Six candidates take the State Fair stage for Senate debate

Posted: Aug 25, 2014 11:16 PM

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. – Four Independent candidates joined the Republican and Democratic nominees for the U.S. Senate debate Monday at the Nebraska State Fair, but the focus was on the two party favorites as a top trial lawyer tried to take a rising Republican star down a few notches.

Democrat Dave Domina took several swipes at Republican Ben Sasse, accusing him of cavorting with extremists and boxing himself into a corner by signing a pledge not to increase taxes.

“We can’t risk a mistake with on-the-job training in this election,” Domina said.

Which led Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh to question whether Domina wasn’t a first-timer, too:

Sasse, meanwhile, took a more modest approach, repeatedly saying how blessed Nebraskans, Americans and he is and saying he “humbly” asks for Nebraskans’ votes, while reminding people he’s never run for office before.

With the GOP primary behind him, Sasse sounded a more moderate tone, saying he’s not a Republican because he cares much about the marginal tax rate on the top 1 percent of America, although he believes free enterprise can lift the middle class.

“I’m going to go to Washington not just to be against big, flawed government programs but to be an advocate for the middle class,” he said.

The debate also included four Independents from Lincoln: retiree Dennis Macek, peace activist Dan Buhrdorf and businessman Todd Watson. A fourth independent, Jim Jenkins, is a Callaway rancher.

Macek said climate change is his top issue, Buhrdorf wants to strengthen the middle class without increasing the national debt, and Watson said the nation’s political, financial and spiritual foundation is crumbling. And Jenkins’ motto is “Not left, not right, but forward.”

“Friends, we need a spiritual revival,” Watson said. “We stand neither with big government and not with big banks as well. It’s about a complete revival of liberty.”

Domina stressed bipartisanship, painting Sasse as too extreme to get anything done in Washington.

“My Republican opponent has had the most extreme members of the Republican party appear in this state,” he said. “The aisle can’t even be found, much less crossed, with that kind of an approach.”

While Sasse said Obamacare should be repealed, he said the tax code shouldn’t be biased toward large businesses and against small businesses, farmers and ranchers. Buhrdorf said the age requirement should be removed from Medicare, allowing anyone to join. Watson said the law violated people’s religious liberty, but the law’s protection for people with pre-existing conditions “is a good thing.”

Domina noted that Arizona Sen. John McCain derided attempts to defund Obamacare by shutting down the federal government last year as a “fool’s errand.” He said the law’s “critical flaw” could have been avoided if there had been “a good lawyer” in Congress when it was drafted. That flaw: allowing companies to drop policies and substitute them with new ones that comply with the law’s mandates.

Sasse and Domina differed on immigration reform. Domina said if an undocumented immigrant is here because of their love of the country or need for a job, and they didn’t flee arrest and contribute with honor and seek to be an American, they should be given an “immediate pathway to citizenship.”

Sasse said Washington is so dysfunctional now that it’s impossible to do comprehensive immigration reform, but “bite-sized” progress could be made on things with bipartisan support, such as securing the border.

On tax reform, Domina said he supports Sen. Carl Levin’s tax reform bill.

“We need to make everybody pay, get to parity and then the country moves forward,” he said.

Sasse said the tax code needs fewer carve-outs and special exemptions for the politically connected, and said four other candidates “think we need a tax increase.”

That prompted Domina to criticize Sasse for signing the Grover Norquist no-tax-increase pledge, saying it would tie his hands and “make it virtually impossible to make changes in policy.” Domina said he favors a tax cut, which is possible if everyone pays their fair share.

Domina also differed from the others on the country-of-origin labeling law requiring stores to disclose the source of some foods. He said Americans want to know where their food comes from and called the law “wildly popular.”

“This is a packer issue, it’s not a cattlemen’s issue, not a producer’s issue,” he said. “It applies to shirts that we are all wearing, it should apply to what we eat.”

Sasse said the law is a bureaucratic solution in search of a problem and should be repealed.

Domina also encouraged people to read an EPA website that debunks myths about proposed water rules clarifying types of waters covered by the Clean Water Act, and accused big corporations of blocking the rules.

Jenkins said ranchers have worked hard to clean up their water and soil, and he suggested debate should wait until a scientific panel releases its report. Watson said the rules might be the biggest overreach in the history of the EPA, and the rules assume ranchers don’t care about their water.

When asked about the role of agriculture in Nebraska, Domina noted that his family has “250 years of farming (experience) just among us” and boasted that he’s the only candidate and “only lawyer in America” who took on the nation’s largest slaughterhouse. That prompted Jenkins to note he’s the only current farmer/rancher in the race, and the only candidate not from Lincoln or Omaha.

When asked whether one person can make a difference in a logjammed Congress, Domina said yes, as long as they don’t “buy into a checklist agenda,” and accept contributions that give away their ability to forge coalitions.

When Sasse noted his campaign has 2,935 Nebraska donors – 10 times more than the other five candidates combined — Buhrdorf noted that he’s also benefitted from hundreds of thousands of dollars in help from the Senate Conservatives Fund, which was founded by tea party leader Jim DeMint.

Domina said he’s offering to represent Nebraska in the Senate – just as he stepped up at other times the state was in trouble, putting bankers in jail during a banking crisis and removing a regent from office for election fraud.

Some thought that came off a bit brash.

Cattle producers turned to him when the market was being manipulated, he said, and landowners turned to him when TransCanada tried to bully them into signing easements for an oil pipeline.

“It’s time to send our best prepared, our most articulate, clearest thinker, least partisan, most effective voice” to Washington, he said.

Sasse struck a more modest tone, saying he humbly asks for Nebraskans’ votes.

“We are blessed to live in the greatest nation the world has ever known,” he said.

Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.