Hansen, Hassebrook present opposing views on issues important to Catholics
Voters in Legislative District 16, which includes Washington, Cuming and Burt counties, have a clear choice Nov. 6 when it comes to abortion, immigration, Medicaid expansion and school funding.
But neither candidate for the legislative seat, Ben Hansen nor Chuck Hassebrook, brings a consistent Catholic worldview to that slate of challenges.
And each of those issues is particularly important to Catholics, who are called by the church to be involved in the community, promote the intrinsic dignity of human life, assist the needy, take a stand on issues and vote.
The U.S. bishops’ teaching document on Catholics’ political responsibility, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship (FCFC),” clearly expresses a call to involvement and provides a guide to help shape public discourse and decisions.
“This statement (the document) represents our guidance for Catholics in the exercise of their rights and duties as participants in our democracy,” the bishops say in their introduction (FCFC, Introductory Note). “We urge our pastors, lay and religious faithful, and all people of good will to use this statement to help form their consciences; to teach those entrusted to their care; to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue; and to shape political choices in the coming election in light of Catholic teaching.”
To foster faithful citizenship among the Catholic faithful in the Archdiocese of Omaha, the Catholic Voice extended its coverage for the Nov. 6 elections to include stories from a faith perspective – in this edition on two races for the state Legislature. In the Sept. 21 edition, the newspaper interviewed candidates in two other legislative races, and in the Oct. 5 edition it covered two races for seats in the U.S. House. The Oct. 19 edition featured the Nebraska Catholic Conference’s survey of candidates running for state office, the U.S. House, U.S. Senate and state Legislature.
FAITH INFORMING ACTION
Both candidates in District 16 expressed strong faith in Christ and a motivation for public service powered by prayer and a desire to help others. Both are seeking the seat of state Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft, who was barred by term limits from running again.
Hansen grew up Lutheran and is not Catholic, although he attends Mass with his wife, Jill, at St. Francis Borgia Church in Blair, and their young daughter, Olivia, recently was baptized there. Faith informs his life, said Hansen, who sits on the board of directors of the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce and the Blair Community School Foundation, and has served as president of the Lions Club.
“I pray every night, the Lord’s Prayer, and spend some personal time between me and God,” he said. “I’ve attended a lot of Christian ministry groups. I pray for both of us (he and his wife), I pray for our state.”
Hassebrook is treasurer of his church, Bethany Lutheran in Lyons, and he has served on the church council. He and his wife, Kate, are parents of two grown sons.
Currently vice president for project development with Valentine-based Sandhills Energy, Hassebrook worked more than 36 years in Lyons at the Center for Rural Affairs, a national rural advocacy and development organization, and was its executive director for 18 years. He was elected three times as a regent for the University of Nebraska, and has served on the boards of the North Central Regional Rural Development Center of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Nebraska Rural Development Commission, the USDA Commission on Small Farms, and Bread for the World, a national, ecumenical antihunger organization.
All of his work is driven by faith, Hassebrook said.
“There’s a powerful message in the Bible about addressing the needs of the poor,” he said. “We need to give everyone a shot at real opportunity.”
Differences between Hansen and Hassebrook include abortion, an important issue for Catholics.
“One of the main reasons I got in this race is because I am personally, passionately pro-life,” said Hansen, a chiropractor and small business owner who was appointed in 2015 to the Blair City Council. Hassebrook, on the other hand, was endorsed by Planned Parenthood in his 2014 race for governor.
The best outcome for those opposed to abortion, Hansen said, would be for the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which in 1973 legalized abortion across the country. But Nebraska could take another step forward, he said, by going beyond its ban of abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy – based on when a baby in the womb is believed to feel pain – to banning them after about six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat is detected. Iowa’s Legislature passed a fetal heartbeat bill this year, and its Republican governor signed it into law.
“I look where the state of Iowa has gone,” said Hansen, a Republican. “Those are steps in the right direction.”
Hassebrook, a father of two, longtime advocate for rural farmers and businesses and a Democrat who lost the governor’s race to Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, said he supports the 20-week ban. Based on brain and nervous system development, it appears to be well-founded, he said.
“People of good conscience can disagree” on whether abortion should be altogether banned, Hassebrook said. “Whether some shorter time period (earlier stage in a pregnancy) might be appropriate, I haven’t focused on it,” he said. “Six weeks – that, I think, is shorter than I would support.”
For Catholics, abortion is not just one issue among many.
The U.S. bishops argue, “In our society, human life is especially under direct attack from abortion, which some political actors mischaracterize as an issue of ‘women’s health,’” the bishops say (FCFC, no. 44). And “the direct and intentional destruction of human life from the moment of conception until natural death is always wrong and is not just one issue among many. It must always be opposed” (FCFC, no. 28).
The Catholic Church stands firmly with immigrants, advocating reform of the U.S. immigration system and creating a path for citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.
“The Gospel mandate to ‘welcome the stranger’ requires Catholics to care for and stand with newcomers, authorized and unauthorized, including unaccompanied immigrant children, refugees and asylum-seekers, those unnecessarily detained, and victims of human trafficking,” the bishops write (FCFC, no. 81).
Hansen said he does not support a pathway to citizenship for young people brought to the United States illegally by their parents and currently protected under the federal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program. Nor does he support Nebraska’s practice of allowing such youth to obtain state-issued driver’s licenses, in-state tuition and professional licenses. The state also provides prenatal care to undocumented pregnant women, a practice Hansen said he does not back.
“I’m against taxpayer benefits being used for illegal immigrants,” he said. Church and other charitable organizations might step in to help, but “does that give someone the right to jump in for benefits? No.”
Hassebrook, on the other hand, said he supports a path to citizenship for DACA youth and helping them in the meanwhile with state benefits, as well as prenatal care for the unborn “who will be American citizens when they are born.” In addition to protecting the health of the unborn and the mother, it saves taxpayer money by reducing the need for infant medical care, he said.
Catholic teaching distinguishes between serious moral evils such as euthanasia and abortion, which should never be committed because they attack human life, and issues such as immigration and helping the needy, which can be argued and pursued according to judgments of prudence – the ability to choose the right means to achieve a discerned good.
Like immigration, the issue of expanding Medicaid, which will be on the November ballot, calls for prudential judgment. Lawmakers the past several years have declined to broaden coverage, and groups favoring expansion gathered enough signatures to put the issue before the state’s voters.
Hassebrook said he backs expanding Medicaid because many families make too little money to afford health insurance but too much money to qualify for benefits. They include hard-working people receiving low wages, he said.
“These are people who are contributing members of society – working in food service, on farms and in feedlots – these people deserve the chance to have access to medical care,” he said.
Expanding Medicaid also makes financial sense, because it would reduce the number of uninsured hospital visits, when expenses fall on the hospital and higher costs for people who do have insurance, he said.
“To some degree we’ve provided universal health care, we just haven’t decided how to pay for it,” Hassebrook said.
Hansen argues that Medicaid should be short-term and act as a “hand up, not a hand out.” He used his own family as an example, saying he graduated with substantial student debt and had not started his chiropractic practice when his wife became seriously ill.
“We pinched pennies and we got help from Medicaid,” then worked their way off the benefit, Hansen said.
Any expansion of Medicaid benefits should be arrived at through reduction of waste and fraud, and more efficient use of funds already available, he said. At the same time, if the expansion proposal passes, the state will do its best to carry out the mandate, Hansen said.
Both candidates said increasing state aid to rural public schools and cutting property taxes are high on their list of priorities. Eight of nine school districts in Legislative District 16 don’t receive state equalization aid, they said.
Lack of state aid leaves the school districts with one of two undesirable choices: increase property taxes or cut spending, they said.
Hassebrook said the state could help by covering all or a part of special education costs, or by providing an additional per student payment.
Hansen also suggested an increase in per-pupil subsidies. Even better, he said, might be to see “the whole thing blown up and start again.”
The Catholic Church stresses the importance of funding education for all students – in public, private or religious schools (FCFC, no. 83). To help families attend religious schools, the Nebraska Catholic Conference (NCC) has proposed a state tax credit for businesses and individuals who donate to organizations that provide scholarships for families who want to send their children to a Catholic or other private school.
Hansen said he is open to the NCC’s proposal, depending on how the bill is written.
“I’m a strong proponent of parental choice, whether its home school, public or private school,” he said. “I like the idea of the bill.”
Hassebrook said religious education has a strong track record, and he would back use of state funds to support them if the state could afford it. Already, however, Nebraska ranks No. 48 among the 50 states in the share of state funding it devotes to public schools, he said.
“If we had plenty of money, I’d be open to it,” he said. “But it’s not a public responsibility to fund a private education.”