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First-time candidates compete for District 10 seat in Nebraska legislature

High-quality education – and how to pay for it – are key issues in a legislative race in north-central and northwestern Douglas County.

Two newcomers to the campaign trail, Wendy DeBoer and Matt Deaver, are vying for a seat in the Nebraska Legislature currently held by state Sen. Bob Krist, who is vacating the spot due to term limits. Krist, a Democrat, also is running for governor.

DeBoer, 44, a Democrat, and Deaver, 43, a Republican, are competing to represent District 10 in the nonpartisan Unicameral.

As the Catholic Voice highlights several political races this election season, the newspaper reached out to both candidates, speaking with Deaver about his background and positions on key issues.

DeBoer did not respond to several requests for an interview.

The Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC), which represents the public policy interests of Nebraska’s three bishops, believes voters need clear information from candidates on their positions on several issues important to Catholic and other voters.

To that end, the NCC sent questionnaires to candidates in key Nebraska races, publishing the results as a voters’ guide at necatholic.org and in the Oct. 19 issue of the Catholic Voice. 

Deaver responded to the NCC’s questionnaire. DeBoer did not.

She also declined to respond to similar requests from Nebraska Right to Life, Nebraska Family Alliance, and Vote Smart’s 2018 Political Courage Test.

In the Omaha World-Herald’s Oct. 7 endorsement of DeBoer, the paper provided no indication of her positions on the issues.

So, given the limited amount of information available, her views for this article have been taken from her campaign website and statements to other media outlets.

A native of Omaha and a Lutheran, DeBoer is pursuing a doctorate in Christian theology from Syracuse University in New York and has taught philosophy and religious studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She holds a master’s degree in Christian theology from Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago and a law degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and has worked as an attorney in Kansas City.

Deaver is an Omaha attorney and a Methodist who holds an undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Nebraska-

Lincoln and a master of business administration and a law degree from Creighton University in Omaha. He previously worked as an aide to U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., when Smith was a state senator. Deaver also worked in the State Treasurer’s office.

MOTIVATION FOR RUNNING

Deaver said he feels a civic duty to run for office. “I’ve got three young kids and have lived in Nebraska my entire life, and I’m hoping to give them and other young people the opportunities I’ve had,” he said.

He proposed achieving that through low taxes, proper funding of schools, expanded vocational training and business development. 

“My faith calls on me to help those who are less fortunate, so as a legislator, my goal would be to help folks who are in true need, and at the same time, guide what we do in the Legislature in a way that benefits all Nebraskans.”

In a radio ad, DeBoer says her faith is a guiding force in her life and one reason she is running for office.

On her campaign website, she said, “Nebraska is a great place to live and raise a family, but I also see that not everyone is thriving. People are struggling with low-paying jobs and some do not have access to the quality schools that everyone deserves.” 

“Our nonpartisan politics are becoming partisan and our schools are not quite what they used to be. We can do better. … I just couldn’t sit on the sidelines, knowing the unique combination of education and experiences I have that could benefit our legislature and our state,” she said.

EDUCATION AND TAXES

In their document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) states: “All persons have a right to receive a quality education,” and that it “… strongly supports adequate funding, including scholarships, tax credits, and other means, to educate all persons no matter what their personal condition or what school they attend – public, private, or religious” (FCFC, no. 83). 

The NCC supported a bill last session that would grant tax credits for private donations to nonprofit organizations providing scholarships for low-income and working-class children attending parochial or private K-12 schools. The bill did not pass.

Although not in favor of school vouchers or charter schools, Deaver said he would consider some type of tax credit for families with children in parochial schools. 

“We have some of the best parochial schools in the country, and I’m an advocate for them doing what they do,” he said.

DeBoer has not taken a public stance on tax credits for private-school scholarships. But Deaver and DeBoer urge adequate funding for public schools, and an increase in state funding that would help cut property taxes.

In a response to questions put forth by the League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha in their primary season voters’ guide, DeBoer said, “I believe in supporting and continuing to improve Nebraska’s public education.”

“I went through Omaha’s public schools and am proud of how it prepared me for my academic life. Charter schools would pull funding from public education and they aren’t always successful. Especially in a time when the budget is tight, we need to work together to make our existing public schools better, not fund a new system.”

In an Aug. 5 candidate profile in the Omaha World-Herald DeBoer said, “My No. 1 legislative priority is ensuring access to high-quality public education.”

But property taxes are a key source of funding for public schools. And both candidates are calling for property tax relief.

“For most property owners, 50 percent of their tax bill goes toward public schools,” Deaver told the Catholic Voice. “If we are ever going to have real property tax relief, the state is going to have to take over some of that cost. Then, it comes down to, ‘How are we going to pay for it?’”

Deaver believes an answer lies in finding savings in the current budget.

“It’s time we take a real look at our state agencies – how efficient have they been?” To that end, Deaver suggests performance audits to find ways to save money.

DeBoer said in the World-Herald article that the state should increase its funding to public education. “We need to get property taxes down, and the only way we’re going to do that is by materially changing how we fund education in Nebraska,” she said. 

MEDICAID EXPANSION

The U.S. bishops call affordable and accessible health care an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental human right, and support measures to strengthen Medicare and Medicaid (FCFC, no. 80). But they also say specific proposals can be supported or opposed based on well-informed prudential judgement (FCFC, no. 33).

In her response to questions posed in the onyourballot.vote411.org voter guide, DeBoer said, “Since Medicaid is largely funded through federal dollars, not passing Medicaid expansion in Nebraska sends money from our federal taxes to other states.

“Therefore, I support expanding Medicaid coverage for the most vulnerable among us, particularly because preventative healthcare can help avoid future financial liability to the state taxpayers. Nebraska can’t afford to miss out on the millions of dollars that would go back into our economy and keep health insurance costs down for everyone.” 

Medicaid expansion is likely to be approved by Nebraska voters on Nov. 6, Deaver said, but he has reservations. “My biggest concern is how to pay for it.”

“I think it’s going to be very hard for the Legislature come up with the money to fund public schools and reduce property taxes if we expand Medicaid,” he said.

The proposed expansion would benefit about 90,000 low-income Nebraskans, about 5 percent of the state’s population, he said.

LIFE ISSUES

Catholic teaching holds that abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are direct attacks on human life and dignity and should never be done, the U.S. bishops state (FCFC, no. 64).

DeBoer has not shared her views on those key life issues.

Deaver said he is 100 percent pro-life and opposed to those practices.

He said he supports the Legislature’s budget action earlier this year to ensure federal Title X money does not go to organizations that provide or refer for abortions.

“I don’t believe government should be supporting abortion, so I’m going to be on the side of where we’ve been the last year, but I would be open to taking more permanent action on that,” he said.

Immigration is another issue of concern for Catholics. The Catholic bishops state that, “The right and responsibility of nations to control their borders and to maintain the rule of law should be recognized but pursued in a just and humane manner,” treating immigrants with compassion (FCFC, no. 81).

DeBoer appears not to have taken a public stand on immigration. Deaver said he is concerned about open borders. “We cannot have chaos at the borders,” he said.

“We’ve always been a country of immigrants, but I think immigrants need to come here legally,” he said.  “The federal government needs to do a better job of controlling this.”

Regarding young people in the United States under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Deaver said he is open to some path to citizenship for them.

“But first, we need to stop this inflow of illegal immigration,” he said.

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