LINCOLN – Incumbent Bruce Bostleman faces challenger Helen Raikes in the Primary Election race for District 23.
Because Nebraska choses the top two vote getters in a primary to advance to the General Election, it is expected that both candidates will be on the ballot in November, as no one else has filed for election.
Bostleman, of Brainard, was elected to the Legislature in 2016 and is seeking a second term in office. Nebraska legislators are restricted to two consecutive terms in office under state law.
During his first term, Bostleman said he and his colleagues completed a significant amount of work together. He is running for re-election to continue to represent the conservative values in District 23.
“I will continue to fight for lower property taxes while also increasing funding to our schools, protecting the unborn, standing up for our Second Amendment rights, modernizing rural EMS healthcare, prioritizing juvenile justice/truancy, stopping human trafficking, expanding broadband access and caring for our veterans,” he said. “I have led efforts for key legislation to protect our communities from flooding, and have worked with our communities in their recovery from the floods of 2019. I have also introduced legislation that will modernize our rural emergency medical services while reducing costs and saving lives.”
Bostleman’s plan to serve a second term includes finishing the work he started in his first term.
“I have been honored to serve the people of District 23, and want to continue our work to make it the best place to raise a family and live out their dreams,” he said.
Raikes, a resident of rural Ashland, is seeking a seat in the Legislature to continue and finish the service work started by her late husband, who died in a tragic agricultural accident more than a decade ago. State Sen. Ron Raikes was a member of the Nebraska Legislature from 1998 to 2008 and chair of the Education Committee who set into motion several of Nebraska’s early childhood programs.
“I am retiring from the University of Nebraska after a long career of teaching and research, so I am in a position to fulfill my promise to be of service. My perspectives, experience and areas of expertise regarding agriculture and education will be helpful in these challenging times,” said Raikes. “As an Independent, I can bring people together – Democrats and Republicans, rural and urban, agriculture and schools – where discussions have often been divisive and ineffective.”
Raikes said she conducted 12 listening sessions before she decided to put her name on the ballot. During those sessions, she learned that the voters are discontented with the Legislature, especially regarding property taxes, schools and a number of issues important to communities.
“By running, I can contribute to a better dialogue around these issues; by serving, I can contribute to solving the problems. I am also excited about Nebraskans having a common vision for the future, such as the one presented by Blueprint Nebraska. It will be difficult but I think we can use the current crisis to catapult us into some new ways of thinking,” she said.
Some of the main issues facing the state are the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the candidates.
“Recovering from coronavirus and opening the economy back up while maintaining healthy communities is our most immediate challenge,” said Bostleman.
Raikes said experts predict a decline in the national gross domestic product and state revenues could drop 15 to 25 percent, forcing the government to rely on cash reserves and federal emergency payments, which will need to be prioritized.
“Addressing emergency needs, helping small businesses and nonprofits and getting people back to work will likely take priority, as well as support for our major industries,” she added.
The incumbent plans to work on property tax relief, as he had during his first term, as well as continue efforts to help those affected by the 2019 floods and the current pandemic.
“The need for property tax relief especially for our agriculture producers and small businesses has been my top priority, and I continue to fight to expand direct relief from the state,” Bostleman said. “From the flooding to the pandemic, we must work together to move our state beyond two years of disasters.”
Raikes said supporting agriculture – Nebraska’s leading industry – and the community’s whose livelihood is based on agriculture, is her first priority.
“Low commodity prices coupled with Nebraska’s high property taxes, further challenged by natural emergencies and the effects of the pandemic have created an unsustainable mix for agriculture,” she said.
With the second highest agriculture property taxes in the nation, Nebraska’s tax structure needs to be remodeled and new sources of revenue must be found, according to Raikes.
“We need a new balance among local property taxes, school expenses and state funding for schools. In the COVID-19 environment we will need to find new ways of economizing,” she said.
Small communities in the state face opportunities and barriers to attracting a new generation, Raikes said. Bringing broadband, health and telehealth services, childcare and affordable and accessible housing to those communities, along with supporting small business start ups and expansions and improving roads and environmental quality are some of the ways to overcome those barriers, she explained.
“Our many issues will require steady hands, clear thinking about short and long-term goals for Nebraska, thoughtful consideration of tradeoffs, and leadership that exemplifies the best of what the nonpartisan Unicameral has to offer – true collaboration across parties and rural and urban contingencies,” she said.
The immediate issue of the COVID-19 pandemic is being handled well in Nebraska, according to the candidates. Bostleman is working with the three public health departments located in District 23 and has seen first hand how they are working tirelessly to meet the needs of the communities.
“The effort that our state has done working together has been very good,” he added. “The Legislature very quickly provided coronavirus response funding to the governor who has worked tirelessly with all stakeholders to address the issues resulting from coronavirus.”
Raikes said she is impressed with the way state agencies and service providers have stepped up to work with the governor and local government to handle the pandemic.
“The governor was able to negotiate with the president for a Nebraska-appropriate solution and resist national criticism for not shutting down entirely,” she said. “Communication has been regular and effective, and it is great to have the University of Nebraska Medical Center to guide Nebraska practices.”
Raikes said lessons learned during the pandemic may catapult change that will bring missing services to the communities.
“As the old Chinese proverb goes, ‘In every crisis there is an opportunity,’” she said.
The pandemic has forced both candidates to change
their campaign strategies. Bostleman said in previous election years, he went door to door to meet the voters. Not this year.
“I miss not being able to speak face-to-face with constituents, and have been working every day to serve them by phone, email, and other virtual means,” he said.
No matter how he has interacted with the voters, Bostleman said he is getting feedback that includes gratitude for the work the Legislature has done over the past four years.
“The need for property tax relief remains an urgent priority for our agriculture community,” he said. “The protection of the unborn and our Second Amendment rights are very important to our communities. Growing small businesses and expanding affordable broadband is needed to grow our economy and meet the needs of our school children.”
Raikes started her campaign by meeting voters face to face, but the pandemic put an end to that form of personal interaction. Her team then shifted to a virtual campaign with a Facebook Live kick off and Zoom meet and greet. She has also spent a good amount of time talking to voters on the phone and sending emails.
“Of course, I would have rather met with people in person but we have all had to adapt,” she said.
Feedback from voters tells Raikes that property taxes and balancing school funding are priorities, as well as a fear that urban interests may dominate the needs of the small communities.
“I also see and hear strengths. I see tremendous love of family throughout this district, neighbors helping neighbors and their local businesses and communities, a love of the land and of independence, hard work, and great kindness born of religious or other values. There is interest in hearing about new possibilities. There is commitment and creativity everywhere – the drive-by social celebrations, the support for local businesses, the arts, the essential workers, problem solving – and hope for the future,” she said.