LINCOLN — A controversy over publicly funded prenatal care to help the unborn babies of illegal immigrants divides the front-runners for the District 37 legislative seat.
The incumbent, State Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, voted to approve funding such care. He joined 29 other lawmakers on the last day of the legislative session in overriding a veto by the governor.
Hadley said he sees the issue as both a moral and a fiscal one. Prenatal care helps ensure that babies born as U.S. citizens will be as healthy as possible.
“I could not turn my back on unborn children,” he said.
His leading opponent, Josiah “Joe” Woodward of Kearney, said he would have voted against funding for such care and with Gov. Dave Heineman. He said there are nonprofit groups that can provide care for the women and their unborn babies.
“I don't think it's a responsibility of the Nebraska taxpayers,” Woodward said.
Prenatal care has emerged as a hot-button issue as both men have started campaigning in advance of the May 15 primary.
A third candidate, Mike McShea of Kearney, said he does not anticipate doing much campaigning and does not think he has “a real chance.”
He said he filed to run for the office because he believes voters should have a choice. He has run for Legislature three times previously.
The three are vying to represent Kearney, Gibbon, Shelton and the southeast corner of Buffalo County.
Hadley, a retired University of Nebraska at Kearney professor and administrator, has represented the district for the past four years.
He said his experience benefits the district. He is vice chairman of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee and sits on the Revenue Committee.
“Kearney fared well in the last legislative session,” Hadley said. “I think I have made an impact.”
He pointed to his role in getting money for UNK's new nursing and allied health professions building.
He also has introduced or cosponsored several economic development measures.
One provides tax incentives for “Project Edge,” a major data center that Kearney hopes to land. Another gives sales tax exemptions for biochips to help keep a high-tech Nebraska-born company in the state, he said.
Hadley also highlighted his bill exempting hospital-owned health clinics from sales taxes, which saves rural clinics money, and his work to address conditions at a major local employer, the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center in Kearney.
Given another four years, he said, he would continue to focus on economic development, especially for rural areas.
Woodward, the Buffalo County assessor, said he got into the race out of concerns about property taxes and fairness.
He has been disappointed with some decisions of the state property tax administrator and some legislative proposals that affect how property is valued for tax purposes.
Woodward said his experience would be an asset in the Legislature. “I think I have something to offer. It's something I'm interested in,” he said.
Before his 16 years as a well-respected assessor, he was a dean at Central Community College and taught at both UNK and at the high school level.
His career began at the Rockwell International plant in Kearney that manufactured pipe used in the Alaska oil pipeline.
Based on that experience, Woodward said, he would have had concerns about putting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline through the Sand Hills but believes the proposed new route would be “perfectly safe.”
Although he has raised less than $5,000, Woodward said he is undaunted about going up against an incumbent with a $32,638 campaign war chest.
Along with property taxes, Woodward said his focus in the Legislature would be on economic development and education. He wants to see pensions exempted from income taxes in Nebraska, as they are in many other states.
McShea said that if he were elected, he would bring a much-needed working-class perspective to the Legislature. He is a truck driver who also farms, sells autos and builds adult tricycles.
“I love my country, I love my state, I love my district,” he said.
McShea said he opposes gambling, abortion and the federal health care law. He said he sees a need to cultivate small businesses and to encourage more young people to go into mechanical and industrial fields.
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