Six Republicans running to succeed Gov. Dave Heineman touted their experience and avoided any real clashes, though one acknowledged the growing negative tilt of the campaign, during a debate in Norfolk.
The debate sponsored by the Nebraska Republican Party and moderated by the Norfolk Daily News brought all six together on the stage of the Johnny Carson Theater.
“If you like the job that I’ve done for you as your State Auditor these past eight years, you ain’t seen nothing yet, because I’m going to serve you so well as your next governor,” State Auditor Mike Foley told the audience during the debate; a statement typical of the candidates who highlighted their experience.
Attorney General Jon Bruning said his experience as a statewide officeholder has prepared him to step up to the governor’s office.
“As state senator and Attorney General, I’ve been tested. I am prepared to lead. As your next governor, I will deliver results. It will not be rhetoric,” Bruning said.
State Sen. Beau McCoy made a bold promise in his opening statement, that he would help create 10,000 new jobs and drastically cut property taxes, or else.
“I’ll travel 100,000 miles to countries around the world, opening up new markets and I’ll reduce property taxes by $100 million,” McCoy vowed. “If I don’t get it done, I won’t run for re-election.”
Slight challenges were made during a portion of the debate in which candidates were invited to question any of the others.
State Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege defended creation of the Water Sustainability Fund through legislation he sponsored in the Unicameral when questioned how he could assure the state the millions at a special commission’s disposal won’t be wasted.
“If it doesn’t contribute toward water sustainability it won’t be approved and I have every confidence that this new commission will do the job the way they’re supposed to and we as a state will reach water sustainability,” Carlson responded.
Former Ameritrade President, Pete Ricketts, defended his lack of experience in government, turning it into a strength, saying he would bring fresh ideas to the office.
“I’m the only candidate on the stage who has helped grow a small Nebraska company into a large one,” Ricketts stated. “And that is the fundamental issue we’re facing here in the state: how do we grow Nebraska?”
Absent from the debate was any clash between Ricketts and Bruning, who lately have exchanged charges about who has turned negative. Attack ads have hit the television airwaves, critical of Bruning. The Bruning campaign has accused Ricketts of secretly funding the ads, a charge Ricketts has denied.
The generally positive tone of the debate came in contrast to the negative turn the race has taken.
Tax consultant and lawyer Bryan Slone of Omaha used his opportunity to question an opponent to challenge the entire field.
“I think there’s a dignity that comes with running for governor. It’s a privilege to run for governor. And I think a little bit of what we’re doing, whether we know who’s funding it or not, is beneath the dignity of being governor,” Slone stated. “And so, my question to all of us is, can we just up our game a little bit?”
Susan Risinger and Paul Hughes, WJAG, contributed to this article.
AUDIO: Republican gubernatorial debate, Johnny Carson Theatre, Norfolk. [1 hour, 30 min.]