Of the five Nebraska Republicans running for U.S. Senate, Shane Osborn was the candidate with the most name recognition at the start of the race. He’d been state treasurer and gained world-wide notoriety during his Navy career for an encounter with the Chinese. In this NET News Campaign Connection 2014 Signature Story, Mike Tobias reports Osborn hopes to use these experiences to get elected to the Senate.
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“Keep eating, don’t let me interrupt that,” Osborn joked. “That’s ‘cardinal sin’ number one for somebody running for office, is to get in the way of a meal.”
He’s giving a speech about leadership, but if you’re running for office it’s also about winning votes. “I’ll get to a little bit about my background, and I’ll talk a little bit about the race for U.S. Senate,” he said.
Because of this background, Osborn was the best-known of the five Republicans entering the Senate race. He’s been elected before, serving a four-year term as state treasurer starting in 2007. From this time Osborn touts his reduction of the office’s budget and creation of a web site for people to better see how state funds are spent.
“I’m the only one up here tonight, probably anywhere in the country, that can say they’ve actually shrunk government and made government more efficient,” Osborn said during the Republican Senate debate in Lincoln. “We won awards for our efficiency. I brought you transparency. I said I’d do it and that’s what I did. I delivered. That’s the kind of guy I am. I am an action-oriented guy.”
He made bigger headlines 13 years ago as a Navy pilot, when a Chinese jet fighter collided in mid-air with Osborn’s reconnaissance plane. Osborn landed his damaged plane in China, where he and his crew were held and interrogated for 12 days. The incident is a big part of his campaign.
“How many people tell us what we want to hear, we send them out to Washington, D.C., and they become somebody completely different,” Osborn said in an interview. “I’m telling people I can handle pressure. I’ve had pressure, you know. When they’re telling you your crews are going to start disappearing one at a time, it shows people that I will stand up against heavy odds and against extreme pressure and do what’s right.”
A Norfolk native, Osborn enlisted in the military after earning a degree in mathematics and statistics from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After the incident in China, he stayed in the Navy another four years, flying post-9/11 missions in Afghanistan. He didn’t run for re-election to the Treasurer’s Office in 2010, saying he instead wanted to focus on family and building several businesses. He now lives in Waterloo, a village outside Omaha.
Like most of the Republican candidates, the 39-year-old Osborn’s decision to run for Senate was at least partially triggered by the actions of two people he calls personal political mentors: current Senator Mike Johanns, who decided not to seek re-election, and Gov. Dave Heineman, who stayed out of the Senate race. Osborn also says he wants to take on the challenge of what he calls the mess in Washington.
“Not on my watch. I refuse to sit back and watch our country decline,” Osborn said. “I think our best days can be in front of us but we’re going to have to have people that will put the country first out in Washington, D.C. So the least we can do is have people serving us in the Congress in Washington, D.C. and the federal government with the same level of commitment that our men and women in uniform do every day.”
Osborn calls himself a proven conservative, and his perspective on many issues is similar to the other self-described conservative Republican candidates. He’s pro-life, supports gun rights and wants a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare.
“What we need are free market solutions with portability,” Osborn said, talking about health care during the Republican debate. From job to job and across state lines, and I want to stress across state lines will bring in those free market competitions that we’re going to need to truly get this back on track.”
Osborn is against amnesty and a pathway to citizenship for immigrants illegally in the United States. He also wants to see government regulators “reigned in” to help job growth and business expansion. When it comes to the economy, he calls energy independence the “low hanging fruit” that could lead to millions of new jobs.
“We’ve got a diversified energy portfolio here in North America,” Osborn said. “The infrastructure created to get that energy to market would be huge and we can start exporting energy to places like Europe so (Russian President Vladimir) Putin can’t hold a gun to their head with his pipeline for natural gas. Liquefied natural gas is something we should be exporting and that’s what we need. Instead we’ve got the EPA with the war on coal. Well, that hurts Nebraskans. You know, 70 percent of our power is from coal-fired plants. That’s going to cause our prices to go up. People complain about jobs going overseas. It’s really simple. Simplify the tax code, a fair, flatter tax, reign in the regulators and become North American energy independent. If we have infrastructure and cheap access to energy we’ll bring those jobs back.”
Osborn says if elected he’ll stick to his principles, but at the same time use his military background to work across congressional party lines.
“There’s something you learn in the military,” Osborn said. “The guy on your left may have been told by a judge, ‘enlist or you’re going to jail.’ The guy on your right may be a Rhodes Scholar (who) speaks six different languages. It’s diversification. It’s geographic, ethnic backgrounds, all diversified. We’re put together in intense situations and we’re made to work together and we get the mission done.”
“I think you need to build relationships,” Osborn added. “It goes back to President (Ronald) Reagan and (former House speaker) Tip O’Neill. They worked well together even though they were apart on many of the issues, they didn’t make it always personal. That’s one of the things that you don’t see in the Senate and the Congress in general; people aren’t even building relationships within their own party. They’re all worried about their re-election and the 24-hour news cycle. That’s not the kind of senator I’m going to be and I don’t think Nebraskans want to see that.”
For now, Osborn is trying to build relationships with voters, hoping his background will separate him from the other Republicans running for the U.S. Senate.