HomeTop StoriesDodge County District 15 legislative candidates weigh in on taxes, education, economy

Dodge County District 15 legislative candidates weigh in on taxes, education, economy

Five candidates are vying for the Legislature’s District 15 seat currently held by term-limited State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont. Clockwise from top left, Dave “Woody” Wordekemper, Roxie Kracl, Scott Thomas, Anthony Hanson and Peter Mayberry. (Photos courtesy of the candidates; Capitol photo by Rebecca Gratz for the Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A crowded legislative race in Dodge County and Valley includes a business owner, engineer, firefighter paramedic, financial services company president and human rights advocate.

The five candidates are seeking to succeed term-limited State Sen. Lynne Walz of Fremont, a real estate agent, former teacher and moderate Democrat. In the race are: Anthony Hanson, an engineer; Roxie Kracl, president of Credit Bureau Services; Peter Mayberry, who owns a number of laundromats; Scott Thomas, whose work focuses on human rights; and Dave “Woody” Wordekemper, a firefighter paramedic.

The candidates range in age from their 30s to their 50s. Four are registered Republicans from Fremont, the county seat of Dodge County, while the fifth is a registered Democrat from Valley, the sliver of Douglas County that is in Legislative District 15.

The race will be narrowed to two candidates after the officially nonpartisan May 14 primary election to determine who will compete for a four-year term in November.

Hanson

Anthony Hanson

Age: 34

Political party: Republican

Education: Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Work experience: Manufacturing of medical devices, engineer

Political office: None

Hanson, who has worked as an engineer for a corn biorefinery in Blair for the past six years, said he moved to Fremont in 2014 with his wife. His “main driving force” for running is the family’s three children.

“I am concerned about the world they’re going to be growing up in and want to make a difference,” Hanson said.

He grew up on a farm in Osceola, Nebraska, before moving to Lincoln to study mechanical engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln after high school. 

In addition to his No. 1 issue of property taxes, Hanson said, he is concerned about protecting children and slowing down “what is happening in schools.” He said this includes gender-related issues — women’s sports, locker rooms and restrooms.

Hanson also is seeking to protect farmers and agriculture from foreign landowners and large corporations while preserving their right to repair and work on their own equipment.

Kracl

Roxie Kracl

Age: 56

Political party: Republican

Education: High school diploma

Work experience: Credit Bureau Services

Political office: None

Kracl grew up in Lexington and moved to Fremont in 1982, raising her four children on her family farm and beginning work at Credit Bureau Services 34 years ago. She now serves as its president.

She opened a bar and grill downtown 14 years ago, which she sold this month, and has served on the local Business Improvement District Board and with the local chamber of commerce.

“I’ve always been involved in Fremont and serving on lots of committees and boards,” Kracl said.

Kracl has been active in Dodge County politics as a longtime county GOP chair as well. She said she stepped down a couple years ago but remains active on the board. She has also served with the Nebraska GOP as a national delegate for the past three presidential elections and as an at-large congressional district member for the state GOP’s executive board.

“I’ve worked with lots of campaigns and just felt like this was my time to run,” Kracl said.

One of her priorities is bringing her experiences to the table to look at regulations and legislation that may appear “pro consumer” to see if there could be any unintended consequences.

Mayberry

Peter Mayberry

Age: 43

Political party: Democrat

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Education: Bachelor’s degree, University of Nebraska at Kearney

Work experience: General Electric, business owner

Political office: Bid for Legislative District 31 (2020)

Mayberry grew up on a farm in Winnebago, Nebraska, before working for General Electric for a decade as an area sales manager. He later started a laundromat, which grew to nine locations.

He said politics is an “absolute mess” with corporations writing bills, no cap on campaign finance contributions and what he said is people going into politics to enrich themselves. He hopes that because he has already enriched himself through his own work, he could reverse this.

“I think there’s too much influence,” he said. “There’s too much pork. There’s too many people putting special interests in there.”

Mayberry does not plan on taking donations and said he might have decided to run for the district “too last second” and has doubts whether he will advance next week. Still, he said, he’s not a politician and doesn’t want to be “politically correct” and will answer questions directly.

Thomas

Scott Thomas

Age: 42

Political party: Republican

Education: Professional training in child protections and human rights

Work experience: U.S. Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights, nonprofit founder and director

Political office: None

Thomas, a grandson of two World War II veterans, was born during the Cold War and said he is running “because I understand the rights and duties associated with American citizenship.”

He said he knows one man can make a difference.

“It’s corny, I know, but that’s how our country is designed,” Thomas said. “America is in crisis right now, and the prescription is for every American to take that initiative and civic responsibility on themselves.”

Thomas is the founder and director of Village in Progress, a local nongovernmental organization that does casework and studies on human rights abuses around the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights established by international treaty.

He is also the regional director for the U.S. Institute of Diplomacy and Human Rights, which advances trainings, conferences and education on human rights. 

His main focus is protecting children from what he said is a “calculated attack on the American family,” such as through welfare incentives that he said incentivize fathers to leave the home and drive up crime, poverty and disability rates.

“I’m interested in protecting the American family, and I think that a lot of the problems that we’re seeing in our society are resulting primarily from that,” Thomas said.

Wordekemper

Dave “Woody” Wordekemper

Age: 58

Political party: Republican

Education: Associate degree in fire science

Work experience: Firefighter paramedic, Wimmer’s Meats, West Point Dairy Products

Political office: None

Wordekemper, who has served with Fremont’s fire department for 29 years as a firefighter paramedic, said the Legislature would be an extension of his work.

“I’m dedicated, believe in honesty, integrity, got a hard work ethic,” Wordekemper said. “I just want to go down there and continue serving my community.”

He has testified at the Legislature on multiple public safety bills, and said he understands he would need to reach across the aisle and work with all senators to deliver solutions for his district.

The Legislature should be focused on getting things done for Nebraskans, Wordekemper added, being productive, representative and doing what is right.

If elected he wants to examine violent crimes that younger Nebraskans are committing and see whether laws should be modified to prevent youths from going down that path.

Property taxes and spending

Each of the candidates said property taxes is a top issue they’re hearing from voters but cast cold water on the idea that other taxes should be raised to lower a different one.

“If that one’s in place and then valuations go up on properties, then we’re paying back on that again,” Wordekemper said.

Wordekemper said something needs to be done to get property taxes under control and he’s open to researching what cuts could be made without compromising state services.

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Hanson said as a proponent of limited government, he would do “everything that I can” to reduce spending and the size of Nebraska’s government, which he said could include annual across-the-board percentage spending cuts while digging into the “weeds” to find larger cuts.

Lowering spending is the top way to reduce property taxes, he said, and adding taxes could be futile should property valuations spike again.

One of his main ideas is looking at county assessors to see whether they could limit the increase of taxes by proportionally adjusting tax rates as those assessments go up.

“The assessor would be able to fulfill their legal duties of keeping our property taxes at current market values, but the citizens would be minimally impacted by an increase in those assessments,” Hanson said.

Mayberry said the solution is “super easy” and is “not rocket science.”

“The truth is, stop spending,” he said. “If the tax revenue is not there, stop spending and stop doing all these special interests.”

He said lawmakers pass “trash” legislation to get reelected and appeal to voters even though the bills  might not actually help constituents. He also criticized lawmakers who  change bills up to the last second, confusing voters and other senators about what is being voted on.

Mayberry would require bills to “freeze” for at least 10 if not 30 days before a final vote — they must currently be held for one day.

Thomas said his work has included studies around sufficient government services and said recapturing funding that is identified as abused, such as by the state auditor, could help with property tax reform.

He said other inefficiencies or incompetence in particular state services, such as a bungled state contract for eastern Nebraska child welfare services, should encourage the tightening of state laws.

“I’d like to go in and clear up the statutory language so that it’s not open to any form of subjective interpretation where we can ensure that every American will be provided equal consideration and equal opportunity under the law,” Thomas said.

Kracl said she is glad everyone is trying to be creative as there must be a sustainable solution to property taxes, including property valuations.

She said the answer starts locally and then goes up to the state level and that the latest tax plan to raise sales taxes wasn’t “a win for anyone.” She said she’s anxious to jump in and leverage her 34 years of financial services experience, which includes an emphasis on budgeting and savings.

“I’m just hoping to bring some of that foresight to the group,” Kracl said.

Kracl said she also wants to review state services so they encourage people to get off programs and sustain full-time jobs. She also wants to support Nebraska women to get into the workforce without “cutting them off at the knees” and preventing them from a stable income or savings.

“A hand up rather than just handouts,” she said.

K-12 schools and higher education

Thomas said he would emphasize human rights work in the Legislature with a focus on civic education.

“I don’t think that civic education is commonplace in our society like it was when I was growing up,” Thomas said. “I don’t think people understand the precepts and the concepts of both our country and our values and the beliefs that are important here.”

He said higher education has gone “progressively further and further left” and taught more disciplines that aren’t necessarily relevant or useful in greater society, so he’s not a big advocate for those institutions in their current condition.

Thomas added he’s a big proponent of meritocracy and would remove any diversity, equity and inclusion programming or funding to higher education institutions.

Kracl said she has admired and would like to build on programs from Wayne State College in northeast Nebraska that get students to take internships and get into the community, encouraging them to stay and raise their families.

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“I think there’s more opportunities for that across Nebraska, getting our kids to stay home instead of leaving Nebraska,” Kracl said.

Wordekemper said it’s important to continue to fund education, which requires working with  state and local governments to find a balance without burdening taxpayers.

“I think whatever we can do to be more efficient or the most efficient and get that job done is important,” he said.

Hanson, who said he supports recent legislation providing students with state funds to attend private K-12 schools, wants to also support teachers who he said are fearful of disciplining students in their classrooms.

He said the state must do what it can to protect teachers and hold parents accountable for the actions of their children at school.

“It should not be that these parents are dropping their kids off at day care for the day,” Hanson said.

Parents are the biggest driver in their child’s education, and they need to step up, he said.

Mayberry described the education system as “massively broken” and said more and more money is given to schools that won’t get to teachers. Instead, he said, administrators take pay while there is a teacher shortage and teachers aren’t paid enough.

“None of it gets trickled down to the actual people that need it the most,” he said.

He similarly criticized the state teachers union, saying it should represent teachers, yet “it seems like that’s the only people that get screwed every time the schools get more money.”

Economic development, workforce and housing

Kracl said she decided to run in order to support the state’s workforce and saw daily how employees in her bar and grill were struggling to find affordable housing and keep up with daily barriers.

She said lessening business regulations and reducing pressure on business owners could open up opportunities to pass savings on to consumers and employees, in turn expanding the state’s tax base.

“By loosening up some of those restrictions, letting businesses grow and take care of business, we’ll just put some much needed dollars into our economy,” Kracl said.

Hanson said he and his family recently built a house and saw firsthand the rapid increases in materials and the shortage of housing. He wants to look at regulations from a safety standpoint, as well, bringing his engineering expertise to look at building codes and whether they can be changed.

Similar to what lawmakers have attempted with the definition of affordable housing — federally 30% of someone’s gross income for housing and utilities — Hanson wants to see whether that’s the same definition for the state.

“Are we just trying to put a roof over someone’s head or do we want something that is more comfortable and that leaves room for families to grow?” Hanson said.

Mayberry said he hopes the state does not “wreck” its beneficial commercial aspects that are more business-friendly compared to other states.

He said many workforce programs are already available and politicians may pass legislation “that sounds good and looks good,” but it’s “worthless” if people don’t participate.

Thomas said he wants to protect the housing market from being exploited commercially, while preserving the American middle class.

He added that expanding the workforce and growing the economy is “part and parcel” with education.

Wordekemper similarly said the state should get back to two-year schooling, such as for technical jobs and trades. He said Fremont has done that with automotive and welding courses that have largely been ended at some high schools.

“There’s a shortage, there’s a demand, and if we can have students learning some of those trades while they’re in high school, dual opportunity with colleges, I think that benefits everybody in the long run,” Wordekemper said.

The post Dodge County District 15 legislative candidates weigh in on taxes, education, economy appeared first on Nebraska Examiner.

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