LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — With a clear path to the Democratic nomination for governor, Chuck Hassebrook is promising an agenda aimed at Nebraska voters from both parties. The former University of Nebraska regent said he plans to campaign on education funding, job training programs and wind energy in the 2014 race. He also promises to a focus on small business growth through public and private-sector partnerships, and technical assistance programs for entrepreneurs.
"The art of governing, from my standpoint, is really to focus on the things that we can agree on that will move us forward," he said. "My priorities are all things that we can agree on across party lines that will move us forward as a state. Not only are they good issues to run on, they're good issues for government."
Still, Hassebrook will almost certainly differ with the Republican nominee on taxes, abortion and a proposal to expand Medicaid as part of the federal health care law. The 58-year-old supports abortion rights and argues that expanding Medicaid makes financial sense.
Hassebrook became the party's presumptive nominee after state Sen. Annette Dubas withdrew from the race last month. He will face an uphill battle against the winner of a five-way Republican primary in a state where the top federal and state offices are held by the GOP. The candidates are vying to replace Gov. Dave Heineman, who is leaving office after 10 years because of term limits.
In an interview with The Associated Press, he disputed the notion that tax cuts would help small businesses expand.
"If every time we get a budget surplus, we cut taxes for the top 1 or 2 percent, we're not going to be able to invest in things that enable us to build the most talented and skilled workforce," he said. "We won't be able to invest in preschool, we won't be able to invest in technical training, all of the things that really do build the economy."
The measure to expand Medicaid stalled in the Legislature earlier this year after conservative lawmakers mounted a filibuster, meaning that hospitals and insurance companies will pass along the cost of uncompensated care to the insured in the form of higher premiums.
"Right now, we have the worst of both worlds," Hassebrook said. "We pay federal taxes to support the expansion of Medicaid in California, New York and Chicago. But we don't benefit from those taxes we pay. And then we pay a second time, through the higher insurance premiums. That's a bad deal."
Hassebrook has visited 80 Nebraska counties since June, when he formally entered the race.
He has spent 38 years as executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, a nonprofit that advocates for rural communities. He served for 18 years on the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, representing a region that covers 15 counties in northeast Nebraska.
Hassebrook resigned the regents' seat to run for U.S. Senate in 2012 but dropped his plans after Bob Kerrey decided to run, saying the former senator and governor had a better chance of helping Democrats keep the seat.
Kerrey ended up losing to Republican Deb Fischer. Republicans now hold every seat in Nebraska's federal delegation, the governorship and top statewide offices.