Ricketts’ Reign of Error
When Ricketts ran for governor in 2014 he presented himself as a moderate during the general election cycle. He steadfastly denied that he would pursue the radical agenda of the Platte Institute — a right wing think tank that he founded and generously funded. He also ran soothing feel good ads in which a woman said he saved her school and a veteran said Ricketts helped him maintain his health insurance.
Since that electoral victory, Ricketts has governed as a hard right conservative. (Which should come as no surprise to anybody.) A well connected Republican once told me on background that Ricketts is a “true believer conservative.” The problem with conservatism is that strict conservative principles rarely survive direct personal experience with a social problem.
The rookie, billionaire governor visibly struggled during his first two years in office. The legislature passed over his veto a gas tax increase, drivers licenses for Dreamers and the repeal of the death penalty. Republican insiders said off the record at the conclusion of the 2015–16 legislative session that his record was “embarrassing.”
In response to these setbacks, Ricketts did what he does best — spend a portion of his vast personal fortune to win some political victories in the 2016 election cycle. He managed to put the failed death penalty back on the books through a voter initiative and replace three moderate Republican senators with right wing toadies.
Ricketts’ so-called “victories” only polarized the Unicameral and created the kind of dysfunction and gridlock that occurs in Washington. A former state senator told me on background that this was the worst legislature he had seen during his forty years of either serving in the body or closely observing its proceedings.
The 2017–18 session was an abject failure due to the polarization that Ricketts’ 2016 purge had created. The first six weeks of the session were consumed with a rules fight in which Ricketts’ radical allies tried to change the rules to pave the way for a Kansas like budget and economic agenda. Fortunately for Nebraska, a bi-partisan coalition of twenty two or so senators refused to capitulate and Ricketts’ crickets had to give up this toxic and futile rules fight.
Once the ridiculous rules fight was resolved, Ricketts and the GOP senators attempted to pass a variety of risky tax cut schemes. Ricketts’ plan prioritized tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. A coalition of right wing rural senators tried to pass a tax cut for the farmers. Neither proposal could get the necessary 33 votes to break a bi-partisan filibuster.
The passage of either one of these tax cut schemes would have brought the disastrous tax cut policies of Kansas and Oklahoma to Nebraska. In both of those deep red states, deep cuts to infrastructure and education have funded tax cuts for the wealthy and the corporations. Moreover, the economic boom predicted by the GOP never happened in these states.
The majority Ricketts coalition in the Unicameral also subscribes to the GOP theology that taxes can never be raised for any reason or at any time. As a result of that misguided belief, the Ricketts coalition will not entertain any kind of tax increase.
The right wing’s no new taxes doctrine serves to perpetuate the expenditure of $325 million per year on ineffectual corporate subsidies. The Unicameral conducted a study during the Heineman Administration and concluded that there was no proven causal link between these corporate welfare payments and the creation of any jobs. Conagra is living proof of the failure of this policy. The taxpayers gave Conagra $160 million over nearly 30 years and that company left Omaha in 2015.
One of the consequences of the refusal of the right wing to consider any new revenue sources have been harmful budget cuts to the University of Nebraska system. Nebraska’s young people are paying more for tuition to subsidize the likes of the Burlington Northern and the Union Pacific Railroads — among other profitable companies.
The stakes for this election in Nebraska couldn’t be any higher. Ricketts is up for re-election and he will be spending his vast personal fortune in an attempt to create a filibuster proof legislature. The billionaire governor badly wants 33 reliable votes.
We Democrats must work hard to elect Senator Bob Krist and to elect more Democrats to the legislature. We can’t afford a rubber stamp legislature beholden to Ricketts and his reactionary and wealthy allies. Now let’s get to work and get it done!