By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
LINCOLN, Neb. – During their first joint appearance, Nebraska’s two major U.S. Senate candidates had wonkish, lawyerly answers to the seven questions posed to them at the American Legion Cornhusker Boys State Monday night.
It was the Ivy-educated 42-year-old rising Republican star versus one of the most prominent trial lawyers in the state, trying to connect with an audience full of ambitious but sometimes bored Nebraska high schoolers.
Republican Ben Sasse focused on the federal government’s overreach, Republicans’ failure to have ideas and the failings of Obamacare, while Democrat Dave Domina railed against bank bailouts and highlighted his work putting bankers in jail and removing corrupt politicians from office.
Both Sasse and Domina are former Boys State attendees, with Sasse elected Boys State “governor” in 1989. Sasse earned early illegal applause when he joked that he’d try to get the old boy-girl-boy-girl seating chart restored (the audience was divided in half, with boys on one side, girls on the other).
In his opening, Domina said he’s represented people on death row, and every time he “volunteered to put myself between a Nebraskan and the electric chair” the inmate went home. And when one man he got exonerated didn’t have a home to return to, he stayed with Domina, just down the hall from his children.
Domina said he differs from Sasse in that he opposes putting Social Security benefits into the hands of banks, won’t take money from someone who opposes a farm bill, and opposes a voucher system for Medicare or balancing the budget “on the backs of veterans.”
Sasse talked about how he took over his hometown Lutheran college when it was on the brink of bankruptcy and unable to make its payroll – recalling the four times the school didn’t have enough money at the beginning of the month to pay employees at month’s end.
Asked about drones, domestic surveillance and the rights of privacy, Domina said the Fourth Amendment protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure, and “drones are no exception.” He said he opposes the use of drones to kill Americans in foreign countries and the National Security Agency’s seizure of emails and texts.
Sasse said Americans need “stone-colored realism about the dangers we face” and its government must have the technology to keep up with bad guys, but agreed with Domina on the need to guard against unreasonable search and seizure.
Asked if the federal government should address conflicting state and federal laws on marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage, Sasse said he believes in traditional marriage and children are best raised by a father and mother and doesn’t believe the government should be in the business of defining marriage. The feds also shouldn’t be involved in regulating marijuana – that should be left to local authorities, he said.
Domina disagreed, saying it’s the responsibility of government to define marriage, noting that a couple dozen states have legalized same-sex marriage. He said he’s not aware of any studies showing children fare better with a mother and father than with two fathers, two fathers or single parents.
As for pot, he said the feds need to address the situation where the drug is legal in Colorado but not in neighboring states, while federal law bans the transport of illegal drugs.
On energy, Domina advocated for abolishing federal subsidies for fossil fuels and redirecting them to renewable energy. He supported the EPA’s proposed new regulations to crack down on coal-fired power plants.
“Science is real, and the impact that fossil fuels are having on our environment are real,” he said. “They will come raining down on all our heads, and especially yours, if we don’t fix it immediately.”
Sasse decried the Obama adminstration’s “war on industries like coal.”
“The Obama administration doesn’t have an all of the above strategy — they have a Solyndra Strategy,” Sasse said, referring to a California solar company that went bankrupt despite $529 million in government subsidies.
Domina represents Nebraska landowners fighting the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline that would cross the state; Sasse supports the pipeline and the development of more North American oil and natural gas. Sasse also supports renewable energy, ethanol, clean nuclear power and wind energy “but not an administration that tries to pick winners and losers.”
Asked about the Affordable Care Act, more commonly called Obamacare, Sasse hammered on Congress for passing the law without reading it and said it has driven up health care costs and the 7 million enrolled in its health care exchanges doesn’t count 5.3 million who were left uninsured by Obamacare’s new mandates. He likened that to a Kmart manager burning down a Wal-Mart and then claiming he created business.
Domina said the law has “serious problems” – including an “unforgivable” rollout – but also some good provisions, such as requiring insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions and allow children to stay on parents’ plans longer and the elimination of lifetime coverage caps. He noted that Republican Sen. John McCain said it would be a “fool’s errand” to try to repeal the law.
On education, Sasse said he opposes Common Core State Standards – which were developed by groups such as the National Governors’ Association but have come under fire by wary conservatives. Sasse said they were supposed to be voluntary and state-based, but are “no longer either.” Sasse said raising kids is the responsibility of parents and local government and shouldn’t be “centrally done in Washington.”
Domina said the federal government has a “pretty dynamic interest” in making sure all students have common levels of understanding, noting that he may differ on education from Sasse, who attended private colleges and homeschools his children “which I applaud him for.” The problem is, both George W. Bush and Obama didn’t trust teachers to decide who should pass, Domina said.
Asked how they would stay true to their beliefs while working across the partisan divide toward solutions, Domina said he differs from Democrats in several areas and parties need to “drop the labels and think about the issues.”
Sasse was also willing to criticize his party, repeating his mantra that Republicans need to stop being “the party of no ideas” and saying the problem isn’t just that Democrats are in charge, but too many Republicans want Washington to be in charge.
“We need Washington to be a lot smaller and politicians to be a lot less relevant in our lives,” he said.
The only time one of them directly challenged the other was during the closing statements, when Domina challenged Sasse’s earlier assertion that there are 22,000 pages of Obamacare rules and regulations – which he has printed out and carries with him on a 9-foot-tall prop. Domina said to get to that length, you’d have to count all the proposed regulations, press releases and repealed regulations.
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