President Reagan famously said, “The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.” This simple truth is often overlooked in politics today.
It was with great pride I served America for 21 years in the United States Air Force and it is with great pride I serve District 10 in the only Unicameral Legislature in these United States of America. I was appointed by Gov. Dave Heineman in 2009 and elected by the people in 2010. Heineman has done much to move Nebraska forward, creating a welcoming climate for new business and jobs, and providing tax relief. I’m proud to have stood with him on critical issues better than 80 percent of the time.
But sometimes leaders with similar values come to different conclusions. Such is the case regarding LB599, to restore prenatal care for unborn babies with mothers living in poverty, 90 percent of which is funded by federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC) funds. In November 2009, the Federal Government informed the governor that the state funding mechanism was incorrect and, in the same letter specified how to correctly fund the program. The governor chose not to fix the problem, but rather to discontinue the care. The issue was politicized because some of the babies covered are born to mothers here illegally. But the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution states that those babies will be American citizens once born.
Regardless, an often over-looked fact is that women who are legal citizens were also denied prenatal care by the governor’s refusal to continue an existing 30-year program. This action jeopardized the healthy birth of approximately 200 babies born to Nebraskans. One of these babies was born to a Nebraska mother with a lifelong, debilitating birth-defect that could have been avoided with simple blood pressure control medication during pregnancy. In another situation, an extended stay in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) cost Nebraska $680,000 and still counting. Contrast this with the total annual cost of continuing the program -- $773,381, and the stubborn fact that for every $1 spent on prenatal care, the cost savings is $3 to $4.
The legislature weighed the economic realities in an effort to protect taxpayers. Babies born here are American citizens and infant medical expenses of low-income babies are funded with taxpayer dollars. If care is provided to these unborn children -- and even one NICU stay is avoided -- Nebraska taxpayers win.
For me, this vote came down to sticking to my pro-life principles and making the fiscally responsible choice for Nebraska taxpayers. I joined the Nebraska Catholic Conference and Nebraska Right to Life in support of LB599. I believe life begins at conception, that human life is precious and is to be protected. As the father of a developmentally disabled daughter, my wife and I live that conviction every day.
But I do understand this issue required a prioritization of two principles for many legislators, and any issue proximate to illegal immigration is politically charged. This is why I understand and respect that some of my colleagues and the governor came to a different conclusion.
This respect was however, not afforded by the governor toward the Legislature, not even to long-standing allies from his own party. Instead, he turned the state Republican Party into an attack apparatus -- issuing news releases against fellow Republicans. It is significant to note that using the NEGOP to attack Republicans has not been done by any governor or party leader in recent history.
Now, the governor has come out against raising the pay for state senators based on a difference of opinion on this complicated issue. Many of my colleagues, including some who sided with Heineman, feel he threw the Unicameral under the proverbial bus because of a single vote.
In my experience, Nebraskans are an independent bunch. Voters elect Legislators to exercise solid judgment and guarantee the "checks and balances" essential to our form of government. My hope is that in the future, elected leaders will adopt a similar position to President Reagan in determining friends and allies, and show more respect both here in Nebraska and in Washington DC.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha represents District 10.