Gubernatorial Debate in Wayne: Will They or Won’t They?

FREMONT – Nebraskans will make a decision about their next governor in just a few short weeks, but will they have the chance to hear a second debate between Bob Krist and Pete Ricketts before they head to the ballot box? Right now, that debate is up in the air, as the candidates appear to have qualms about moderators and media partners for that event.

On August 31, Luke Virgil, Executive Director of Wayne Area Economic Development (WAED) announced to both campaigns that WAED had secured NET to conduct the debate. NET is Nebraska’s PBS and NPR affiliate, and has been Nebraska’s public/educational radio & television outlet for over 60 years.

Vigil indicated that WAED’s sponsorship of the proposed debate “is predicated on fairness for and impartiality towards both campaigns. Wayne Area Economic Development’s primary purpose in hosting/sponsoring a gubernatorial debate has been (and will remain) to expose a large majority of Nebraskans to both candidates and to create a well-informed electorate.”

The Krist campaign says that Ricketts no longer wishes to participate in the debate, now that the moderators and media partner will no longer be News Channel Nebraska, who provided media coverage for the first debate from the State Fair.

According to the Krist campaign, Mark Fahleson, campaign counsel for Ricketts, said via email, on September 7: “While I understand the Krist campaign’s desire to include NET as a media partner, unfortunately I don’t share that same confidence in NET, certainly not to the extent that NET should be the exclusive media representative, serve as a moderator or dictate the terms of the debate. As you may know, NET receives over $10 million/year in funding from the state and, thus, cannot be considered a disinterested party.”

“I am deeply disappointed that Governor Ricketts is now backing away from our agreed upon debate in Wayne,” stated Krist. “And it’s appalling they are attacking NET, the long-standing respected public broadcasting station. The fact is, Pete Ricketts participated in a NET moderated debate when he ran for governor four years ago. What has changed, governor?” Krist asked.

Today, Pete Ricketts for Governor campaign counsel Mark Fahleson issued the following statement regarding the Wayne Area Economic Development Gubernatorial Debate:

The Krist campaign has thus far resisted meeting to discuss even basic elements of debate format, including the moderator, media partners, the order of opening and closing statements, and even the length of answers to questions. We have never opposed NET’s participation alongside the debate’s original media partners, News Channel Nebraska and the Norfolk Daily News, and original moderator, the Norfolk Daily News’ Kent Warneke. These are well-respected, objective, and impartial journalistic entities, and Bob Krist’s objection to them is bizarre.

Krist has worked to undermine the Wayne debate from the beginning, first with his refusal to participate and now with ‘my way or the highway’ ultimatums and vetoes of respected media partners. Should this obstinate stonewalling continue, there will be no debate. With the proposed date now less than two weeks from today, the time for Bob Krist’s petty games is over.

Prior to the organizers at Wayne Area Economic Development (WAED) naming NET, the Ricketts campaign wanted News Channel Nebraska to be the media partner. NCN was a media partner for the first debate, hosted at the State Fair in August. News Channel Nebraska is owned by former Republican State Senator Mike Flood, who made comments in an Omaha World Herald story last year that appeared to be supportive of Ricketts’ re-election. 

The debate is scheduled for September 21, though representatives from NET and Wayne Economic Development said they have yet to cement agreements to participate in the debate.


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