Sen. Bob Krist embarked Wednesday on his 2018 gubernatorial campaign, piloting a turbo-prop aircraft that took him soaring west on a bright October morning to launch his independent bid.
At stops from Scottsbluff back to Lincoln, the Omaha state senator pointed to high property taxes as the issue concerning most Nebraskans and suggested that it's time to "start to rebalance" the load shared by property, sales and income taxes.
But Krist also cited his legislative record and centered on the nature of his gubernatorial bid, pledging to provide "independent leadership" not beholden to partisanship or political party interests.
And, he said, he would "like to restore separation of powers" in state government, promising to work cooperatively with the Legislature and "stay out of the election of state senators."
Nebraska's nonpartisan Legislature has turned more partisan in the last few years, Krist said, while Gov. Pete Ricketts has provided endorsements and campaign funding for challengers to some incumbent senators who have not fallen in line with his wishes.
Krist has changed his party registration from Republican to nonpartisan and will avoid a GOP primary confrontation with Ricketts next May by forming a new party — which probably will be named Nebraskans United — to offer Nebraska voters an independent choice a year from next month.
The nine-year legislative veteran can gain access to the general election ballot next year through a petition process that requires about 5,000 signatures gathered statewide.
"The Republican Party has tried to kick me out and take my card away two or three times," Krist said, because of its displeasure with his independent nature and performance as a state senator.
Krist made media-centered stops in Scottsbluff, North Platte, Lexington, Holdrege and Lincoln during the initial phase of a two-day campaign tour, touching down at wind-swept airports across the state.
A 21-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force with more than 15,000 hours of military flight time, Krist piloted a Merlin 111B turbo-prop aircraft on Wednesday's tour.
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During his first stop, at the Cappuccino and Company coffee shop in Scottsbluff, Krist introduced himself to western Nebraskans, suggesting that "what you see is what you get."
"Do I have all the answers?" he asked. "I do not. But I have a lot of ideas."
At North Platte, he said his initial campaign tour will allow voters to "put a face to the name."
Krist said his nine years in the Legislature give Nebraskans "a voting record to measure," one that includes efforts to protect health and human services and enact prison reforms.
"People and property taxes are my priorities, in that order," he said. "And I am a fiscal conservative."
"I'm not a stranger to bucking the system a little bit," he added. "I've never stayed completely in the box."
Krist said he is "passionate about the nonpartisan Legislature" and that he as governor would be "accessible to senators and talk to them about their ideas" early in the legislative process.
At one stop, Krist suggested that "we are starting to emulate the Kansas model and that is not where we want to go" in terms of state tax and budget policy.
During a live television interview at the NTV studio near Kearney, Krist said his candidacy "offers Nebraskans another choice" next year.
Ricketts is a slam dunk to win the Republican nomination for a second four-year term. Democrats have not yet fielded a candidate.
Krist said he is not close to naming a lieutenant governor running mate.