Candidates on the trail in down-ticket races


Candidates on the trail in down-ticket races

Star Herald

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — With attention focused on races for Nebraska governor and U.S. Senate, voters haven't heard as much about the open contests for attorney general and state auditor.

But the candidates for both offices are campaigning hard in the final weeks before the Nov. 4 election, traveling the state and preparing online and television ads as early voting begins.

Nebraska state Sens. Amanda McGill, a Democrat, and Charlie Janssen, a Republican, are competing in the state auditor's race. Both are looking to replace Republican Mike Foley, who is running for lieutenant governor with Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts.

McGill, 34, of Lincoln, pointed to her eight years in the Legislature dealing with complex policy issues, including human trafficking and the state's problem-plagued child welfare services. She also served in a legislative leadership position as head of the Urban Affairs Committee, which reviews policy aimed at local governments.

Shortly after she announced, McGill said she met with Foley, as well as current and former state auditing staff, to learn more about their work. McGill said she would work with lawmakers and state employees to fix financial problems in the departments.

“When I look at the auditor's office, it really is an extension of everything that I've been doing in the Legislature these last eight years,” McGill said. “I'm less concerned with making big headlines and more concerned about making reforms ... I don't want to just point out a problem and say, ‘Oh, you messed up.’”

Janssen, of Fremont, said he would bring business-management experience to the job from his position as the CEO of RTG Medical, a medical staffing agency.

The 43-year-old sought the GOP nomination for governor but withdrew earlier this year after failing to raise enough money. Janssen is serving his fifth year in the Legislature after a stint on the Fremont City Council. He also spent four years in the Navy, where he was a search-and-rescue swimmer.

If elected, Janssen promised a collaborative approach with state agencies.

“If somebody's actively stealing something from the state of Nebraska, I'm going to be all over them,” he said. “If they're just a bad manager, I'll sit down and work with them. My goal isn't to embarrass someone who's just a bad manager.”

Janssen faced criticism in July amid news that his company received more than $1 million in state contract work in the prior fiscal year and he didn't file a legislative conflict-of-interest statement. Janssen said he wasn't aware of the contracts at the time — his company has roughly 300 nationwide — and he never violated any laws or ethical rules.

The attorney general candidates are vying to replace Republican Jon Bruning, who is leaving office after mounting an unsuccessful bid for governor.

Republican Doug Peterson said he would work to help county attorneys and local law enforcement with their cases, and would push for new laws to clamp down on drugs, gang activity and human trafficking. He said he would join forces with other state attorneys general to challenge federal environmental rules aimed at coal and water.

Peterson, an attorney with 29 years of experience, has won a key endorsement from the Nebraska Farm Bureau's political action committee. But he promised that, if elected, he would not seek any other office in the future.

“The most important thing people want is an experienced advocate who's not motivated by political ambition, but simply wants to serve,” said Peterson, 55.

Democratic hopeful Janet Stewart, a Fremont attorney, said she has focused on the attorney general's role in fixing the problems with Nebraska's scandal-plagued prison system.

The Department of Correctional Services has come under fire for miscalculating hundreds of inmate sentences, resulting in many that were released from prison too early.

Department officials have acknowledged they failed to follow at least two Nebraska Supreme Court rulings that specified how to calculate sentences. The attorney general's office also faced criticism for not aggressively following up to ensure the department complied with the decisions.

“It is a challenge if you're a Democratic candidate running for statewide office in Nebraska. Everybody understands that,” said Stewart, 65. “But things have not been going as well as many Nebraskans would have liked in areas such as corrections. I think voters with an open mind will be considering whether they need to change the direction.”

Stewart, an attorney with 39 years of experience, she said she would make sure that top department officials as well as the governor's office are notified about decisions that could affect each department.