Some sparks flew over wind turbines and residency, as challenger Tonya Storer debated State Sen. Tom Brewer as the two vie for the Nebraska’s district 43 seat in the unicameral.
Before a 40-person crowd in the Alliance High School Performing Arts Center, Brewer and Storer made their cases as to why voters of the heavily rural 43rd district should vote for them.
Brewer is running for his second consecutive term. Throughout the forum, he fell back on his experience as a state senator and a veteran as reasons voters should support him.
“I feel blessed to have been able to represent the 43rd district for the last four years,” Brewer said.
He told the gathered crowd that, after finishing school in Gordon, he transitioned to the Army where he spent 36 years in uniform. He retired from the Army in 2018 because of injuries sustained during active duty.
Sandhill’s rancher Tonya Storer also relied on her years of experience in local government.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the legislature fighting against forced consolidation of our local school,” Storer said. “I have over 25 years of experience serving our community.”
Storer served for years on a local school board and was elected to the Cherry County Board of Commissioners in 2014 and 2018.
Throughout the debate, both candidates agreed tax reform was a major priority for whomever the people elected.
“It is impossible to represent the 43rd legislative district and not have property tax again as your number one priority,” Brewer said.
In the bifurcated biennial legislative session of 2020, the Unicameral passed a property tax relief bill few senators, including Brewer, fully supported. The bill, LB 1107, was a last-minute compromise and marriage of three bills: Tax relief, business incentives, and money for a University of Nebraska project.
The bill sent $125 million to homeowners, businesses, and farmland in the form of tax credits. In the first year, schools would still receive money from property taxes. Over time, the tax credit would grow to 18% against property taxes.
Bayard’s Sen. Steve Erdman called the legislation “a decrease in the increase,” and said the bill didn’t go far enough. Brewer said that high property taxes made it difficult for young people to stay in Nebraska.
For her part, Storer said Nebraska’s property tax system needed structural reform, something Brewer also said he supports. He said that 1107, while it didn’t amount to much, was the first property tax relief of any kind in decades.
“We were boxed into a situation where we would lose all the economic development, we would lose the ability to support the pandemic hospital facility for UNMC and we would not have any property tax relief at all if we did not go with 1107,” Brewer said, adding that compromise was necessary to pass anything.
Brewer also expressed support for Erdman’s consumption tax reform, which would require a constitutional amendment to pass. Brewer said he would gladly cosponsor it.
Storer took the issues from another perspective. She said the state needed to do more to support schools, one of the largest recipients of state tax revenue. She said the state is skirting around its constitutional obligation to fund education by providing a mechanism for funding.
“The TEEOSA formula is very unfriendly to our ag districts,” Storer said.
TEEOSA is the acronym for the Tax Equity and Educational Opportunities Support Act. It is the current school finance formula for public schools in Nebraska.
During the forum, Brewer also highlighted the brand committee and veterans affairs as places he’d focus on if re-elected. Storer also pointed to advancing the status of Alliance as a distribution center. She said the lack of progress on the Heartland Expressway – a thoroughfare that connects Rapid City, South Dakota, to Limon, Colorado and runs through Alliance – was embarrassing.
Storer also said she’d prioritize broadband expansion.
The candidates did get a little snippy toward the end of the debate when discussing wind energy.
“This has certainly been a pretty hot topic,” Storer said.
Brewer is adamantly against the wind industry and has suggested banning it entirely.
Storer accused Brewer of creating a false narrative around wind energy in Cherry County and bashed him for his affiliation with Save the Sandhills and Preserve the Sandhills, a group opposed to wind energy in Cherry County and preservation of the Sandhills.
“I want to make it very clear to folks, I am not an advocate of wind energy,” Storer said.
However, she said it shouldn’t be up to the county commission to decide the future of an industry.
“You cannot ban wind energy,” Storer said. “We don’t want to be in a society where a three-member board has the ability to ban any industry.”
Brewer responded, saying his support for Save the Sandhills has never been hidden and that he plans to donate to the organization in the future.
“You can ban wind energy,” Brewer said. “A number of counties have done it.”
In closing arguments, Storer reiterated her experience but added that her residency gave her more legitimacy to represent the 43rd district. She said that Brewer’s residency was in question four years ago and remains so.
“It doesn’t mean that he can’t be a great representative,” Storer said. “But if you don’t have skin in the game and you don’t have to come back here and look at your neighbors and answer to what you’re doing…you don’t have skin in the game.”
“I kinda didn’t want to go where obviously we seemed to go with this issue of residency,” Brewer said in his closing remarks.
He said he left the area to join the army because he didn’t have a rich family. He said he gave 36 years to the army and suffered six gunshot wounds and suffered injuries from a grenade.
“So I’ve got skin in the game,” Brewer said. “All I’m asking is that you give me a chance to finish what we started.”
The election concludes on Nov. 3.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding