norfolk bank robbery shootings of more than a decade ago.

Peterson bases his cautious optimism on public opinion polling which indicates perhaps as many as 65% of Nebraska voters support the death penalty.

The drive aims at two thresholds. If approximately 57,000 signatures of registered Nebraska voters sign the petitions the death penalty will be on the November 2016 ballot. The signatures must be 5% of the registered voters from 38 counties. If between 114,000 and 115,000 are turned in, the drive can stop the Unicameral’s repeal of the death penalty from taking effect.

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty has declined to reveal any numbers.

The ACLU of Nebraska has been the biggest opponent of the drive, launching a counter-campaign urging Nebraskans to “Decline to Sign” the petition under the umbrella of Nebraskans for Public Safety.

ACLU Nebraska officials recently requested the federal prosecutor investigate the state’s effort to obtain lethal injection drugs. Nebraska ACLU Legal Director Amy Miller claims documents obtained through an open records request indicate federal authorities informed state officials that federal law prohibits the importing of the drugs.

Peterson doesn’t believe that will have an impact on the petition drive.

“Boy, I really don’t think that the ACLU’s last-ditch effort here in the waning days of a petition drive to drum up that issue is going to have any impact on our efforts,” according to Peterson.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [1 min.]

Just sworn in, Sen. Fox already thinking about election (AUDIO)

Sen. Nicole Fox

Sen. Nicole Fox

A brand new state senator says she understands it will take work to hold on to the seat to which she has just been appointed.

Sen. Nicole Fox of Omaha, a dietician at Nebraska Medicine, has been appointed to the District 7 seat by Gov. Pete Ricketts.

Fox, a Republican, says she plans to run to retain the seat vacated by Democrat Jeremy Nordquist.

“To sell myself to the district, I’m going to highlight my work background and what I do on a daily basis. I work with a wide variety of people at Nebraska Medicine,” Fox tells reporters during a news conference.

Fox is a registered dietician and medical nutrition instructor who works at Nebraska Medicine with cancer patients on their nutritional needs.

Fox faces an uphill battle to keep the seat.

Though the Unicameral is officially nonpartisan, party affiliation matters in certain districts. District 7 in southeastern Douglas County in Omaha has roughly twice as many registered Democrats as Republicans.

Sen. Nordquist stepped down at the end of this legislative session to become the chief of staff for Congressman Brad Ashford, a Democrat who worked with Nordquist before winning the Second Congressional seat in Omaha.

Fox has been politically active for the Nebraska Republican Party in Douglass County, though she had never held elective office until this appointment. She dismisses suggestions her party label could be a liability in the 2016 election.

Gov. Ricketts expects the district to embrace his appointee.

“So, I think Nicole brings just a tremendous amount to the table here and as she walks the district and talks to the residents and the businesses, they’re going to find they’ve got somebody who is going to a great advocate for the people of District 7.”

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Gov. Ricketts chooses health professional as newest state senator (AUDIO)

Gov. Pete Ricketts introduces Nicole Fox as the new senator for District 7.

Gov. Pete Ricketts introduces Nicole Fox as the new senator for District 7.

Gov. Pete Ricketts has appointed a political newcomer to replace veteran state Sen. Jeremy Nordquist of Omaha.

Nicole Fox will fill the vacancy left when Nordquist resigned to become Chief of Staff for Congressman Brad Ashford.

“One of things that has impressed me about Nicole is that she’s someone who gets into the policy of health care,” Ricketts told reporters during a news conference in his Capitol office.

Fox, a registered dietician and medical nutrition instructor, works with cancer patients on their nutritional needs at Nebraska Medicine.

“I applied for this position, because I have long been interested in public service,” Fox stated during the news conference. “As part of my profession, I have worked with legislative and public policy committees to advocate for health care legislation, also for medical nutrition therapy. I have a strong belief in the need to make sure that we are providing access to health care.”

That background and interest in public policy made Fox an attractive candidate, according to Ricketts.

“One of the things that I will say impressed me about Nicole is that she’s kind of a policy wonk. And I’m kind of a policy wonk. So, I kind of like that,” Ricketts said. “I am very, very confident that she will be able to bring a fresh perspective on how we deal with health care here in the state. She brings a fresh perspective in general to the Unicameral as she has not held elective office before.”

Fox did add that her interests extend beyond health care.

“Another area of interest that I have is to be able to foster the desire for businesses, families, individuals to come to this state, because Nebraska is a great state,” Fox said.

Fox, who is 40, will be sworn in by Secretary of State John Gale in a private ceremony.

Fox replaces Nordquist, a leading Democrat in the official nonpartisan Unicameral. Fox is a Republican and says she plans to run in 2016 to retain the District 7 seat of southeastern Douglas County in Omaha.

AUDIO:  Gov. Pete Ricketts introduces Nicole Fox as the new senator from District 7. [4:20]

Final weeks of death penalty petition effort

Petition circulators for Nebraskans for the Death Penalty continue to collect signatures from voters in their effort to get the issue on the November 2016 ballot. Supporter Teri Roberts was in Waterloo collecting signatures Tuesday evening. Roberts is the mother of Omaha murder victim Andrea Kruger.

Roberts says, “I had always been for the death penalty but once we lost her this issue came to the forefront for us.”

Roberts is optimistic the required signatures will be gathered before the August 27th deadline. Nebraskans for the Death Penalty are required to turn in 57,000 valid signatures from at least 40% of the state’s 93 counties in order for it to appear on the ballot. Part two of the process requires 114,000 signatures. If those are collected the death penalty repeal would be suspended until the outcome of the election.