Yes, Ben Sasse is a conservative. And no, he doesn’t think much of Obamacare. By now, most Nebraskans know at least that much about the Republican U.S. Senate candidate.
But there’s much more that makes Sasse the best choice as Nebraska’s next U.S. senator.
While some have tried to portray him as a carpetbagger, Sasse is a native Nebraskan, born in Plainview and raised in Fremont. After graduation from Fremont Senior High School, he did what many Nebraska kids do — left home for college and jobs.
He earned degrees from Harvard, St. John’s College and Yale. His private sector career included management consulting with industries as varied as airlines, utilities and manufacturing.
His public sector career posts included chief of staff for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Nebraska; chief of staff for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy, and assistant secretary of health and human services under President George W. Bush. In one project, Sasse was involved in post-9/11 efforts to improve the sharing of information among federal intelligence agencies.
And he came home. Since 2009, he has been president of Midland University in Fremont, where he helped lead the once-struggling Lutheran school in a significant turnaround.
But it’s more than a lengthy résumé that makes him the right choice.
Sasse is a tireless worker and serious policy thinker. Ask about an issue — from health care to the Middle East to entitlement reform — and it quickly becomes apparent that he is the antithesis of the typical sound-bite candidate.
He rose to national prominence with astonishing speed, largely with his dissection of the Affordable Care Act and his own detailed alternative proposal.
On that and other issues, he describes his political philosophy as that of “a market-oriented conservative who believes in decentralized solutions wherever possible.” He favors a lower-regulation environment that frees businesses and local communities to create jobs. He also supports spending policies that make national security a priority and says the nation’s debt, not just deficit spending, must come down.
As he summed up in a conservative magazine, the Weekly Standard: “I want to fight for what I call humble politics — a Washington that does fewer things, but does the more important things, more aggressively, more transparently, more urgently, with less screaming.”
That’s in the Jack Kemp vein of conservatism, and in a World-Herald essay written after the May primary, Sasse said he drew inspiration from the former GOP congressman and vice presidential nominee who “believed the only way to fight big government was with bigger ideas.”
Sasse also casts a critical eye on his own Republican Party.
“My party doesn’t do a good enough job speaking for middle-class Nebraskans, for middle-class Americans,” he told The World-Herald. “But when the debate is between a bad idea and no idea, the bad idea will win. Republicans aren’t offering enough ideas.”
There is a danger, of course, that any politician who so quickly attracts national attention will be drawn to that spotlight, neglecting the folks back home. If elected, Sasse will need to keep his focus on the job at hand and on the people who sent him to Washington.
But his leap from small-college president to national political figure — and his margin of victory in the five-way GOP primary in May — are due in no small part to the energy he has brought to this campaign, which has taken him to every county.
That work ethic would be a real positive in both the nuts-and-bolts work of legislating and staying connected to Nebraskans.
It needs to be said that in a year with so much relentlessly negative campaigning, this Senate race has offered a refreshing reprieve. Sasse and his main opponents, Democrat David Domina and independent Jim Jenkins, deserve praise for giving voters a positive, issues-oriented debate.
As that debate has shown, the combination of public and private sector experience, depth of knowledge on issues and ability to bring substance to a Capitol woefully short of ideas makes Ben Sasse the best choice for the U.S. Senate.