Debate

Sen. Laura Ebke, Al Riskowski and Tom Brandt, candidates for District 32 in the Nebraska Legislature, visited Wilber-Clatonia for a debate April 23.

Wilber-Clatonia High School hosted a debate for the three candidates running for election in Nebraska’s 32nd district.

On April 23, incumbent Sen. Laura Ebke, Al Riskowski and Tom Brandt answered questions regarding school safety, school funding and property taxes and campaign finances.

Students from Tri County were also invited to attend the debate.

Below is information about the candidates and how they answered each question.

Sen. Laura Ebke

Sen. Laura Ebke has served as District 32’s representative in the Nebraska Legislature for four years. She grew up in Fairbury, where she met her husband. They have three children and one grandchild and currently live in Crete.

What would you do to ensure safe schools?

“All of us want safe schools,” Ebke said. “The question is how we get there.”

Ebke said giving up freedoms—gun rights—is a slippery slope. But there needs to be a barrier to keep people from walking into a school to cause harm.

She said, however, that the state needs to know where money comes from for those safety resources. And each school has different needs.

Local school districts need to figure out what works for them with student input, Ebke said. She added students need to state what they’re willing to do, like give up guns or move to a clear backpack system.

Should teachers be allowed to carry guns?

Ebke said anyone who carries a gun in school needs to be well trained and there must be a limited scope.

“There’s not a good answer to this,” Ebke said. “It takes an ongoing conversation.”

Are you a supporter of public or private education and which did you attend?

“I’m a supporter of both,” Ebke said.

She attended a public school and said that the state has an obligation to maintain public schools, although she has no problems with private education.

Would you be a supporter of public funding for private education?

Ebke said some tax dollars already go toward private schools for Title I services, which help low-income students, and funds that help special ed students.

Ebke said the state has to ensure fair, free public education, which can be difficult because state revenues are down. She said there may need to be a change with the current tax formula or a tax shift.

How will you ensure that Nebraska’s unicameral remains nonpartisan?

Ebke said during her term, she has tried to reach across party lines to be productive, although she said things have become increasingly partisan, even in the larger political scheme.

She said that is, in part, because of the 24-hour news cycle that bombards people with partisan rhetoric.

Ebke quoted Nebraska Sen. George Norris, stating that to be a public servant is to do the work of the people, without concern of party bosses.

How can we lower property taxes without hurting education?

“That’s the $64,000 question,” Ebke said.

She said there are a few ways it can be done. One proposed bill would’ve resulted in each school getting a percentage of its local effort rate. A different bill would’ve moved money out of option enrollment and into a foundation aid, which means state funding would’ve followed students if they moved schools.

Ebke said a current petition effort to reduce property taxes is scary because it doesn’t suggest how the state would make up for those lost funds.

“We gotta balance this,” Ebke said.

What makes you want to be a senator?

Ebke said she comes from a long line of public servants. Her dad and grandfather both served as Fairbury’s mayor. Her mother served on the local school board and her other grandfather was on the city council.

“We have an obligation to serve,” Ebke said.

And after four years in the unicameral, “I think I have something yet to offer,” Ebke said.

What is your opinion on current state and national leaders?

Ebke said she supports the office of the president.

“I wish no one harm,” Ebke said. “I can’t want failure for either of the executive offices.”

She explained that if the executive offices fail, the state and the country fail as well.

Ebke said there are ways to disagree without being disagreeable.

Our political system is based on a separation of powers—does the governor giving money to a legislative candidate violate that separation? And would you accept money from the governor or one of his Political Action Committees?

Ebke said she has never received money from the governor, but as a citizen, he can donate to campaigns.

“I think that we have an unusual situation that we have a governor that has virtually an open checkbook,” Ebke said.

She said he can help fund third party organizations and get involved in efforts without having his name attached to them.

She said this might violate separation of powers and added that within the last two years, those who vote universally have received $5,000 to $10,000 of that money.

Tom Brandt

Tom Brandt is a fourth generation farmer from Plymouth who graduated from Tri County. He said he decided to enter the legislative race at the last minute as a way to give District 32 constituents a choice because each candidate as specific interests in different issues.

What would you do to ensure safe schools?

Brandt said in rural areas, the closest law enforcement agency may be 20 minutes away and schools need an active shooter plan.

“The safety effort is continually changing,” Brandt said.

To keep schools safe, Brandt said those schools need resources to pay a resource officer.

Brandt also said he favors legislation that restricts gun ownership and possession for those under 25 who were adjudicated. He is also in favor of limiting gun ownership for those who are mentally ill.

Should teachers be allowed to carry guns?

There should be a law that allows teachers to have guns and tasers, Brandt said, as long as they are trained and the weapons are stored in a hard-case, accessible safe.

However, he added that if there were a better idea, he’d support it. Overall, he said local school boards should decide.

Are you a supporter of public or private education and which did you attend?

Brandt said he supports quality education in the public or private setting. He also went to both types of schools.

He said he understands it may be financially difficult for a child to attend private schools, but that is the parents’ choice.

He added that his priority is to ask less of property tax payers, as property taxes are largely used for public education.

Would you be a supporter of public funding for private education?

Brandt said he is not in favor of using public funds for private schools, at least not until the state of Nebraska is number one in the country for state aid.

How will you ensure that Nebraska’s unicameral remains nonpartisan?

Brandt said in the last four years, he has noticed partisanship growing in the state legislature.

“The well has kind of been poisoned,” Brandt said.

He said he did not like the proposed idea of attaching Planned Parenthood’s funding to the appropriations bill this past legislative session, adding that each issue should be considered on its own.

“I would like to see the politics come back out of it,” Brandt said.

How can we lower property taxes without hurting education?

Brandt said homeowners as well as farmers have high property taxes.

He listed some ways the state can make up the revenue lost from property tax relief, like raising taxes on cigarettes and eliminating tax exemptions for barber and masseuse services.

Brandt also said because the petition effort to reduce property taxes has no funding mechanism attached, it could mean a loss of services from the Department of Health and Human Services, funds to the penitentiary system and funds to the University of Nebraska

What makes you want to be a senator?

“If I’m going to complain, I’m going to run,” Brandt said.

Brandt encouraged the same line of thinking for the students and told them if they’re old enough to vote, they should.

What is your opinion on current state and national leaders?

Brandt said President Donald Trump won the electoral college.

“At the end of the day, democracy works, whether you like it or not,” Brandt said.

He said Trump was likely elected because people wanted a distrupter, which is what they got.

At a state level, Brandt said Gov. Pete Ricketts brings his business experience to the state, although Brandt added that Ricketts should focus on running the state and not on the legislative elections.

Our political system is based on a separation of powers—does the governor giving money to a legislative candidate violate that separation? And would you accept money from the governor or one of his Political Action Committees?

Brandt also said citizens can donate to campaigns.

However, he said he is running as an independent thinker. He said donations of that sort may come with a quid pro quo.

Al Riskowski

Al Riskowski is originally from Omaha. He and his wife have four adult children. He currently lives on a farm near Sprague, but in the past has worked for an architecture firm, in ministry and led the Nebraska Family Alliance for 16 years.

What would you do to ensure safe schools?

Riskowski said it’s impossible to ensure safety.

“No one can guarantee it, no matter how much effort is put into it,” he said.

He said even places with strict gun laws see violence, and those who wish to do harm can use handguns, knives, bombs, planes and trucks.

After the mass shooting at a Florida school, Riskowski said he thinks teachers could carry firearms.

“I’m not in favor of giving up my feedoms,” Riskowski said of gun rights.

Should teachers be allowed to carry guns?

“It’s sad to me we have to have this discussion,” Riskowski said.

Riskowski said at the last church where he ministered, some church personnel carried weapons, which he said made him relaxed.

He added that he agrees teachers who are trained and volunteer to carry a gun should have that option.

Are you a supporter of public or private education and which did you attend?

He said he attended both private and public schools, and said he likes the freedom to be able to choose between the two.

Would you be a supporter of public funding for private education?

Riskowski said he would need to see what a proposal like that may look like.

He added that the beauty of having a choice to homeschool or send children to religious schools is that they are not connected to tax money and have certain freedoms.

He said he was in favor of looking at tax credits for individuals who pay to send their kids to a private school.

How will you ensure that Nebraska’s unicameral remains nonpartisan?

Riskowski said he, too, has seen a wider gap between parties. He said during his time with the Nebraska Family Alliance, he had to work to be non-partisan and he did so by treating others with respect.

He knows there are deep disagreements between parties and individuals, but he would approach bills respectfully.

How can we lower property taxes without hurting education?

He said, in walking the district, he learned it’s common that property taxes are a farmer’s highest bill. He added that Nebraska has some of the highest property taxes in the country.

While there is this financial difficulty, Riskowski said everyone wants quality schools.

“We need to adjust how we do our property tax while providing for our schools,” Riskowski said.

Part of the solution, Riskowski said, is for those in the legislature to put their heads together.

While there’s a need for property tax relief, Riskowski said he would fight against additional taxes.

“We’re so tax heavy,” Riskowski said.

What makes you want to be a senator?

Riskowski said working with the Nebraska Family Alliance taught him the importance of state legislature.

“I see how it affects our everyday lives,” Riskowski said. “I want to see a Nebraska we can continue to be proud of.”

He said he desires to make sure Nebraskans have freedoms, specifically with the first and second amendments.

What is your opinion on current state and national leaders?

Riskowski said he’s amazed at the job President Donald Trump is doing, especially when it comes to appointing judges, but his social media use can be troublesome.

“Somebody take away his tweets,” Riskowski said.

Riskowski added that he knew Gov. Pete Ricketts before Ricketts ran for office and that close relationship would help Riskowski if he is elected.

“I can get that ear,” Riskowski said.

Our political system is based on a separation of powers—does the governor giving money to a legislative candidate violate that separation? And would you accept money from the governor or one of his Political Action Committees?

Riskowski agrees that citizens can donate to whatever campaigns they like.

Riskowski has received campaign donations from the governor, which he called a small percentage of the total amount he needs to raise.

“I accepted it and thanked him as a friend and donor,” Riskowski said.

He added that he has a strong position on issues and does not need money to be told how to vote.

If it were a larger amount, he said he might have considered not accepting it.

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