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Bob Krist employs grassroots campaign to try to unseat Ricketts

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OMAHA -- From the patio of his house in northwest Omaha, Bob Krist can see the No. 1 tee box for The Players Club, with its rolling fairways, sculptured bunkers, natural waterways and wetlands.

Every once in a while a golf ball thumps into Krist's backyard, but he hasn't played the course much himself in the past year. He's been busy traveling the state on a grassroots campaign to become Nebraska's 41st governor, limiting Gov. Pete Ricketts to one term. 

At the same time, Krist is nearing the end of what will be 10 years in the Nebraska Legislature representing northwest Omaha's and northern Douglas County's District 10. With what he has learned through law-making and the inner workings of the state in that time, he says, he's ready for the administrative side of politics. 

"I feel like I've been doing homework for 10 years, and this is the final exam, right?" he said. "I'm smarter in a lot of ways because of my experience in the Legislature ... and I recognize that the state of the state is not where we want it to be."

One of his big messages is the need to truly reform the state tax system, property taxes in particular, he said. The questions he has fielded in Nebraska communities about property taxes have been "amazing," he said.

"Commodity prices are driving us to a point now where we have serious problems," he said. "But, you know, the real question (from people) is, 'How am I going to hand down this legacy, this farm, this ranch, to my kids? They don't want to stay here and take the risk that I'm taking in business.'"

The high amount of tax dollars they are sending to Lincoln is threatening their way of life, he said. He tells them the farmland assessment process is broken.

"I like to get wonky with them and talk to them about it, because I want them to understand I understand," he said. 

In some counties in Nebraska, the average tax increase over the past 10 years is as high as 147 percent, and individual homeowners and landowners have experienced even greater increases, he said. His opponent pledged to fix the property tax problem, but hasn't done so, Krist said.

The retired Air Force lieutenant colonel spent 21 years in the military, mostly as a pilot, from 1979 to 2000. During his time at Offutt Air Force Base, he flew the EC-135, Operation Looking Glass, an airborne command and control center, then reconnaissance aircraft. 

Outside of politics, Krist is vice president of operations, contracts manager and chief pilot of Dyna-Tech Aviation Services. Among its services, the company contracts to maintain and fly the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' jet.

He was inducted into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame in 2014.

Krist was appointed to the Nebraska Legislature by Gov. Dave Heineman in 2009 to serve out a term, and then elected in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. His term will end in January.

During the campaign, Krist has been at a pronounced disadvantage in the money he has been able to raise and spend. He collected $478,000, as of Oct. 2, and spent $455,000.

Ricketts, on the other hand, reported spending nearly $2.4 million, and had $892,000 in cash on hand as of Oct. 2.

Krist became involved in politics behind a driving force of service, whether to country, family or constituents, he said. The military gave him leadership skills, and he continued to develop skills in planning operations and logistics, he said. 

During his time in the Legislature he chaired the Executive Board, which supervises all legislative services and employees, and got a well-rounded experience serving on other committees including Judiciary, Education, Agriculture, General Affairs, Justice Reinvestment Oversight, Rules and Department of Correctional Services Special Investigative committees.

He introduced a variety of bills on juvenile justice, child welfare, prison reform, services for people with developmental disabilities and others. 

Krist and his wife of 38 years, Margaret Mary O’Connor, an artist, have two adult children, Justin and Courtney, and a grandson, Lucas, 10.  

Krist grew up in South Omaha, went to Creighton Prep High School, and the University of St. Thomas, a private Catholic liberal arts college in St. Paul, Minnesota. He went on to get a Master of Business Administration from Webster University in Missouri.

Krist was a registered Republican from at least the early 1980s until last year, when he left the party to challenge Ricketts as a third-party candidate. Then in early 2018, he registered as a Democrat. He's not going to change again, he said. 

"It was not important to me what letter was behind my name," he said. 

What mattered to him were his core values, he said, including being pro-life, from conception to natural death. He voted to repeal Nebraska's death penalty in 2015, but because of his military background he admits to wrestling with his beliefs about an exception for a death sentence in federal cases for treason against the United States. He knows about the serious consequences of treasonous activity, he said. 

During Krist's time in the Legislature, he has been independent and moderate in his support of many issues. During those years, both the Douglas County and Sarpy County Republican parties had threatened to censure him for votes on various issues, including prenatal care for undocumented women, support of DACA recipients and rules changes to allow an open vote on elections of committee chairs, which have been secret ballots for years.

"Every time I spoke up for people, the Republican Party tried to throw me out," he said.

Krist chose as his running mate Sen. Lynne Walz, a Realtor and former teacher from Fremont, who Krist describes as having a magnetic personality, and a strong influence on the campaign. She has proven to be an advocate for education, the special needs community, rural economic development and the need to expand mental health services in our schools.

To get to the Legislature, Walz defeated an incumbent and appointee of Ricketts, Krist said. If elected, he sees her as a partner, working in the state's communities and communicating with Nebraskans. 

Krist said he's frequently asked what would be different with him as governor. "I say, well, how much time do you have? Really, because it's going to be very different. Very different." 

As governor, he said, he would offer transparency and more dialogue with Nebraskans about his decisions and why he makes them. "The reasoning will be there and be public," he said. 

Krist has a sign in the basement of his home that came out of an aviation book and speaks to his love of flying, and to some extent his life philosophy. 

"Aviation in itself is not inherently dangerous," it says. "But to an even greater degree than the sea, it is terribly unforgiving of any carelessness, incapacity or neglect."

That, Krist said, means pay attention. 

[More pictures of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Krist.]

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.


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