Of the six candidates running for Nebraska’s Republican nomination for governor, two are state senators: Tom Carlson of Holdrege, and Beau McCoy of Omaha. In this second of three NET News Campaign Connection 2014 Signature Stories on the race, Fred Knapp gives us a glimpse of Carlson and McCoy campaigning in person.
It’s 9:00 a.m. on a weekday morning and Tom Carlson’s going table to table at the Chances R restaurant in York.
“Tom Carlson,” the candidate says. “Are you a farmer?”
Moving through the room, he explains, “I’m from Holdrege. And of the people running for governor – they’re good people -- three of them are from Omaha, two of ‘em from Lincoln and I’m the only one in rural Nebraska.”
Tom Carlson chats with a voter in York (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
At another table, Carlson meets someone who knows one of his Holdrege neighbors in the cattle business. “I know all the Wallers out there,” the man declares. “Tim and Kenny and Lloyd?” Carlson asks. “I was good friends with Lloyd,” the man replies.
Carlson was born in Holdrege 72 years ago. He went to college in Colorado, got a PhD in statistics and physical education from the University of Iowa, and worked as an insurance agent.
Carlson’s now finishing eight years in the Legislature, where he led the effort to get $30 million approved for new water projects. Carlson tells people he wants to continue work in that field. “I’d like to be governor to see us reach sustainability in water, which is the key to agriculture and livestock production,” he says.
Carlson says concentrating on rural concerns benefits the entire state. “I’m all for Lincoln and Omaha, and I want the urban areas of the state to really prosper. And they will. But not necessarily rural Nebraska,” he explains. “But when rural Nebraska prospers, so does Lincoln and Omaha.”
Carlson says new jobs in rural Nebraska are not going to be created on farms, but in the towns around them. “We have safe communities. By and large we have good schools. We have good access to medical care and we have good churches. And good recreational opportunities. So the quality of life is there,” he says.
However, he adds “I don’t think as a state we’ve done as good a job as we could marketing that." he says. “And we have to have a reason for companies to locate in rural Nebraska."
To that end, Carlson says at least half the economic development incentives the state offers should be aimed at luring companies to rural areas.
Carlson is betting his rural emphasis will be his trump card in the Republican primary. “I hope it is,” he says. “I think I’ve served well in the Legislature for eight years. And if enough people in rural Nebraska recognize that, realize that, and know that we can count on Tom Carlson for being concerned about agriculture, livestock production and what happens to rural Nebraska,” that could help him win.
Another state senator -- Beau McCoy – is hoping people make him the next governor. On a spring evening in Norfolk, the 33-year-old McCoy is introducing himself to a gathering at the VFW Hall. “All I’ve ever known in my life is growing up on the ranch and then being in small business. We have a construction company today in Elkhorn in Omaha, and we do a lot of work up here in Madison County,” he says.
McCoy grew up on a Colorado ranch near the Nebraska border. He went to college at Northeast Community College and Bellevue University. And like the other candidates, he’s putting on a lot of miles campaigning around the state. Technology lets thousands of people watch debates on the internet, McCoy says, but it hasn’t changed everything.
Beau McCoy talks to voters in Norfolk. (Photo by Fred Knapp, NET News)
“You know what I’m really glad hasn’t changed?” he asks. “It’s the same way it’s always been in Nebraska. People want to meet you. They want to shake your hand, they want to look you in the eye and they want to ask you about where you’re going to be on issues.”
McCoy has been heavily involved with some of the most important issues in his six years in the Legislature. The last two, he was a leader in successful efforts to prevent Medicaid expansion in the state. He tells the Norfolk group that’s an example of what he thinks Nebraskans want. “I think they’re after a conservative who says they’re a conservative and whose proven they’re a conservative and who isn’t going to wilt under pressure,” he says.
McCoy has felt some of that pressure. Last year, he introduced a bill for Gov. Dave Heineman to abolish state income taxes. The proposal was roundly criticized by farmers and manufacturers, among groups who would have been taxed to make up for the loss of revenue.
The bill got stuck in committee, and McCoy eventually asked that it be killed. But, he argues, it led to tax cuts this year. “I think we made some great strides this year that would not have happened had it not been for the discussion that Gov. Heineman and I initiated last year. We took a lot of slings and arrows for it. But we wouldn’t have got where we got today had we not been bold in what we proposed and started this discussion on tax cuts,” McCoy says.
The Legislature cut taxes for farmers, veterans, seniors and disabled people. And it made sure people wouldn’t be pushed into higher income tax brackets just because of inflation. But senators did not lower income tax rates, and they didn’t pass McCoy’s proposal to cut ag land property tax values. McCoy says he wants to continue cutting taxes as governor. And he says he won’t base those cuts on first achieving more efficiency in government. “I think you cut taxes first. You starve the beast that is state government, and that controls state spending,” he says.
McCoy’s campaign has been almost entirely financed by another former candidate who dropped out of the race. Falls City cattle producer Charles Herbster donated nearly $2 million of the $2.1 million in cash collected by McCoy’s campaign as of early April. McCoy says he won’t be unduly influenced by Herbster if elected, but will remain guided by his own strong convictions and beliefs.
To see Carlson's latest campaign finance report, click here.
To see McCoy's latest campaign finance report, click here and go to the link dated 04/28/2014. The remainder of McCoy's contributions from Herbster are in the link labeled Annual Report covering 01/01/2013 - 12/31/2013.