Primary to narrow field of legislative candidates
May 10th, 2012
Lincoln, NE – Elections are being held for 26 of the 49 seats in the Nebraska Legislature this year, and the May 15th primary is the first step in narrowing the field of candidates. The race in Lincoln’s 29th District provides a good example of a competitive primary that will narrow the field for November.
Not all races are being contested. In four districts, there’s only one candidate. In another 12, there are only two. In this state’s nonpartisan legislative system, the top two vote-getters in the primary advance to the general election, regardless of party, so no one will be eliminated in two-candidate races.
That still leaves 10 races with three or more hopefuls. In the 29th District, five candidates are vying to represent a area that stretches through south central Lincoln, encompassing everything from modest bungalows to brand-new suburban developments. Unlike some races that are lopsided in terms of financing and support, in District 29, campaign reports show the candidates fairly evenly matched. So the results of the primary here may be a good indicator of the kind of issues voters will be concerned about in the general election this November.
One of the candidates is Susan Scott. She ran four years ago and got 43 percent of the vote against Sen. Tony Fulton, who’s being forced out this year by term limits.
Over a wide-ranging career, Scott has worked in social services, as a management training consultant and as executive director of the YWCA. She’s now a substitute teacher. She includes that experience as part of her pitch to voters.
“I think a lot of the things that the Legislature is really responsible for are things that I’ve actually had some experience in,” Scott said. “To me, it has to do with assuring that the most vulnerable people are taken care of that’s really important to me. And we have to, at the same time, generate enough income to be able to provide those service.”
Scott described herself as socially liberal but fiscally conservative. She opposes the death penalty, supports tax incentives to recruit new businesses but opposes repeal of the inheritance tax, and supports community colleges and the DREAM Act, which gives in-state tuition to children of illegal immigrants. She’s a registered Democrat, but in nonpartisan legislative races, that information will not appear on the ballot.
Another candidate in the race is Larry Zimmerman. He’s a member of the Lower Platte South Natural Resources District and a former executive with the Nebraska Farm Bureau. Before that was a high school biology teacher and department chair in Missouri. Zimmerman wants to lower corporate taxes and make sure tax incentive programs are working.
Zimmerman said he’s proud to be a conservative Republican, but wants to work with people of varying viewpoints.
“You have to be a coalition builder. You can’t have it my way or the highway,’” he said. “That doesn’t mean that I’m going to change my vote if it doesn’t correspond to my morals or ethics or it completely does away with the idea that I’m trying to promote. But if I can get 60 percent of what I want, and I have to change to get something else in there that’s not going to be detrimental to the process, you bet.”
Other candidates make similar points about avoiding the kind of partisanship that has paralyzed Washington. Among them is Don Mayhew, a database administrator and member of the Lincoln school board. Mayhew’s a registered Democrat, but downplayed the significance of party registration.
“As the country has been becoming more and more polarized, I think that there are a lot of people like myself in the middle who just kind of feel left out,” he said. “Regardless of party registration, I think that there are a lot of people out there who just want their government to work well and are looking for leadership that knows how to get things done.” br>
Mayhew said he decided to run after Lincoln lost state school aid last year despite growing by 900 students. He said the aid formula needs to be made more fair, and more resources need to be devoted to schools. To do that, he wants to study other states’ experiences with expanded gambling, to see if the benefits outweigh the costs.
Financial challenges are also important to Mike Smith, another District 29 candidate. Smith is a registered Republican who defines himself as a social and fiscal conservative. He currently works as a volunteer teacher in parochial schools, while studying for a master’s degree in education. Smith said he’d be helped in the Legislature by his background in management, which includes 24 years in the Army.
“I developed the long-term financial plans for capital improvement programs, for modernization programs, for investment-type programs” while in the Army, he said. “So my mind is set at looking 10 and 15 years down the road to try and develop iterative, long-term solutions to complex problems.”
Smith advocated for lower taxes, saving health care costs by emphasizing prevention and investing more in roads and infrastructure.
Rounding out the field is Kate Bolz, a social worker and director of low-income programs for the Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest. Bolz, a registered Democrat, said she’s “a little to the left” on children’s issues, and “a little to the right” on fiscal accountability. She listed “values” among her reasons for running.
“I really want to see Nebraska values represented in the Legislature,” she said. “I think those values are good stewardship, common sense and focusing on family issues and family values. And I think I can contribute to making education and economic growth and family services the best that they can be.”
Bolz said the state can save money by doing things like combining the Departments of Labor and Economic Development. She said that while roads are important, the Legislature may need to revisit its decision to divert part of sales tax revenues to that purpose, in order to have enough for education and other expenses.
Just as voters in District 29 are choosing between these five candidates, voters in the other 25 districts up for election have another 63 to choose from. After the May 15th primary, voters will know who has made the cut to appear on the ballot in November.
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