Colten White, Gettysburg, Kearney High
Starting off the race for the Nebraska Senate general election, Democrat Dave Domina and Republican Ben Sasse offered their perspectives on several issues for an audience consisting of both 2014 Boys’ and Girls’ State Delegates. The two candidates began the forum with opening statements. Domina’s primary message throughout his introduction consisted of a theme for an “honest country.” This was driven home through the use of multiple examples, ranging from the banking crisis to the Keystone XL Pipeline. While no official rebuttals were allowed during the forum structure, Sasse offered a conflicting introductory theme that opposed “promises that don’t add up.”
The first question of the evening revolved around domestic surveillance. Beginning the discussion, Domina flatly stated that the use of Drones against U.S. citizens, at home and abroad, as well as the collection of metadata by the NSA, are not permissible. Stating that he “fundamentally disagrees” with the Obama administration on this issue, Domina appeared to distance himself from his party’s national leader, possibly due to the fact he is running as a democrat in a solidly republican state. One criticism that both candidates shared the burden of throughout the forum was the trivial back-and-forth over the categorization of the U.S. as either a republic or a democracy, something better left to an eighth grade civics course than a senate race. Sasse differentiated his opinion by stating his agreement with the use of drones in most cases. He agreed with his opponent on the illegitimacy of the NSA.
Continuing with the evening was the question of the federal government’s role in the legalization of marijuana and gay marriage. Sasse began his response with a declaration of support for traditional marriage, and boldly stated that some studies show that kids are best raised in an environment with a father and a mother. No studies were cited, and Domina also questioned the legitimacy in his response, stating that he has never seen any data to support Sasse’s claim. Sasse left the issue of marijuana up to the state lawmakers. Domina contradicted this view, stating that the federal government has a duty to correct issues between states such as Nebraska and Colorado on the legal/illegal transport of marijuana. Domina placed his stance on marriage in support of decisions made by states, rather than by nature.
In terms of the ever constant struggle between fossil fuels and the environment, the candidates offered differing views once again. In an extremely progressive environmentalist stance, Domina called for a “complete and total” repeal of federal subsidies for fossil fuels, and supported the reallocation of those appropriations for renewable energy. Impacting his case in strong manner, Domina stated that the younger generations will see the negative effects of climate change. Sasse, on the other hand, went with a very run-of-the-mill conservative approach to the energy debacle. He stated that the federal government should stop the “war on coal,” and fully use all fossil fuels available in the U.S.
Seeing that Sasse is one of the premier opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it made sense to include it among the questions for the forum. While huge amounts of discussion time were devoted to this subject, it can be summed up simply. Sasse supports the full repeal of the ACA, while Domina supports continuing to work on reforming the bill.
The final two questions tackled very different issues. The second to last question discussed Education and Student Loans. Sasse greatly opposed the common core education plans, but defined the federal role more in terms of grants. Domina urged the electorate to trust teachers and help relieve student loan debts. While he disparaged debts owed to for-profit institutions, it could be said that Domina ought to have focused more on debt owed to all institutions, even public universities.
The final, and possibly the most intriguing, question of the night was in regards to party polarization and gridlock. Domina used harsh anti-party language that in many ways was a brilliant critique of the party alliances that exist in the current political climate. He detested the “tribal” language of political parties, and urged everyone to drop labels when discussing ideas and policy. He stated that parties have no inherent utility or value, and that they should only exist to facilitate discussion. Sasse offered a more moderate approach, saying that Washington needs fewer savvy politicians, and more figures who are connected to the people. Despite these similarities, he lacked the vigorous critique of the party culture that was employed by Domina.
While the closing statements offered little new information, both candidates brought to a close the end of the beginning, for the 2014 Nebraska senate general elections. All in attendance have witnessed the beginning of a saga that will last several months until the general elections take place. There was possibly no better place to start this race than at Boys’ and Girls’ state.