By Kelly Langin, Contributor
Rep. Lee Terry and Sen. Brad Ashford sounded off on minimum wage, crime laws and the importance of teamwork on Sept. 25 during the first Second Congressional District debate held at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
Terry criticized many of Ashford’s past votes in the Nebraska Legislature. He pointed out Ashford’s refusal to let bills with bipartisan support out of his committee.
In turn, Ashford, Neb. state senator and Terry’s Democratic opponent, condemned Terry’s lack of solution-making in Congress, referring to his involvement with the Affordable Care Act as “voting to repeal it 56 times instead of trying to solve the problem.” He also mentioned that little action has been made in Congress in finding a solution for social security.
Regarding wages and the economy, Terry said he sees wages increasing in the metro area. He said Nebraska needs to reform tax codes and use the area’s energy resources and wages will increase on their own.
Terry initially avoided commenting on his vote for increased minimum wage and said, “If we have demand on jobs, they’re going to go up naturally and much higher than $10 an hour.” He then admitted he would not support the increase because he believes job training will bring higher wages than a small rise in minimum wage.
“I don’t just want people to go from $7 to $10,” Terry said. “I’m trying to figure out a system that if you’re a single mother and you’re struggling at minimum wage, we want to make sure you have the skills necessary to earn $20 an hour.”
Terry poked at a legislative bill that he said Ashford “could’ve pushed” to aid veterans with workforce job training, which he said would help veterans earn higher wages. Ashford said in his rebuttal that the bill would not have given direct support to veterans, but instead to their employers.
Ashford said that he will vote for an increase in minimum wage. He mentioned the lack of a minimum wage increase in the last five years and said that it’s time to “unleash our economy” by finally leveling wages with inflation.
When given the opportunity to ask his opponent a question, Terry accused Ashford of “coddling criminals” because of his support for the Good Time Law and his fight against its reform. He saw errors with refusing Gov. Dave Heineman’s push for its reform and continuing to grant freedom to criminals after only serving half of their proposed jail time.
“Why would you do that to the people when violent criminals are being released?” Terry asked.
Ashford replied by saying his legislative record shows his opposition to crime by adding time for certain crimes and worked to pass a reform in the corrections system. He said it was the fault of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Service for not adding jail time for misbehaving inmates.
Teamwork was a common theme to address the success of passing bills and initiating change within the U.S. But despite the opponents’ agreement that the government needs to work together to solve issues, much of the debate pointed fingers at the other side for the stagnation of resolutions.
Ashford referred many of the issues surrounding the U.S. to Congress’s inactivity in passing bills and lack of sufficient debate over current issues.
“Voting to repeal it 56 times instead of trying to solve the problem, that’s what I have an issue on with you,” Ashford said of Terry’s involvement with the Affordable Care Act. “We need to solve it. We need to get it done now. We need to have certainty in the system and the way to do that is to work across the aisle and find a way to fix it.”
A recent poll by Gallup mentioned in the debate suggested that the public’s distrust in the government may be at an all-time low. Terry sided with the public and said he’s “equally as frustrated.” He then called the Senate “dysfunctional” for not allowing bills to be passed despite bipartisan support.
Ashford mentioned polarization and “intense partisan divide” in Congress as a main issue in the public’s distrust in government. He said Congress needs to put “solutions over party” as the Senate has.
“I believe Congress has failed the American public,” Ashford said. “It’s time for a change.”
Within the debate, Ashford and Terry agreed on a graduated withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan once the government is ready to stand on its own. Ashford also agreed when Terry said that many of the problems regarding the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) can be attributed to the U.S.’s withdrawal of troops in Iraq, which left a “vacuum” that he said was filled by ISIL.
The opponents also both supported the Keystone XL pipeline. Terry stressed the necessity of its construction in order to create jobs in Nebraska and support national energy security. Ashford said he supported the pipeline because “environmental concerns” were met.
The debate was sponsored by the Omaha World-Herald and produced by UNO Television.