County Farm Bureaus Sponsored Legislative Candidates Answer Questions at Forum
More than 70 Southeast Nebraskans attended a forum featuring 1st District Legislative candidates Tuesday night, March 20. The forum was at the parish hall at St. Peters Lutheran Church near Elk Creek. It was sponsored by Farm Bureaus of Nemaha, Otoe, Johnson, Pawnee and Richardson counties.
Jerry Joy, Stella; Dan Watermeier, Syracuse and Alvin Guenther, Dunbar participated. Randy Gottula, Falls City, moderated. Other Legislative candidates are Douglas Bohling, Humboldt; Bruce Bernadt, Steinauer and Neal Schatz, Verdon. The two who receive the most votes Tuesday, May 15, will advance to the Tuesday, Nov. 6, general election. Incumbent 1st District Sen. Lavon Heidemann will leave the Legislature because of term limits.
The candidates gave opening statements, responded to 14 questions submitted by audience members and gave closing statements.
Candidates Introduce Themselves
Joy is chair of the Stella Village Board and was a longtime Peru State College teacher, coach and administrator. He lost to Heidemann in 2008. Joy said that he became interested in politics while at Western New Mexico University at Silver City, N.M., where he was responsible for community affairs. He said that he lobbied for ranchers and miners.
Watermeier serves on the Nemaha Natural Resources District board, was chair of the board and serves on the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission.
“I care about and want to serve Southeast Nebraska. I will listen to you and ask tough questions. Southeast Nebraska has been blessed to be served with strong leadership from Floyd Vrtiska and Lavon Heidemann. I’d like nothing better than to follow in their footsteps,” Watermeier said.
Guenther is seeking office for the first time. He is a retired educator. A lifelong Nebraskan, Guenther said that he has pursued lifelong learning in the pursuit of knowledge.
“I believe that many policies have pursued a short-sighted approach. Tax policies have favored a select few. We need to pursue tax reform. I want to keep Nebraska a vibrant place to raise a family. I will represent and support rural and metro Main Street entrepreneurs in the development of the Highway 75, Highway 2, Highway 50 and Missouri River corridors,” Guenther said.
Responding to Questions
Voter Identification Bill: A Legislative bill would require voters to show government issued photo identification.
Joy said that while the bill has some benefits, he would not support it because it would eliminate many people being able to vote.
“A lot of people of certain ages do not have ID available. I want us to be able to walk in and vote. That is one right we all should have,” Joy said.
Watermeier said that he would support it, but caution was needed on how it would be regulated. That would be difficult, he said.
Guenther said that he opposed the bill but was open to input.
Term Limits: A constitutional amendment would allow state senators to serve three consecutive terms. The current limit is two consecutive terms.
“My job is to listen to what you want. I will support it if I hear from citizens,” Watermeier said.
Guenther said that the amendment was not needed. Nebraska voters approved term limits in 2000. There are other areas that need to be addressed, Guenther said.
“I oppose it. I would not only support no more than two terms, I would support term limits nationally. There are too many people in office too long who are doing too little. Term limits enables different views and different people. It gives the opportunity for new blood, new people and new thinking,” Joy said.
Animal Rights Organizations: “In a free society, we all must have access to as much information as possible. We need organizations to present their side of the story. I’m always open to new information,” Guenther said.
Joy said that he would listen to practical approaches, however, he opposed anyone coming in to producers how to run things. He said that he had strong feelings because of the deterioration of small farms in the area with few animal operations.
“Southeast Nebraska agricultural production is a prime example of doing a good job. We need to share our story,” Watermeier said. He said that he had no issue with free speech but he was against added regulations. Watermeier said that there needed to be a balance between the producer and the consumer.
Road Funding: Joy said that roads are an important part of economic development. He said that he would support a portion of sales tax going to roads. “They are important in our district,” Joy said.
“I’m a firm believer in developing capital investment of our infrastructure. We may have to fight to continue,” Watermeier said.
“We need to keep our roads up so commodities can flow to market. We need a good distribution process,” said Guenther, who supports the measure.
Legislative Committee Interests: Watermeier said that his interests would be the Agriculture, Appropriations, Education and Transportation committees. He said that he is involved with agriculture and education daily. His wife and oldest daughter are teachers. Transportation is a huge component of economic development, Watermeier said.
Guenther said that his interests would be the Appropriations, Natural Resources, Education and Revenue. He said that we need to preserve our valuable resources, such as wildlife, water and air. Education is the cornerstone of economic development and is important in the 21st century. Guenther favored proper taxation and making sure that all taxes carried the same weight on obligations.
Joy said that his interests would be the Education, Agriculture and Transportation committees. Joy said that his first interest was based on his 48 years in higher education. He said that his second interest was because “it’s a good way of life. I was born and raised on a farm. I want to meet with area farmers. I want to learn and get updated as much as possible.” Joy said that transportation was a major factor in making things happen in economic development.
Communication and Leadership Style: “I try to meet with constituents personally. I want to talk to you face to face if at all possible. I would have confidence in my staff and their ability to select my staff and let them do their job,” Guenther said.
Joy said that he relied a lot on technology, including Facebook. He said that his leadership style was total quality management.
“Communication and leadership need to be together. I will listen to what you want. I may ask a few questions but I will listen to you first,” Watermeier said.
Drawing Down on Cash Reserves: Joy praised the work of the Appropriations Committee in funding for a number of projects. Those included a veterinary research facility, a new cancer center at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a new facility for the Kearney Division of the College of Nursing, and renovating the Armstrong Athletic Center at Chadron State College and the Oak Bowl at Peru State College.
Watermeier said that he was a staunch supporter of not touching cash reserves, it needed to be treated as a business.
Guenther said that he was a strong believer in a cyclically balanced budget and supported keeping reserves intact.
What Would You Support to Reduce Reliance on Property Taxes: “It will come from you. It will not be easy,” Watermeier said.
“Property taxes are a major issue. I believe in order to work with it, we need to look at and reevaulate exemptions, tax credits and cuts issued,” Guenther said.
“Reducing property taxes is a tough issue. Land valuations have increased. You cut taxes, you have to figure out a way to get the balance and to get the revenue up. You need to make sure that things are accountable for getting the biggest bang for every buck we’re spending,” Joy said.
Preventing Population Loss: All three candidates said that economic development was a major factor.
Guenther said that he favored programs for entrepreneurial growth in rural Nebraska. He said that education must be funded.
Joy recalled programs that were started during his years at Peru State College. That included hiring people to help farmers; and establishment of economic development offices during the 1980s in Auburn, Nebraska City, Falls City and Pawnee City.
Watermeier said that a lot of little things are factors. He said that it was tough to center on one issue. Issues included roads, recreation, taxes, education and agriculture.
Child Welfare Issues: State Health and Human Services officials recently began privatizing the state’s child welfare system.
Joy said that good procedures, regulations and policies were needed in that area.
Watermeier said that the issues affect a lot of people and families. It will take funding and he said that there will be future changes.
“It is not a special interest issue. We need to take care of our children,” said Guenther, whose wife is a special education instructor.
Allowing a Motorcyclist a Choice Whether to Wear a Helmet: Watermeier said that he favored the helmet law. “If we have a seat belt law, we need a helmet law,” he said.
Guenther said that more information was needed. He said that he would support a proposal because of lack of other information. The helmet law is intended for the safety of motorcyclists, Guenther said.
Joy said that helmets save lives but that more information was needed on the bill. He said that he had seen both sides of the issue. Joy lived for a while in South Dakota, which does not have a helmet law.
Sales Tax Exemptions on Input to Agricultural Production: Guenther and Joy said that the issue needed to be studied. Both said that lost revenues needed to be made up somewhere.
Watermeier said that Nebraska needed to be on a level playing field with neighboring states.
National Health Care and Health Care Providers Performing Services Which Violate Their Conscience: Both Joy and Watermeier said that health care providers should not be forced to perform services which violated their consciences.
Joy said that the federal health care law would have a tough time making and meeting all needs. He said how well it was enacted was the issue.
Watermeier was opposed to national health care.
Guenther said that he testified before the Legislature to support health care exchanges. He opposed repeal of the federal health care law but said that it should be amended. He thought that it was extensive and needed more information.
“Until we get an alternative, it may save rural Nebraska and those starting in business,” Guenther said.
Pro-Life Issues: All three candidates said that they were pro-life.
Watermeier said that stem cell research should be limited to adult stem cells. He said that he would allow abortion exemptions, to save the life of the mother, or in cases of rape or incest.
Guenther said that there were other ways to arrive at stem cell research. He said that abortions in case of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother should be the woman’s right to choose. Guenther said that he adamantly opposed partial birth abortion. “It’s the most uncivilized act that can be performed,” he said.
Joy said that he favored abortion only to save the mother’s life. Stem cell research is not getting where it needed to develop, he said.
Guenther said that he supports economic development in Southeast Nebraska, fair tax policies, education and valuable natural resources. He said that the district’s highway corridors had unlimited possibilities.
“I will stand up for those who can least support the current tax structure,” Guenther said.
“I believe I can be an asset to District 1. I can get people to follow me. I’ve proven that in all aspects of my career. I never make a decision we don’t have input on. I have a strong work ethic. I will fight as hard as anyone for what’s right,” Joy said.
“Southeast Nebraska is blessed with those who go above and beyond the call of leadership. I’ll be one out of about 33,000 people. It has to start with you. I’ll put you folks first. I will listen to you,” Watermeier said.