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Given the lack of acrimony, it hardly seems like we’re just weeks away from a statewide general election. Perhaps the rancor over the U.S. Supreme Court nomination has dulled our senses or simply overshadowed what could be another – yawn - Republican sweep in a Republican state.

When I say sweep, I’m not ready to include the gubernatorial race, where the smug millionaire incumbent Republican has avoided debating the eager Democrat challenger at any cost. The traditional State Fair debate – held on a weekday afternoon – was almost laughable and did little to enlighten anyone. A joint appearance at the Temple Israel in west Omaha was just that, a joint appearance.

A debate in Wayne never happened when the challenger suggested statewide broadcast of the event and the incumbent balked. Attempts to schedule a series of debates were in vain. Even the interest of C-Span and statewide educational television couldn’t bring the Republicans out of their comfort zone as they resorted to calling the challenger desperate.

As I said early in this race, I guess if you live anywhere west of Grand Island, you’re not going to have a chance to see a debate to compare style and ideas and sincerity and trustworthiness. If you missed the State Fair debate, you’re outta luck.

You might ask yourself why. I suggest there are a couple things at play. First, the incumbent and his ruling party are so smug and secure; they don’t think they have to work for it. They have dark money forces ready to swoop in and spread lies and misinformation at the drop of a hat. The incumbent has a majority of the Legislature on financial strings and is assured he can have his will and way there. So why debate?

Second, the incumbent and his cronies have seen the poll numbers and they aren’t what they thought they’d be. They don’t want to run the risk of giving the challenger a chance to tighten the gap even more through an honest debate on the issues. So, they’ll avoid the debates and the issues and let their guy rest on his laurels. Yes, I firmly believe that is a likely case.

It’s like the current season of Nebraska football when we consider it a victory when the margin of loss isn’t as great as we feared. We have to wait until November 6 to get the final score, but I think there could be a surprise brewing. People are fed up with promises of property tax relief and little action in that regard. Sorry Governor, I’m not buying those pennies on the dollar tax credits. Please don’t send me another post card to tell me how fortunate I am.

As for the other statewide races: The Republican Attorney General has no challenger. He dropped out of the race for health reasons in June. Republican Bob Evnen faces Spencer Danner of Omaha in the Secretary of State race. Danner’s father and grandfather were well known Democrat politicians. State Sen. John Murante of Gretna is unopposed for Treasurer. Republican Charlie “Three-Hour Lunch” Janssen faces Democrat Jane Skinner in the Auditor’s race.

Voters will elect four new State Board of Education members in a non-partisan race. Three incumbents are seeking re-election. Likewise, four new University of Nebraska Regents will be elected in another non-partisan race featuring three incumbents.

Incumbent Tim Schram is seeking re-election in his Public Service Commission race and state Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse is also seeking a PSC seat in a different district.

In the Legislature: five incumbents are running unopposed; 11 incumbents have challengers and eight districts will be represented by newbies in the officially non-partisan body. If Murante and Watermeier win their statewide races, the governor will appoint replacements.

Going into the election, there are officially 31 Republicans, 16 Democrats, 1 Independent and 1 Libertarian in the Legislature. That balance of power could shift slightly. Will it be enough to make a difference in an important year where lawmakers MUST tackle reform of the state’s tax system?

One can only hope. We need fresh ideas and the guts to implement them.

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J.L. Schmidt has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered Independent for 19 years.


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