Bob Krist has served in Nebraska’s unicameral (nonpartisan) legislature for ten years. Now, as he runs for governor, he’s seeing just how powerful partisanship can be. We had a chance to talk to him about his campaign, how to overcome polarization, and the meaning of leadership.
Despite being a long-time Republican, you’re now looking to run for Nebraska Governor as a Democrat. Can you give some insight into why you’ve decided/been forced to do that?
I’ve had the honor of serving the past ten years in Nebraska’s nonpartisan, one-house Legislature. During those ten years, I have worked to represent my district and the state by listening to all sides, Republicans, Democrats and Independents. My voting record shows me as a common sense moderate.
After leaving the Republican Party last year, I had planned on running as an Independent. However, a law passed in 2016 with no debate that was added to an omnibus elections proposal just days before the Legislature was scheduled to end, makes Nebraska the most difficult state in America for Independents to access the ballot.
The law requires nonpartisan candidates in statewide elections to collect signatures from at least 10 percent of the state’s registered voters (roughly 119,000 voters). Previously, candidates in Nebraska needed just 4,000 signatures. By comparison, 37 other states require 10,000 signatures or fewer to place independent candidates on the ballot.
I have filed a lawsuit in Federal Court asking that this law be declared unconstitutional. For the sake of future candidates, we are hopeful this most restrictive law in the country is struck down.
We’ve said from the beginning that we will look for the most efficient way to get on the ballot in order to provide Nebrakans with a choice to the failed leadership of Governor Pete Ricketts. While I will not agree with everything in the Democratic Platform, they have been most welcoming to me. I’m proud to follow in the tradition of Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, and former Governor and U.S. Senator Ben Nelson who, like me, are known as strong, independent, principled leaders.
What do you think your experience says about the two-party system’s strengths and weaknesses for our democracy today?
The Nebraska Unicameral is a unique governing body in America. Nebraska’s nonpartisan legislature was founded by George Norris, who served five terms in the United States House of Representatives as a Republican and five terms in the United States Senate, four of them as a Republican and the final one as an Independent. Serving ten years in this body has given me the opportunity to accomplish meaningful legislation exactly as Norris envisioned – putting aside partisan party politics for the greater good of our constituents. Unfortunately, the partisan bickering in Washington has spread to our legislature. Our current Republican governor, Pete Ricketts has weakened the cooperative spirit by personally bankrolling challengers to senators who don’t vote right down the line with him. Voters are fed up with partisan politics that divide us rather than unite us. We are hopeful our candidacy will bring back Nebraska’s independent spirit to good government.
Polarization is something everyone seems to be talking about. Give me 1 or 2 ideas (other than voting for Independent candidates) about how we can bridge partisan divides, even just a bit.
During my years in the Nebraska Unicameral the one common denominator that has brought Republicans, Democrats and Independents together, is fighting for children and the most vulnerable in our society. We were able to put aside our political differences in order to reform our juvenile justice system. These reform measures have resulted in lower rates of recidivism and a reduction of population in our detention facilities by over 50 percent. My colleagues and I are proud to fight for these kids and give them second chances because it was the right thing to do.
You spent a long time serving the military. What did your years of service teach you about serving the public good?
I learned a lot about leadership in the 21 years I served our country as a proud member of the United States Air Force. In Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, I learned the importance of strategic, principled leadership and teamwork. When I retired from the Air Force as a Lt. Colonel, I dedicated my career to serving my country by working as a pilot for the Army Corps of Engineers, flying leaders into disaster zones like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and 9/11.
Leadership is fighting for people in the developmentally disabled community who deserve a champion fighting for them everyday. My daughter Courtney (who is developmentally disabled) and her friends have taught me more about myself and leadership than anyone else I’ve ever met.