Nebraska Senate candidates debate in North Platte


September 15th, 2014

North Platte, NE – Republican Ben Sasse, Democrat Dave Domina, and nonpartisan independents Jim Jenkins and Todd Watson answered questions for an hour and a half on stage at North Platte High School.


Among the topics was illegal immigration, and in particular children crossing the border. Sasse said responsibility should start with the president. “It’s a soluble problem, but it requires the president to state clearly that we’re not headed to some unilateral mass amnesty which is what ultimately creates the vacuum that is pulling so many to the border,” he said.

Domina said some people who come illegally should be given the chance to become citizens. “We should give people who come to the United States because they love our opportunities, committed no crimes where they came from, and have tried to live here without documents, a prompt pathway to legal citizenship and welcome them,” he said.

Jenkins said Sasse’s emphasis on securing the border first amounts to a prescription for doing nothing. “George W. Bush had a(n) immigration program, and the right wing of the Republican Party – that wing that is supporting Mr. Sasse – actually torpedoed it. So by not doing anything, we do something, and what Mr. Sasse’s approach (is) is to not do anything by advocating only closing the border,” Jenkins said.

Four U.S. Senate candidate debate the issues in North Platte, Nebraska. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Four U.S. Senate candidate debate the issues in North Platte, Nebraska. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)

Watson advocated giving illegal immigrants provisional legal status with limited benefits for at least five years. And he said God loves the children who came to the border. “If we can get them back to a safe and loving family, or an extended family — aunt, uncle, grandfather, grandmother, etc. – I would say we need to get those kids reunified back at home with their family. If that situation’s a violent situation, a dangerous situation, the precedence is ‘let the kids come to me,’” he said.

The candidates were also asked about public opinion polls showing only about 14 percent of American voters approve of the job Congress is doing. Watson answered the question with his own.

“The challenge is on the voter. Why are we not changing? Why are we still listening to the money? Why are we still listening to the propaganda? Who is buying that? It is not you. It does not represent you,” he said.

Jenkins plugged his nonpartisan candidacy.

“I’m the only candidate on this stage who has pledged – and right from the beginning – that I would not caucus with either the Democrats or the Republicans, but instead work to find common ground with both Republicans and Democrats on all the issues that Republicans and Democrats have kicked down the road,” he said.

Domina stressed thoughtfulness. “It’s so important, I think, that a new United States senator from Nebraska appear to be thoughtful, informed, interested in all points of view, willing to accommodate them, and express himself on behalf of the people of Nebraska only when there’s something to say,” he said.

Sasse argued for telling the truth on subjects like unsustainable entitlement programs. “It isn’t good enough to just say ‘kumbaya’ about what needs to happen in Washington. We need people who want to tell the truth about budgets that don’t add up,” he said.

On foreign policy, the candidates were asked about Congress’s role and the fight against so-called Islamic State — or ISIS — forces in Iraq and Syria. Watson called for greater congressional involvement. “We haven’t declared war since (19)42,” Watson said. “That is Congress’s job. We need Congress to step up and start declaring war instead of looking to the president for leadership. The president’s job is to wage it – it’s Congress’s job to declare it.”

Jenkins urged support for the president. “Certainly I support the president – the air strikes. I think foreign policy is the one area that we all ought to understand how important it is as a nation that we come together. That partisanship stops at the water’s edge,” Jenkins said.

Domina called for a forward defense. “Our past involvements that are characterized as offensive wars are intelligent wars. As a veteran, I can say we don’t want to fight defensive wars. We want to be on offense so we’re never on defense,” Domina said.

Sasse said the United States should have acted against ISIS sooner:

“ISIS is a bloodthirsty terrorist organization that kills innocent women and children. ISIS must be eradicated, and the U.S. is obviously going to have to be the leader of that international coalition,” Sasse said.

The candidates were also asked about their views of regulations on guns, such as whether background checks should be required for private purchases at gun shows.

Sasse said the issue goes deeper than that. “What is often called the gun show loophole is regularly about family-to-family transactions, and I don’t believe the government needs to regulate the sale of guns between fathers and daughters or sisters and brothers,” Sasse said.

Domina endorsed background checks. “I do think that what works for Cabela’s works at private gun shows. I think there should be universal background checks. There should be no exceptions,” he said.

The final question in the debate was simply why the candidates think they should be Nebraska’s next U.S. Senator. Watson urged voters to break with the two-party system.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” Watson said, urging voters to “make the change.”

Jenkins also stressed nonpartisanship. “I really am looking for Nebraskans to rally around me to support this common-sense, centrist approach to politics that we so badly need in Washington,” Jenkins said.

Sasse called for a “humbler” politics. “I am happily a proponent of a humbler politics where Washington tries to do a more limited number of things, but the more important things – more urgently, and with less shouting,” Sasse said.

Domina took a swipe at some positions of groups supporting Sasse. “Nebraskans, it is not humbler in politics to accept seven-figure amounts of money from organizations outside the state committed to never adopting a Farm Bill,” Domina said.

The candidates now have a month and a half to finish the job of convincing Nebraskans to vote for them.

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