We can do better!
Steve Halloran repeated those words over and over in a speech as he announced his candidacy for the District 33 seat of the Nebraska Legislature during a rally Thursday night at The Lark in downtown Hastings.
Halloran, who has spent much of his life in Hastings and comes from a fifth-generation Adams County family, will run against incumbent Sen. Les Seiler of Hastings.
Halloran is co-owner of the HuHot Mongolian Grill in Billings, Montana with his sister who owns several other restaurants in the chain. He also manages land for Halloran Farms of Hastings.
In his speech before a crowd of nearly 50 supporters, Halloran said his goal is to be a citizen statesman and not a career politician.
“Being a ‘citizen statesman’ will force me to represent you and your interests and not the interests of anyone else in Lincoln,” he told the audience.
Halloran said this state has a strong history and a bright future but that can only happen if people strive to do better and make things better for the next generation.
“This is a competition we cannot afford to lose,” he said.
During his speech, Halloran focused on several key issues including the state’s tax system.
“We have a tax problem because we have a spending problem,” he said.
Halloran said that, if elected, he would support policies that would lower the property tax burden on hard-working Nebraskans and keep the money in their pockets rather than sending it to Lincoln.
He said he would like to see ag land valued based on the income per acre, which would be much more fair in his opinion than the current system.
Halloran said more focus also needs to be made on fixing funding for K-12 education in the state along with helping to provide the workforce needed to keep business moving in Nebraska.
“As your next senator, my word is my bond,” he said. “I pledge to be accessible and honor the principles and integrity of this office. We can do better.”
Halloran also discussed some of the viewpoints he feels differentiate him from Seiler during his visit at the Hastings Tribune office Tuesday. Chiefly, he feels his old school approach to politics gives him an edge in terms of reliability with District 33 constituents.
“From visiting with people in the district, I have sensed there is a disconnect between the incumbent and the voters,” he said. “I firmly believe the government shouldn’t be run from the top down: It’s from the bottom up. It’s easy to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of the office, but I would be more pro active in communicating with the constituency and responding to them.
“It’s just a matter of respect. That’s an expectation that voters have, and they should be satisfied with being represented, not me dictating to them what should be done.”
He said he found Seiler’s vote in May 2015 to repeal the state’s death penalty law a bit disconcerting. Halloran said Seiler broke his word with his constituents in District 33 when he voted with Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha and 28 other senators to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto of the repeal.
“The fact is, our incumbent said he would not vote to repeal it, but when it came to overriding the governor’s veto, he voted to override it,” Halloran said. “I think that when anyone who represents a constituency gives their word, they have to stand by their word. There can be circumstances where details come up that might make you change your mind, but that was never explained to this constituency in District 33. I guess I would be more influenced by the constituency than by those little caucuses that go on in the halls (of the State Capitol).”
Following a successful grassroots petition movement to restore the death penalty, voters ultimately will decide the matter when they take to the polls in the general election in November.
One of Halloran’s primary issues entering the race is the burden Nebraska’s high property taxes place on farmers and other property owners.
His solution calls for an adjustment in the formula of how property is valuated that will better represent the fluctuations in property market value based on commodity values.
“Fundamentally, we have three forms of taxes: sales tax, income tax, and property tax,” he said. “Right now, the property tax level for agriculture, specifically, is rated at $8 corn property tax, but right now we’re at $3.20 corn. It needs to have more years in the equation so that it evens out.
“Another way to fix it may be instead of being the retail value of farm land, for example, the formula could be more based upon what the land would produce economically, what it’s income-producing ability is. That way, with variations over time with the commodity prices, that index would flow with it more readily. That would have a tendency to take care of itself because it would adjust as rapidly as commodity prices adjust.”
Though he expects his campaign to include participation at coffee klatches in people’s homes, chamber of commerce and League of Women Voters’ forums, he said he intends to spend the majority of his efforts on door-to-door visits with voters across the district.
His plan entering the race is to make it a fun experience for both himself and those he’ll be spending time with on the campaign trail.
“I think constituents need to be rejoined in having a comfort level that they have someone who would represent them and wouldn’t get bogged down in the formality of the office,” he said. “It sounds corny, but I think there’s a longing for a citizen’s statesman, and that’s something I aspire to. That’s a pretty high level, someone who is principled, has integrity and aspires to represent the integrity of his constituents.
“I expect to have a good time at this. Most people view campaigning as being arduous and it can be, but I expect to meet a lot of people face to face and renew a lot of friendships with people that I haven’t seen in a while. It’ll be fun.”