Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
Photo by George Lauby
Mike Groene grew up on a farm, earned an economics degree at the University of Nebraska, and went to work for a veterinarian.He has worked in agriculture since.
Groene, a district sales manager for an agricultural machinery company, is running for the Legislature along with Scott Dulin and Roric Paulman. They are going after the seat currently held by rancher Tom Hansen, who is retiring after eight years as a senator.
The primary election is Tuesday, May 13. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election in November.
Groene is well-known in Lincoln County for attempts to reduce taxes. He’s also served on the jail planning committee and helped start two think tanks – the Nebraska Taxpayers that meets in North Platte, and the Platte Institute that analyses statewide issues.
“I’m well-versed in politics and ready to go,” he told the 100 people gathered at a candidate’s forum in North Platte on April 17. “My wife and I love western Nebraska. It is in our blood.”
Scott Dulin grew up on a small farm north of Hershey and worked for the railroad after he graduated from high school.
He served as the local chairman of the union for 10 years, and served four years as the alternate legislative representative, where he got a good look at the workings of the state Legislature.
Dulin has been a railroad accident investigator for a legal firm for four years.
Roric Paulman is a third-generation farmer. He was born in Sutherland and has been involved in farming practically ever since. Paulman has served on the board at Great Plains Regional Medical Center as well as state task forces dealing with complex agriculture and water issues.
Here are the three candidates responses to questions at a candidates forum in mid-April, hosted by Nebraska Farm Bureau:
What three issues are the most important to the 42nd district (Lincoln County)?
Paulman – Taxes, education and health care, plus a fourth one -- developing the economy. Each one is paramount to development. Education is a cornerstone, the pieces of the puzzle of development that run through the community. The challenge is how to handle taxes. Anytime you reduce allocations for one entity, you take from another. Regarding health care, I spent seven years on the hospital board, and I advised them to not spend as much as they are spending.
Dulin – Taxes, education and improving living conditions for the middle class. A strong middle class is a tide that lifts all boats.
Mike Groene – Spending. If spending is not controlled, taxes become incredible. Also, protecting rural Nebraska. Only 10-12 out of 49 districts in the Legislature are rural districts; 39 districts are situated between Fremont and Grand Island to Lincoln and Omaha. It used to be that everyone had a background or relatives on the farm, but not anymore. We have got to protect rural Nebraska. Water is another big issue. We also have to protect the railroad.
All in all, we have to protect what we have, Groene said. Lincoln and Omaha cannot dominate. The University of Nebraska in Lincoln wants to spend money, get our kids and keep them. We need to take care of Mid-Plains Community College. That is our future.
What is the solution to overcrowded prisons?
Dulin - I don’t believe in more prisons. Education is the solution. It costs too much to incarcerate prisoners.
Groene - Vengeance doesn’t help. We have problems with drugs and alcohol and need more places like the Hastings treatment center for first offenders. We need to give more treatment options through jails. Jail is not the answer except for hardened criminals.
Paulman - Work camps are a good idea. Nebraska has low unemployment. We are looking for workers. There are things they could do in public works. We have to be able to get in front of prisoners and act on the philosophy of what’s right for a human being to do, what are the opportunities. We have to get them to make better choices. That is a challenge. It’s difficult.
As demands for water increase, what needs to be done? Should costs be paid by all citizens?
Groene - I’m a big fan of excise taxes – that those in the occupation that profits from water pay. In the Twin Platte Natural Resources District there are no meters on wells. West of here, residents have been good stewards of their water. I travel the High Plains and I’ve seen it work. We have to have agriculture and irrigation, but we have to use better management skills. The Twin Platte NRD has the highest mil levy and they can’t tell me why. It is hard to lead in the greater area if we are not leading locally.
Paulman - Water built everything that happens here, but it has led us down several paths. The state entered archaic agreements with Kansas and Colorado. Much as transpired since then. What’s happening with endangered species on the Platte is driving a lot of what happens. In 2019, there will be a huge swing in expectations for instream flows in the Platte. When the state obligates you, you should have a discussion first.
Dulin - New residents in our state have not inherited our problems. I do believe we are all in this together, and to some extent we all have to pull together.
Should property taxes be modified?
Paulman - I attended meetings last summer, and people said over and over that there is need to reduce taxes. How we do that was not heard so much. We have to figure out how to reduce spending. There are great minds among us. We have to look for pockets and places of ideas. Taxes are the source of revenue, and that makes it a tough one.
Dulin - There are only three sources of taxes – income, sales and property. Simply sifting the burden won’t work. Property taxes are already too high. Making a blanket statement that taxes need to be reduced is problematic.
Groene – Nebraska taxpayers are burdened. We have the third highest taxes on agriculture land in the country. Seventy percent of our taxes goes to schools. When it comes to state fundingfor schools, we should put in a base. Every student gets $3,000. That would lower taxes on farms and we would get more for out tax dollars. We can also get rid of Educational Service Units. That is an antiquated system. Those services should be offered within the school system.
Should the state enact bonds to pay for road projects?
Groene - No. We are fiscally conservative state and we’ve ridden out recessions because of that. How many times are we going to put a debt on future generations? Road bonds would just burden them more.
Paulman - No. We’d be putting a debt for principle and interest on people who don’t even know they have it.
Dulin - I disagree. I oppose bonding as a general procedure, but some of our roads are in a dilapidated state and we have to do something. I don’t want to be the one to watch a school bus fall through a collapsing bridge.
What do you think of the N-CORPE project to send water to Kansas?
Paulman – That developed from the Twin Platte Natural Resources District looking at augmentation projects. It not only protects the local economy, it helps agriculture be able to work through some of the water issues it faces.
Dulin - I don’t know enough about that issue to comment.
Groene - I haven’t found anyone who thinks it is a great idea. The aquifer dropped two feet last year and each year it recharges two inches. We have a land grant university, UNL, that can search for a way to cure cancer but can’t research so much for irrigation issues. The Unicameral can have lots of influence on that. I don’t blame farmers. We are in a panic situation. We are not using common sense.
Would you support raising the cigarette tax from 64 cents a pack to $1.32?
Dulin - That is one of the few areas of taxation where I would support an increase. It is classified as a sin tax and I have no problem with it. Smoking is a bad habit. The quicker we get to a future with no smokers, the better.
Groene - No. This is a free country. You are not going to change behavior with legislation. It’s a choice. To be frank, the more people that die from smoking, the less social security and Medicare costs we have. If you want to throw it all in and social engineer, you’ve got to give people reasons to live.
Paulman – There isn’t a better place than Nebraska to live. We have a balanced budget. It’s tough when you go looking for new money, I don’t care what it is for, even a contingency that is flat in your face. We looked at raising the tax on ethanol 0.8 cents a gallon, and 150 people showed up to object.
There are 1,700 developmentally disabled people waiting for services from Health and Human Services. What can be done?
Groene - The priorties of HHS are not exactly where they should be. They are very protected. Some of the state’s highest paid employees are physicians with HHS. Do we need that? We need social programs for those in need, no question about that, but let’s take care of people in need. I object to Medicaid expansion that would allow 30-year-old men to be lazy and lay around on the couch.
Paulman – Reforming HHS is a tough, tough issue. The leadership is afraid to take that one on. At the hospital, we focus on patient centered care. From there, we find ways to get it done.
Dulin – Disabled folks are our brothers and sisters, our family members. To be left in the ditch is deplorable. They have the smallest voice. To say they don’t deserve help is wrong. There are better things to cut out of the budget.
Would you vote to legalize marijuana? All the candidates said no.
Do you favor Medicaid expansion?
Dulin - Yes. We are paying for it but ironically the Legislature has chosen not to use it.
Groene - That’s a misconception. If Medicaid doesn’t use the money, it can go to national defense or to pay down the national debt. It can do what conservative people want it to do. The expansion would mostly help young men. We already take care of women, children and the elderly. Folks, I don’t want to do it. I believe a person has to hit rock bottom sometimes before they will turn their lives around.
Paulman - No. If we create more spending and federal contributions diminish, we would be scrambling to make it up. Medicaid expansion is almost an unfunded mandate that would turn into a responsibility for everyone of us.
What can be done to create more industry in Lincoln County?
Groene – We need to open a horse slaughter plant. Now we shoot an old horse and bury it. Sometimes people leave old horses in other people’s pastures. It’s an animal. It’s part of the ecosystem. We need to humanly slaughter them and use the meat and other parts.
Paulman – No doubt there is an opportunity there. We need to what is humane. “Shoot, shovel and shut up” is absolutely not right.
Dulin – The free market should take care of it if it is needed.
What do you think of ‘earned time’ as opposed to ‘good time’ for prisoners?
Dulin – I am okay with it.
Groene – An inmate has to do something to show they have turned their life around. Sitting around like a vegetable is not the way to earn time off their sentence.
Paulman – There is opportunity in every one of us. If we are unwilling to look at opportunities and work on our skills, how do we get them back? In a state our size we don’t have the people. We are underpowered. We have to meet the challenge to supervise convicts if they work in society. How do we do it? How do we pull it off? We have to build the relationships to have those discussions.
What would you do for economic development?
Groene – I have nothing against industrial hemp. No one smokes that. I want ditch weed back. It makes the best pheasant hunting. Also, we have to focus on the railroad, coal and agriculture.
Paulman – We have an awesome business atmosphere here. We need to interact and make things better. How many people buy off the intenet? None of that is taxed and the money leaves our community. Do we tax the internet? These are big questions. Agriculture is near and dear to our state but there are other things too. We need to invest in education if we are going to keep our kids.
Dulin – We need to rely on what the state has in the greatest quantity – good education, hard working people, great infrastructure. We have great potential for manufacturing and we would attract manufacturing if we promote those things.
In conclusion, Paulman said the forum had been refreshing.
“I’m a stakeholder guy,” he said. “I would not be in business without developing partnerships. I employ 10 people full and part time. I love this state. I have time to serve and I’m excited about doing it. My phones will be on and my door open.”
Dulin said he’s had wonderful support.
“I’m for lowering taxes, a balanced budget,” he said. “I back the Second Amendment and I want to grow the middle class is every way that I can.”
Groene said the biggest complaint he hears is that taxes are too high and spending is too generous.
“Our state college tuitions are too low, the lowest in the Big Ten,” he said. “Folks, it shows the power of Lincoln and Omaha. You’ve got to have a strong voice and thick skin and be articulate, and that’s what I am prepared to do.”
This report was first published in the May 7 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.