November 30, 2015

Campaign to uphold death penalty repeal begins to form (AUDIO)

Petition_signatureA campaign to uphold repeal of the death penalty takes shape even as certification by the Secretary of State confirms voters will decide the fate of capital punishment in Nebraska.

State lawmakers overcame a filibuster and a veto to repeal the death penalty.

Now, the issue goes directly to the voters of Nebraska.

A campaign to uphold the Unicameral’s action is forming.

Spokesman Dan Parsons with Nebraskans for Public Safety says it will be stocked with plenty of conservative Republicans.

“As we saw in the legislature, if only Democrats and liberals were in favor of repealing the death penalty, it wouldn’t have been repealed,” Parsons tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

Secretary of State John Gale announced Friday that county election authorities had completed their verification of the nearly 169,000 petition signatures submitted by Nebraskans for the Death Penalty. Enough signatures were verified to place the issue on the November 2016 ballot as well as keep repeal of the death penalty (LB 268) from taking effect.

The petition drive needed slightly less than 57,000 signatures to earn a place on the ballot. It needed to gather at least 113,883 valid signatures to keep the repeal from taking effect. More than 143,000 signatures were verified.

More than five percent of registered voters from 85 of the 93 counties were verified. The state constitution requires at least five percent from 38 counties to qualify for the ballot.

Parsons expects many to view the vote in Nebraska as a bellwether for the country.

“Do we as a nation continue to have a system that a lot of people are uncomfortable with and, frankly, a lot of people understand that it isn’t working; not only in Nebraska, but across the country?” Parsons asks.

Parsons acknowledges money will be flowing into Nebraska from across the country to fund both sides of this campaign.

For more on elections, click here for the Secretary of State’s website.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:55]

Voters might decide casino gambling at Nebraska racetracks (AUDIO)

Supporters of expanded gambling in Nebraska will circulate petitions to place the issue on the November ballot next year.

More than $250,000 has been raised by the group Keep the Money in Nebraska to circulate petitions, asking that voters decide whether casino gambling should be allowed at the race track.

Former State Senator Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha believes this can succeed at the ballot where a similar proposal failed in 2004.

“I think people will look at it and say, look, we need to provide some relief for our taxes,” Lautenbaugh tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “Our roads need to be maintained. We want quality education. This is a way to fund it that we’re currently just giving away to the other states.”

Lautenbaugh says the petition comes in three pieces. One petition seeks to change the state constitution to allow casinos at Nebraska licensed racetracks:  Horseman’s Park in Omaha, Lincoln Race Course, Fonner Park in Grand Island, Columbus Exposition and Racing, and Fairplay Park in Hastings. The other two make changes to state law regarding taxing revenue generated and regulating the industry. The petitions have been separated to ensure the petition drive does not violate state law that limits referendums to one issue.

Lautenbaugh says state government would reap plenty from the proposed tax of 20% on gambling revenue.

“We believe that could bring in about $120 million annually,” according to Lautenbaugh. “That could go for property tax relief, roads, education, you name it. So, we are going to make that case.”

Keep the Money in Nebraska would need to gather just short of 114,000 signatures to place the issue on the ballot in November of next year. Signatures will be due July 7th.

The petition drive is being funded mostly by Ho-Chunk Inc., the economic development arm of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:55]

NE Education Association to NEA: hold off on endorsing Hillary

The Nebraska State Education Association wants its national affiliate to wait before endorsing a Democrat in the presidential primary.

In a news release issued by NSEA, it states many state education association leaders have protested a move by the National Education Association’s Fund for Children and Education PAC to seek a vote to recommend Hillary Clinton for the presidential primary.

“The NSEA Board of Directors discussed this recommendation and the consensus is that it is too early to recommend a candidate in the presidential primary,” said Nancy Fulton, NSEA president said in a written statement released by NSEA. “The belief is that all candidates should be included in the recommendation process and that a recommendation this early is the process is premature.”

Three candidates chose to participate in the NEA recommendation process: Hillary Clinton, Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. All had high rankings on the NEA legislative scorecard.

No Republican candidates have chosen to participate in the NEA recommendation process.

The American Federation of Teachers has endorsed Clinton.

Under the NEA process, the NEA PAC Council makes a recommendation. An official endorsement requires a vote by the full NEA Board of Directors.


Gov. Ricketts denies being a sponsor of the death penalty petition drive

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts denies he was a sponsor of the referendum petition campaign that seems to have placed the death penalty on the ballot.

Ricketts dismisses suggestions by the group, Nebraskans for Public Safety, that the nearly 167,000 signatures gathered should be thrown out, because organizers didn’t list the governor as a sponsor.

“No, I’m not a sponsor of this referendum drive. Certainly, I’ve been an advocate. I believe very strongly that Nebraska ought to retain the death penalty,” Ricketts tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln, on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN. “It’s certainly one of the ways that we help protect the people who protect us, our law enforcement officers and, in particular, our Corrections officers.”

Nebraskans for the Death Penalty spent more than $900,000 on its apparently successful petition drive. Though the Secretary of State has yet to officially certify the signatures gathered, it appears the drive gathered enough signatures to not only put capital punishment on the November 2016 ballot, but also to block the legislature’s repeal of the death penalty from taking effect.

Nebraskans for Public Safety campaigned against the petition drive, spending more than $450,000 on its “Decline to Sign” campaign. The group has filed two lawsuits since Nebraskans for the Death Penalty turned in its signatures. One challenges the ballot language written by the Attorney General. The other claims the petition drive should be invalidated, because organizers didn’t list Gov. Ricketts as a sponsor.

Ricketts used some of his wealth from TD Ameritrade, which his family owns, to donate $200,000 to help finance the petition drive.

“And, while I’ve been a strong advocate and certainly donated to it, that does not make me a sponsor,” Ricketts says. “What you see here is a special interest group who proclaims that they want to protect democracy actually trying to rob Nebraskans of their ability to vote on this important issue.”

Ricketts looks forward to the vote next year.

“I believe Nebraskans should vote on it,” Ricketts says. “I believe when they vote on it, you will see that Nebraskans will want to retain capital punishment, because the vast majority of Nebraskans I talk to believe as I do that it’s an important tool for public safety. And that’s what I would like to see happen here and I’m just surprised some of these special interest groups are trying to stop Nebraskans from voting on it.”

Hillary Clinton comes out against Keystone XL during Iowa campaign stop

Democrat Hillary Clinton, speaking in Des Moines/Photo by Dar Danielson, Radio Iowa

Democrat Hillary Clinton, speaking in Des Moines/Photo by Dar Danielson, Radio Iowa

Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton has come out against the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Clinton, during a campaign stop in Iowa, called Keystone XL a distraction from the work of battling climate change.

Clinton gave her opinion in response to a question from a Drake University student after her forum on the cost of prescription drugs, stating she had hesitated to give an opinion while TransCanada’s permit request remained pending before the Obama Administration.

“So I thought this would be decided by now, and therefore I could tell you whether I agreed or disagreed,” Clinton said. “I feel now I’ve got a responsibility to you and other voters who asked me about this.”

Clinton said Keystone XL cannot be evaluated in isolation.

“It is imperative that we look at the Keystone Pipeline as what I believe it is — a distraction from the important work that we have to do to combat climate change — and unfortunately from my perspective, one that interferes with our ability to move forward to deal with all the other issues. Therefore I oppose it,” Clinton stated.

Clinton once had a direct hand in evaluating the oil pipeline that would cut through Nebraska to carry crude extracted from the oil sands of western Canada to oil refineries along the Gulf of Mexico in Texas. The TransCanada permit request, needed because the proposed pipeline crosses the Canadian border, was pending before the State Department during her tenure as Secretary of State.

It remains pending.

Clinton’s successor, Secretary of State John Kerry, will make a recommendation to President Barack Obama, who has the final say on TransCanada’s request.

Clinton said that if elected president, she would reject the request from TransCanada.

“I don’t think it is in the best interest of what we need to do to combat climate change,” according to Clinton. “I will be rolling out in a few days my plan for a North American approach to fighting climate change and clean energy.”

Clinton made the remarks during a campaign stop at the Moulten Elementary School gym in Des Moines Tuesday.

Dar Danielson, Radio Iowa, contributed to this report.