Update: Since the interview, Sen. Bob Krist announced partnership with the Nebraska Democratic Party.
Unbeknownst to most, Nebraska records some of the coldest temperatures in the United States. The reason it beats out most northern states is because it’s so flat the cold winds blow uninterrupted.
Bob Krist is hoping the winds of change, political change, will blow uninterrupted as well. As America turns away from the two major parties, Bob Krist believes the time is right for him to leave behind the party which has frustrated him for years and run as an Independent candidate for Governor, hoping to be the first Independent candidate to win the gubernatorial race in the state’s history.
We sat down with Bob Krist to see why he went Independent and to find out about the man behind the candidacy. Is he the right person to lead Nebraska? Read our interview below to help you decide.
Note: All text in italics is narrative from the perspective of Free Wheel Media.
After getting the pleasantries out of the way, we wanted to know why. Why did Bob Krist, a man with one retirement from a career of public service, choose another one?
Free Wheel Media – First, we’d like to know, what led you into politics?
Bob Krist – Well, I think being raised in the family I was raised in, you always were either part of the solution or part of the problem, so I realized at an early age that if you didn’t get involved and participate in things then you had no right to complain about the results. And then, after 21 years in the Air Force, not being able to really be engaged the way I wanted to, only being able to vote, I realized that having a voice meant something to me. And so those two things energized me.
When I retired, I spent an awful lot of time volunteering in different organizations and for different purposes, but, at the end of the day, it was knowing that I was interested in Nebraska and Nebraska politics, more so in Nebraska people, that led me to become aware.
The turning point for me really was one particular issue: My family — my daughter is special needs. And we were trying to talk about how funds were resourced for the education process for special needs individuals and the transition between being a child and being educated into being an adult. So I participated in that discussion and helped in testifying in front of one of our committees, the education committee, when I was the president of Madonna School Board. And watching the process a public hearing, that people could get up and say what they needed to say, and then that hearing resulted in a committee turning that particular piece of legislation out potentially to general file debate in the legislature and then select file and then finally final reading and going to the governor. That whole process, the whole unicameral and a nonpartisan process, really inspired me to get involved.
So I’m sure that’s a long-winded explanation for: I love the state, I love the unicameral, I love the nonpartisanship. That’s what led me to do what I have been doing now for nine years.
Free Wheel Media – So it’s quite an intimate and personal reason you became involved. It’s awesome to hear you have an intimate connection to the process.
Bob Krist – Well, again, back to the family values, it’s a matter of serving, not necessarily of the empowerment that comes from getting involved and being part of the process. But, yeah. And I appreciate that comment, it is — as I tell students and the general population when I get out and get a chance to talk to people — it’s not what you do, it’s just that you do. You get out there and you get involved and you give back
With the background out of the way, we had to know why. Why the shift to Independent? Was it genuine? Or was it all a ploy to get votes from an angry and dissatisfied public?
Free Wheel Media – So, tell us the decision-making process on leaving the GOP and running as an independent; it’s a pretty big decision. We want to understand where you’re coming from and where that decision-making began.
Bob Krist – Well, I was encouraged to put my resumé forward. And I was actually appointed as a senator, as a state senator, by Governor Heineman as a Republican.
Once I was there, it didn’t take long for me to realize that there were party politics and there was what I was supposed to do and what I know or knew at that point that I needed to do, and those are two different things. Party politics, party bosses will tell you that this is what needs to happen, this is what needs to — this is how you need to vote. So very shortly after I was in office, Governor Heineman didn’t even endorse me for my first election process because of the way that I responded to some of those issues. Governor and I got along, later on, but at first it was rocky.
So, I ran for my own office, my own seat, and only got elected by 55 votes. And it taught me that without the party it wasn’t an easy road. Then I spent four years on my own as an elected — in elected office, and, again, just knowing that if I didn’t do what I thought I was supposed to do or what I thought needed to be done for the citizens of Nebraska and my constituents, I couldn’t look myself in the mirror the next morning.
The adversarial relationship between the party and I became more contentious in those first four years in office. During those first four years, there were some issues that caused the party to want to censure me, they wanted me to leave the Republican Party, and I refused to do that because I thought, you know, the Republican Party that I knew, from my grandfather and my father and the Reagan years was not like what I was seeing.
I went for reelection for my next full term, and I was unopposed. So obviously what I had done resonated with the people that I represented. And the next four years were — they were even more instructive in how much party politics and party bosses influence where we’re all going.
What happened in the last three years absolutely convinced me that the party fringe needs to be eliminated. People need to speak up. We need to be more in the middle, more centrist in the way we think about things. The Washington, D.C., politics were coming to Nebraska. And Governor Ricketts was spending literally hundreds of thousands, if not a million dollars, making sure that he could buy the best legislature he could, and that really bothered me.
It bothered me so much that I tried to talk to him about the issue, and that didn’t go well. So I decided that the best thing for me to do was, rather than do what I think would have been a very disingenuous movement on my part, to run as a Republican, was to leave the Republican Party, declare independence, and use what I knew from nine years of my experience in the legislature to try to restore, once again, that nonpartisan attitude, nonpartisan behavior that I saw when I first came into the legislature, and try to unseat a person who was absolutely as partisan as he could be and as demonstrative, in some ways, about destroying that legacy of the Nebraska unicameral that he was on the track to do.
And so, the thing that really convinced me was one day on the floor of the legislature we were discussing this budget for this biennium period. I saw people that didn’t want to talk about an issue because they didn’t want to debate, because they had been told that this is the way things needed to go, and they basically shut down.
So, there was no debate, there was no conversation, there was no legislative process. There was a carrying forward of the party bosses and of Governor Ricketts to do the things he did, and I saw money being taken away from those that are most disenfranchised, most in need, and being put in pots that they didn’t need to go into. And so, I called it — I’ve called it many times — the darkest day that I have experienced, and it’s not because of the ambient light; It’s because it was just absolutely not an enlightened legislature that I had seen in the past. It was a very dark discussion, a lack of discussion about what was important for the people of Nebraska.
Free Wheel Media – That’s absolutely incredible you say that, sir, because we think a lot of people assume the hyper-partisanship is exclusive to the national stage. We see it so much on the national stage, it’s palpable, but we don’t think about it much in local politics. And the local politics, especially state and below, really affect our lives in an intimate way and, you know, can affect our lives drastically. So it’s amazing to hear that you’re seeing irrational party control at the state level. You mentioned the “nonpartisan attitude” when you were speaking and we saw you mention it in an Omaha.com article about you as well. Can you give us — what is the nonpartisan attitude, what’s that mean to you, and then how will you, if elected, try to spread that attitude in Nebraska?
Bob Krist – So first of all, your assessment about politics at the national level and then local level and realizing that we really don’t realize how partisan it is, there’s an old adage and I believe in it, “All politics are local.” What happens to you locally is what you pay most attention to and it affects your life so deeply. Well, the trickle down of this whole issue is that if at the national level, if leaders don’t leverage the tax process or CNS within Medicaid, Medicare expenses, if they don’t leverage that in the best interests of their constituents, then what happens at the local level is that trickle down means that there’s more money being spent on things — or less money being spent on things that are important to you.
How would I deal with it differently? I would look at it proportionally, looking at the budget as I have over the last nine years, my first session in 2009 was a special session where we cut a billion dollars out of the budget in ten days, and that cut-and-slash mentality carried forward for the next four or five years. When we eliminated money from pots — from different programs and pots of money, we never restored services that are critical to the state. We ignored infrastructure processes that would be investing in our roads, we ignored the things that we — in that next four or five years — had to cut. The continuity of the legislative process was also inhibited by term limits.
So, what would I do different? What I would do different is not influence local races, I would not interfere with 40,000 people in a district electing their own representation. I would work more closely with the legislature, rather than pushing back, and I would spend less time on party politics.
This governor has been on road trips to Japan trying to sell our beef. Not such a bad idea, however, we have problems at home. So, you have to balance those things. This governor has been out there talking about how the legislative process, the legislators, have not been supporting his agenda. Well, you know what, listen to the people. The people’s agenda might be just slightly different than what you, as a billionaire, would think is more important to the State than where it is. So, listening more, being more adaptive to the local issues in Nebraska.
One of the things that people all over the state were asking three years ago is “Please, please, do something about property taxes.” Not one thing has been done in the last three years of this administration and now, all of a sudden, magically, because he’s up for reelection, we’re talking about property taxes.
Now they’re on the floor of this legislature talking about all those tax giveaways that we have given for years and years and how that reduces revenue and we need to pay attention to the total picture.
I’ve been on that floor for the last nine years talking about these kinds of issues. So, I’m being long-winded on this particular subject, but I have to tell you that property taxes, lack of attention to the corrections issue, lack of attention to those issues that are at home, and more attention being paid to who is the chairman or vice chairman of the Republican governor’s group is important, and people in Nebraska need to understand there’s better representation than what currently exists.
He definitely talks the talk. Nebraskans have complained about property taxes, and for good reason. In 2015, their state had the 7th highest property taxes in the nation, as seen in the graphic above.
But does Candidate Krist walk the walk? Will he really provide “better representation than what currently exists?” We were intrigued by his willingness to run as a “nonpartisan” and wondered how he’d provide this “better representation”. It led us to ask how he was going to pick a running mate and how he planned on running his campaign.
Free Wheel Media – We’d like to know your thought process behind being willing to add a Democrat [someone who’s served on the opposite side of the aisle from you] to your ticket, it’s definitely a bold move, but we’d like to understand the thought process behind it.
Bob Krist – Well, I’ve said several times I’m looking for the person that complements my leadership style, not necessarily a “yes” person for me. After commanding in the military in peace time and in war time as a squadron commander and being involved with the military process, it is very important to me to find someone who can tell me as a commander or [as someone] in a position of authority, “Emperor, you have no clothes,” okay, “you have no clothes on. You’re not doing what needs to be done.”
I need somebody who’s going to be able to tell me, in no uncertain terms, when you need to reexamine this process. You get the best information you can, you make good decisions, and then when you make those decisions and move forward, you know, as we used to say in the Air Force, we develop a plan and the plan is something from which to deviate. So, we have a plan, we move forward, and if there are better ways to do things, we need to talk about those things. I’ve met very talented, extremely intelligent, and extremely experienced Republicans, Democrats, and Independents. But what I think the State needs to see is someone who’s going to stand up and say “This is not a party. This is not a “my way or the highway,” this is a democracy.” And in that we need to have a voice from all sides of the issue. I’ve got a top-ten list. It includes a couple of Republicans, it includes three or four Democrats, there’s one or two Independents, and one Libertarian on there, that group, but I will not tell you what I’m leaning towards one way or another, but I would tell you that a like-minded person, I have seen in the last few years of my time in government as a Republican, is not winning in this process.
I would like to see a really strong Democrat, Independent, Republican come forward, but, remember this, guys, no matter who I pick, that person, when we get on the ticket together, is not going to be a “D”, “R”, “I”, whatever; they’re going to be “United Nebraska” moving forward, and that “United Nebraska” tag means that we’re moving forward for all of Nebraska and providing independent leadership.
Free Wheel Media – And have you found any difficulty — was it difficult to get signatures to support the new party being on the ballot? Or are people pretty receptive to at least giving a shot to the Independent party?
Bob Krist – Honestly, I will wager that if you look back at our Facebook page and our website and the individual contacts, we have several hundred volunteers who said “Give me the petition and I’ll take it out there.” It’s not been a matter of trying — you know, my media person and my campaign manager both told me we’re going to have to pay somebody to go out there and get signatures, and I’m looking at these people who are volunteering saying, you know, “Wow. I think we can do this without actually doing [that].”
And that, by the way, is really refreshing for me. Because when people talk about running for offices and running for, you know, the office of governor, they talk about millions and millions of dollars being spent. We’re doing this on a budget, and I think people appreciate the fact that I’m not spending millions and millions of dollars of somebody else’s money or PAC money to do something. I mean, this is a campaign because it’s the right thing to do for people.
I had a contribution the other day on my website and then I had an e-mail that followed. This mother from Central Nebraska sent $5 by way of my — contribution on my website. And her e-mail said, “I have four kids. They all said they wanted to send some money. They gave me $4. I put my dollar in.” That’s the way to make sure that you’re funding a campaign because people want the campaign funded. I can’t tell you the number of $10, $15, $20, $25 contributions that have come in on that website. And that’s what energizes me to go forward.
Free Wheel Media – It sounds like you’re doing most of your fundraising through a grassroots method, are you going with a pure-play grassroots method, or do you have other sources of fundraising for your campaign as well?
Bob Krist – Well, I started out with a certain amount of money in my legislative funds that I’ve been using. The grassroots right now is a huge part of it. I’ve had a great deal of support from the Omaha business community. The most benevolent and wealthiest people in Omaha have pledged and supported me. I also have had past governors and others pledge their support. So it’s coming from all over. Interestingly enough, we manage airplanes and — our company does — and I have dry leased an airplane from one of the folks we manage.
We took off from Lincoln, started in Scottsbluff, went to North Platte, Holdrege, and Lexington and all over the state the first couple days — first few days. And then we’re going to go out again and visit O’Neill and South Sioux and Columbus. And in those – in that visit, I deliberately wanted to go west first, and I was amazed — and people would say, “Okay. You’re not going to break into that third district because that’s hard core conservative Republican.” This governor’s not done what he promised to do, and the ranchers and farmers and people in Western Nebraska who’ve been promised property tax relief, it’s not happened. And some of those, the most wealthy and the most influential, have pledged their support.
So, to answer your question, yes, there is a grassroot effort that you can get online and donate, and I appreciate all of those, and I especially appreciate the mom with the four kids because they probably didn’t have the $5 but they put it forward and I thank them for that, but there’s also large donors, a large amount of money, and a large number of people who are just disenchanted with the current administration and the way things are going. And so, I’ll depend upon them and I will call in those pledges in the future. But for right now, I’m pretty comfortable with just trying to spread the message.
I’m talking to people one-on-one or 40-on-1. I had a great conversation in Norfolk two weeks ago, and that conversation was with people who had special needs issues and people who were important and part of their families who were special needs. So I’m just out there talking and telling my story. And I’ve told to everyone who will listen, “You’ve got nine years of my experience to weigh, measure and judge. Every vote, every time I’ve been on that mic, you have something to fall back on. So, you know, if you don’t like what you see, then find somebody else to vote for, really, you know, but I’m hoping that you can see that I’m the guy you need to put forward.”
Free Wheel Media – Sir, to close, do you have any final comments? And then, do you have an opinion on the Husker football season so far?
Bob Krist – What I would close with, I guess, is that I’ve given nine years of my life to this legislative process, and I feel very strong about its nonpartisan process, and it’s being destroyed. And I think that — just in terms of an analogy or a quick story: A good friend, Les Seiler, who was the chairman of the judiciary committee, led an effort that the governor didn’t agree with. He spent a lot of money making sure that Les Seiler didn’t come back, put somebody in place that was less capable, in my opinion, and he’s doing the same thing again with a lady named Laura Ebke, who is a wonderful representative for the State of Nebraska, [who] declared herself a Libertarian. And that has to stop.
We have to allow 40,000, plus or minus a few people, in each district to elect their own representation and then work with the legislative and the executive branch together to do things for the state. And if we continue to allow that partisan attitude to destroy our legislature, George Norris will not only roll over in his grave, he will come back and take us all out. So — I believe that that’s the case.
And as far as Husker football is concerned, I remember a day when — sitting around a table as a young man — with my uncle and my father, and they all were chastising a guy named Osborne because he couldn’t win the big game. And we survived those years, and came forward. And I think that this administration, this president, with Green and now Moos, I honestly believe we’re moving in the right direction. So, whatever happens, I think Husker fans are always loyal. We will come back from whatever devastation has happened or is perceived to have happened, but there’s always a bright day.
Free Wheel Media – Go Big Red.
Bob Krist – Go Big Red.