By Brandon McDermott
In the Omaha metro, there are several hotly contested races for seats at the Nebraska Unicameral that will be decided on next Tuesday during the General Election. Legislative District 9, in east central Omaha, pits incumbent Sara Howard against her challenger, Larry Roland. Today, KVNO’s Brandon McDermott has a profile of Larry Roland.
Challenger Larry Roland hopes to unseat Sara Howard in Nebraska legislative district 9.
Sara Howard has represented District 9 in Omaha for four years. Roland said he had nothing but respect for Sen. Sara Howard, but that the two of them are as different politically as you can get.
“There is no tax or social program that Miss Howard would be opposed to at least, considering, if not expanding, in the state of Nebraska. I am the complete opposite, I am a registered Republican and very fiscally conservative.”
Roland, 42, is a native of Chicago but has lived in Omaha for the past 10 years. He worked in both radio and television before becoming a lawyer. Roland said he’s knocked on hundreds of doors and has spoken a lot of people in District 9.
“The people that I talk to, both sides – we knocked on all kinds of doors Republican, doors Democratic doors and independent doors – they still love their neighbor, their block, the little part of Omaha or the ninth (legislative district) that they call home.”
Nebraska Legislative District 9 encompasses 72nd and Dodge south to Grover St. and east to Interstate 480. This includes all of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and about half of the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Roland said because he considers himself a fiscal conservative he sees ‘needless spending’ as a terrible habit.
“So there’s more that needs to get done, but at what expense? At some point you have to turn that spigot off and say we just can’t keep going back to well on more taxes. That’s where Miss Howard and I most differentiate – is the expenditures that have to go into running this great state.”
Roland notes that Nebraska’s budget has more than doubled since the year 2000. He claims the state has become addicted to over spending.
“I think we’re already at the ceiling, in fact, I think we’re past the ceiling. We’ve got to find ways to reduce taxes. There are again there’s good people in the state who through the organizations that they advocate for believe that there’s billions more that we can spend.”
Legislative District 9 is a district where there are people living on both extremes of the economic spectrum. The district is also highly educated with 4-in-10 people possessing at least a bachelor’s degree. That is a significantly higher percentage than the Nebraska average of 29 percent. But nearly 22 percent of the citizens in this district are living at or below the poverty level (Nebraska average is 12.9 percent), including 32 percent of children under the age of five.
“The number of renters versus homeowners the number of insured versus not insured, those that live at or below the poverty level and then at or below double the poverty level. I mean eye-opening, truly eye opening. When I hear Dundee when people hear Dundee they think there’s some affluence there, some big houses there and while those are there, there’s more people who don’t have those kinds of things.”
If elected, Roland said his primary focus would be on the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. He said it is “hard to put your mind around” the size of the largest agency in the state of Nebraska. The biggest problem, Roland said, is “there are too many moving pieces and not a lot of people have a ton of working knowledge on.”
Before being combined, health and human services were apart of four separate bureaus: aging, health, public institutions and social services. But they were merged by the Unicameral into three departments in 1997, then to just one department in 2007, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. The size of the agency isn’t the only issue, Roland said. More than 100 DHHS audits over the past 15 years have found instances of mishandling or negligence.
“I used to be able to think that, ‘Well we sit down in a room, you look at some pieces of paper, you figure out where you can make some cost savings, and voila! Your problem is fixed!’ That is not the case. If we are interested in the most efficient Department of Health and Human Services that protects the disadvantaged, the reason why it was created, and does not exploit power that it presents in monitoring and licensing specific professionals in the state – that’s going to take a lot of work.”
Another contentious issue where the incumbent State Sen. Howard and her challenger differ is over the death penalty. Last session, the death penalty was repealed by the Unicameral. Howard was one of the majority of state senators that voted to override Governor Pete Ricketts’ veto. However, Roland has said he supports the death penalty for heinous crimes.
Challenger Larry Roland knows that he has an uphill battle on his hands in trying to unseat Sara Howard. In the primary election held last May, Sen. Howard received 3,491 votes while Roland captured just 874 votes for a seat in the officially non-partisan Nebraska Unicameral.
Tune in tomorrow for a look at the other candidate for the Nebraska Unicameral 9th district: Sen. Sara Howard.