The State Fair and Labor Day 2017 are history. The Cornhuskers have returned to the football field and a number of folks have cranked up the volume on political rhetoric. It must be Fall.
Time was when Labor Day marked the official start of campaigning for next year’s elections. But that changed this year with early announcements from Governor Pete Ricketts that he was going to seek the Republican Party nomination for another term.
Almost as important were the un-announcements of former Governor Dave Heineman and former Legislative Speaker Mike Flood, both of who confirmed they would not challenge Ricketts for the party nod.
At the same time, Republican Senator Bob Krist of Omaha said he would leave the Republican Party to mount an Independent bid for governor. A risky move, but he avoids a head-to-head with Ricketts in the primary while facing the uphill odds of winning independent support. He has been seen as an independent Republican during his 10 years (one appointment, two terms) in the state Legislature, a seat he loses because of term limits.
Wendy DeBoer, a 43-year-old former university educator and attorney, is running for Krist’s legislative seat. A Democrat, she is the first announced candidate for the District 10 seat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature. She worked in Kansas City as an attorney and taught philosophy and religious studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for several years.
Speaking of Democrats, Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, the daughter of former Democratic Rep. John Cavanaugh, has announced she’ll be a candidate for the Legislature’s 6th District seat now held by Republican Joni Craighead who was first elected in 2014. John Cavanaugh served in Congress from 1977 to 1980 following four years as a state senator. The Cavanaugh family has been prominently involved in Democratic politics in Omaha for three generations.
Speaking of Congress, state Senator John McCollister, the son of former Republican Congressman John Y. McCollister, has announced his re-election campaign. The senator is an independent-minded Republican who has carved out a moderate record in the nonpartisan Legislature. That often placed him at odds with Ricketts who became heavily involved in last year’s election by giving certain candidates money to run against Republicans who didn’t vote his way.
McCollister knows that his re-election bid will be one of the most widely watched legislative races for that very reason. The governor’s 2016 strategy of throwing money at challengers resulted in the ouster of three incumbent senators, fellow Republicans who opposed him on key legislative issues.
McCollister voted to override gubernatorial vetoes of legislation to repeal the death penalty, increase the state gas tax and allow young immigrants who have legal presence in the United States as so-called DACA youths to acquire Nebraska driver's licenses and earn professional and commercial licenses to work in the state.
There is no indication if Ricketts will repeat his strategy in the next election, but he has money and knows how to use it – even buying the best Legislature he can afford. I’ve said this before, it’s his money and it’s not illegal to do what he did. But it does bring a sleaze factor to what was once a very nonpartisan Legislature.
If there was a misstep in the recently completed legislative session, McCollister did not provide a vote to attempt to free from filibuster the big package of income tax cuts and property tax reductions that the governor championed.
Another independent Republican, Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, has announced his candidacy for a second term representing the 36th District. He did cast a vote to attempt to free the governor’s tax package this year. But, the
Gothenburg banker did oppose Ricketts in 2016 on veto showdown votes over the death penalty, the gas tax, DACA driver's licenses and DACA professional and commercial licenses.
Ah yes, it’s Fall. You can hear the crisp political palaver and see the money falling like leaves from the trees. Count the seasons: football, Thanksgiving, Christmas and the 2018 Legislature.
J.L. Schmidt is the Statehouse Correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered independent for 18 years.