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Freshly minted Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bob Krist on Tuesday decried the sharp cuts in funding for the University of Nebraska proposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts and pledged to "try to defend the university system" from those reductions as a member of the Legislature.

"We have to restore funding to the university and the colleges," the Omaha state senator said during a Lincoln news conference.

With a lineup of seven state senators and a number of Democratic luminaries standing behind him, Krist formally announced his decision to abandon the options of mounting a nonpartisan or third-party candidacy for governor in favor of seeking the Democratic Party's nomination.

But it was his comments on the university's budget in answer to a question submitted by an online viewer that dominated the event, opening a major point of contention with Ricketts.

"We can't cut our way out of this," Krist said, referring to the current state budget squeeze prompted by lagging state revenue and revenue projections.

"We have to find new revenue," he said.

"Those in power want to cut, cut, cut," without regard for the consequences, Krist said, including a diminished state university that, in turn, would damage or limit the state. 

Ricketts has proposed sharp budget reductions for the university totaling $34.6 million over two years. 

Krist, a former Republican who originally was appointed to the Legislature by then-Gov. Dave Heineman, was welcomed into the Democratic Party and embraced as a gubernatorial candidate by an array of Democratic stalwarts, along with a number of Republicans with whom he's served in the nonpartisan Legislature.

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, who introduced Krist during the event in Lincoln's Haymarket, hailed the two-term senator as "a problem-solver (and) a strong leader who's not afraid to tackle the tough issues."

Among those who were gathered behind Krist were seven state senators, former Rep. Brad Ashford of Omaha, former state Sens. Steve Lathrop and Al Davis, and Omaha community activist Preston Love.

Krist described himself as "a common-sense moderate" who will offer "strong, principled leadership" while focusing on "getting things done with all Nebraskans at the table."

Monday, he changed his voter registration to Democratic and prepared to formally file as a candidate with the secretary of state.

Krist originally had switched his voter registration from Republican to nonpartisan with the intention of seeking election as an independent or as a third-party candidate, but he ultimately determined that there were too many statutory roadblocks and restrictions blocking that pathway.

"Voters are fed up with partisan politics that divide us rather than unite us," Krist said.

"Partisan bickering in Washington has spread to our nonpartisan Legislature, and our current governor has worsened the situation by personally bankrolling challengers to senators who don't vote right down the line with him," Krist said.

"I hear Nebraskans loud and clear when they say they want a reprieve from partisan governance," he said.

Answering a number of questions, Krist said he supports federal legislation that would give young DACA immigrants a pathway to citizenship, and he defined "pro-life" as protection of life from conception to death by "taking care of people." 

The DACA immigrants, who were brought to the United States as babies or children when their parents or other adults entered the country illegally, currently enjoy legal presence to remain here under protection of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals executive action taken by former President Barack Obama.

But President Donald Trump has revoked that protection effective next month.

Responding to the Krist event, Matthew Trail, director of communications for the Ricketts campaign, issued a brief statement: "Throughout the odyssey of Senator Krist's candidacy, Governor Ricketts' campaign has remained focused on sharing the governor's vision for a growing, stronger, more prosperous Nebraska. The same is true today."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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