Terry squares off with GOP challengers
April 20th, 2012
Omaha, NE – The Republican candidates for Nebraska’s Second Congressional District seat squared off in a primary debate today.
As can be expected in a Republican primary debate, each of the four candidates on stage at the Omaha Press Club took time to polish his conservative credentials before the lunching audience. Each of the four men said he stood for less government, lower taxes and fiscal conservatism, and said he was sympathetic with the conservative force du jour: the Tea Party.
But there were certainly distinctions between the candidates. “To describe myself as a conservative Republican, that’s wrong. I’m a Republican, but I’m a constitutionalist,” said Glenn Freeman, the former chair of the Douglas County Republican Party (1993-1995), who also worked on the staff of former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel. Freeman framed himself as the truth-teller of the four: the voice outside of Washington willing to tell it like it is.
He made that point during a discussion of spending cuts. Each candidate agreed significant reductions are necessary to reduce the national debt, but Freeman implied they weren’t telling the whole truth. “What has happened is… typical politician answer,” he said. “Ladies and gentleman, in order for us to control this debt and deficit, it is going to hurt… Everyone, everyone has got to contribute. Everyone has got to sacrifice for it. There’s no other way of doing it. You can try to kick it down the road if you want to. But the only way to solve it, acknowledge the fact that yes, it is going to hurt.”
Freeman said government should be reduced to its basic constitutional framework, which would require drastic cuts in the Departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development and “many, many more.”
All of the candidates agreed on cutting the Department of Education, chorusing that less government interference would lead to improved local schools. Incumbent Republican Lee Terry, who’s seeking his eighth term in the U.S. House, said spending cuts should focus on reforming entitlement programs, including Medicaid and Medicare, while candidate Jack Heidel advocated 10 percent across-the-board cuts.
Heidel chairs the math department at the University of Nebraska Omaha and fiscal conservatism is his defining campaign issue. “To challenge an incumbent in a primary is obviously formidable,” he said. “And I’m doing it really for just one reason. It’s because of our national debt and the trillion dollar deficits which are adding to it.”
“We simply need new leadership in Congress, and more people who are absolutely focused and serious about it,” Heidel said, calling himself a “non-ideological fiscal conservative” willing to work with both parties to address “this very urgent problem.” Heidel said Terry has not done enough during his time in Washington to halt the rising tide of debt and spending.
Most of the candidates took aim at the incumbent. But Terry had some fire for the fourth candidate, Brett Lindstrom, a financial analyst and former Husker football player. Terry singled out Lindstrom’s opposition to the Keystone XL oil pipeline’s original route through the Ogallala Aquifer, accusing him of towing the line with Democrats and the White House.
“We need to use our own natural resources,” Terry said, emphasizing his focus on developing energy sources during his time in office. “We need to diversify our fuel so we don’t have to spend a billion dollars a day buying foreign oil. That’s the main reason behind my support of the Keystone oil pipeline and fighting so hard for it.”
“Mr. Lindstrom opposed that and his press release sounded like it came from the Democratic Party,” Terry said, prompting this response from Lindstrom:
“My number one goal is to represent the Nebraskans,” Lindstrom said. “And I talked to a lot of farmers; I talked to a lot of ranchers who did not want that Keystone pipeline running through the Aquifer. It’s one of our … greatest natural resources in Nebraska. What I did say is I did want the TransCanada pipeline, but I wanted it re-routed around the pipeline.”
Terry interrupted him to say, “That’s not what your press release says.”
Lindstrom continued, “If you look at the original (route),that is the straightest line through the Aquifer, which tells me it was the most cost-effective for TransCanada, not Nebraskans.”
The candidates found agreement on repealing President Obama’s healthcare law, each stating he hoped the Supreme Court would overturn it. They also agreed on reforming the tax code to a simpler, lower rate, although they differed in the details. Heidel advocated a flat income tax, while Freeman said a national sales tax is the only constitutional option.
The candidates also found general agreement on the recent Supreme Court decision to allow unlimited campaign donations through Super PACS, equating campaign contributions with constitutionally-protected free speech. Heidel, Lindstrom and Terry agreed the court’s decision should stand, but said there should be more transparency and donors should be made public immediately. Freeman was the lone counter, calling the court’s decision “ludicrous” and arguing equating money with free speech means “the average billionaire has more free speech than I do.”
Nebraska’s primary vote takes place May 15th. Paul Anderson is also listed as a Republican candidate, but did not appear at the debate.
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