In less than three months, Nebraskans will be asked to choose their next United States Senator. State Senator Deb Fischer, Republican, and former United States Senator Bob Kerrey, Democrat, met at the Nebraska State Fair on Saturday to debate the issues and convince voters that one of them is the best person to fill the seat of retiring United States Senator Ben Nelson, Democrat.
Televised live on RFD TV, and co-sponsored by the Grand Island Independent and the Omaha World Herald, the debate had three formats. First, candidates were asked questions by the moderators, and each candidate was given the opportunity to respond. Secondly, and probably the most confusing part of the debate, the candidates were asked to give straight-forward yes or no answers to a series of question. Problem was, the questions were not always true/false type questions -- some questions were multiple choice, making it impossible to give a yes or no answer. Finally, the two candidates were given the opportunity to ask questions of one another.
Confusion on questioning aside, the debate gave the viewer a great insight into the differences and similarities of the two candidates. Both Fischer and Kerrey appeared relaxed and well-prepared. While there were no "read-my-lips" moments, the debate did raise some sparks at various points.
Kerry began and ended with promising Nebraskan three things: 1) that he would always put the country first; 2) that he would cross party lines to work with Republicans to get things done; and 3) that he would shake up Washington D.C. and work to change the rules of Congress to reduce the influence of special interest groups and force it to organize itself in a non-partisan fashion. "I will challenge [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, (D-NV) at least as much as I will annoy [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-KY)."
Fischer opened by stating that she was not your usual politician, but rather a wife, mother, rancher, small business owner and volunteer. She is a conservative who believes in limited government. She wants to cut spending and balance the budget, and is opposed to new taxes. "I want to take the Nebraska way to Washington."
Both criticized Congress' failure to pass a farm bill; both want to fix Social Security, although in different ways; both support renewable energy; and both thought that states should be able to collect sales tax on internet sales. Both candidates seemed to agree that Kerrey's home address since he left the Senate in 2001 should have no bearing on this election. Kerrey told the audience, "Vote against me, but don't do it on this basis," further stating that, "people leave and come back . . . we're trying to get people to move back to Nebraska." Fischer simply said, "We need to focus on the issues. Senator Kerrey is the Democrat candidate from Nebraska."
Kerrey had the advantage of critiquing Fischer's recent activities during her eight years as Nebraska State Senator, pointing out perceived flaws in her actions as they pertain to the Keystone pipeline, the Highway Funding bill, and her attempt to stop a bill that would exempt Omaha from sales tax on sewer bills.
Fischer is in favor of repealing the Affordable Care Act, and she is in favor of a step-by-step approach to health care reform. Kerrey defended the Affordable Care Act on several occasions, stating it would help rural hospitals survive and it is a good start for solving problems in early education. Kerrey said that he told U.S. Senator Ben Nelson that "I would support him either way" when Nelson was making his decision on whether or not to vote for the bill in 2009.
On immigration, Fischer stated that she supported securing the borders; wanted to make an E-verify system mandatory for employers; and she does not support a path to citizenship for anyone who is in the country illegally. Kerrey does support Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney's path to legal status whereby young illegal immigrants could serve in the US military to obtain legal status and eventually citizenship.
Fischer does not support Cap and Trade and stated, "I do not believe that we have a huge influence of man on our climate." While Kerrey did not address Cap and Trade, he did insist that we are going to have to make changes concerning environmental issues, and that nobody is more at risk from climate change than the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska. "Nebraska will suffer more for doing nothing than any other state in the nation."
The solvency of Social Security and Medicare became the topic on a few occasions. Fischer vowed not to cut benefits for anyone over 40, but stated that she would increase the retirement age for those 40 or younger. "We have to keep our promises to the American people," said Fischer.
Kerrey stated that he was in support of the Simpson Bowles plan, without explaining to the audience how that plan goes about solving the fiscal crisis in the programs or how it would affect Nebraskans. "We have a promise that is impossible to keep," said Kerrey.
Nebraskans have a choice between two qualified, intelligent, articulate and passionate candidates. That is a good thing. As we enter the political fourth quarter, let's hope that they stick to the important issues as they did on Saturday. That is the only way voters can make informed decisions about who will speak for them in Washington next year.