A Democrat who’s successful in Republican counties, Hassebrook has begun building his state-wide campaign for Governor in 2014.
“I’ve represented 15 counties in northeast Nebraska on the UNL Board of Regents,” he said. “It’s nonpartisan, but I am the only Democrat that has served in nearly 30 years.” His straightforward priorities of education and advancement, with an emphasis on rural Nebraska, connect all residents. “We need to invest in our state in order to move forward.”
Education has been ingrained in him ever since he was pulling early mornings on the family meat and dairy farm. “It was hard work, but I enjoyed it,” he said. “We always had dinner together, and the discussions were about education and how rural America needed more opportunities for success.”
Hassebrook knows first hand of the challenges faced by rural residents. “I grew up as one of the little guys. I know what it is like to struggle because I was there as well.”
Working the farm gave him plenty of time to think about his future role. “There was one day that I was driving the tractor, and thinking ‘If I could just find a way to make a living fighting for the things I believe in, it would be great.’” His experience, combined with 18 years on the UNL Board of Regents, and nearly 40 years as the Executive Director of the Center for Rural Affairs, have all led him to the governor’s race. “This is a chance for me to do more.”
During his time at the Center, Hassebrook has helped pass a number of bills to help farmers and small businesses alike. “Our team helped over 12,000 businesses open their doors in the last 20 years,” he said. “We have always been a clear advocate and voice for rural life. We have an obligation to build communities and strengthen Nebraska.”
Though he has many priorities in his potential role as governor, he spoke of two long and short term priorities: Early childhood education and job training. “Higher education must be available for everyone, regardless of their bank accounts. No one should be denied the opportunity to better themselves.”
Childhood education has powerful pull for Hassebrook. “If there was one experience that bolstered my interest in early childhood education it was sitting with Carolyn Green at Girls Inc., and hearing the challenges facing some of the girls they work with.”
Hassebrook will base his campaign on this important long-term investment. “The greatest time to teach kids is in the early years,” he said. “If Nebraskans want to be serious about education, these measures must be put in place.”
For the short-term, job training in community colleges is crucial to the health of small businesses and the labor market. Construction, farming and welding are some examples. “We forget the dignity and value of good, honest labor,” he said. “We need to make sure these fields get the training and respect they deserve.”
No stranger to physical labor after growing up on a working farm, Hassebrook has always had a hard time sitting still. “I built grain bins, then T.V. towers, took care of livestock. I am always working on projects around the house.”
Apparently it runs in the family. “My sister has seven kids, and many of them got scholarships to go to college,” he said. “My nephew, however, decided to seek training to become a welder. He loves to remind us of this skill set that no one else in the family has!”
From education to small business, Hassebrook believes the rate of return on these investments is extraordinary for the state. “The story of George Paul Vinegar of Cody, Nebraska is a great example of the potential returns on state investment in rural revitalization.” This family business, located in a community of 140 people, is now procuring vinegar used in restaurants from Omaha to New York City.
“The business was launched in the Sandhills with startup funds from the Nebraska Value Added Agriculture Program.” Under Hassbrook’s lead, The Center for Rural Affairs provides opportunities for farmers, including providing hired help and matching military veterans to various farms.
By negotiating policy for the “little guys," Hassebrook discusses the issues that have the most impact. “Many politicians have a difficult time gaining voter support because they are not out fighting for rural Nebraska,” he said. “I want to focus on what these farms and small businesses are doing right. For example, Nebraska has the nation’s third best wind power, but we don’t approach it because of penalties. We need to maximize these existing benefits.”
If elected to office, Hassebrook has planned out his priorities to help Nebraska grow economically. “We need to focus on giving these businesses that are the backbone of Nebraska a chance to succeed by raising the cap that limits the micro-enterprise tax credit. I would make sure our beginning farm programs have what they need to grow, and would continue to work for policy to engage both rural and urban communities. My campaign is ‘One Nebraska,’ and my policies will reflect this important theme.”
Hassebrook joins Democratic candidates Steve Lathrop and attorney Mike Meister, with a possible announcement from Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton, as candidates for the May 2014 gubernatorial primary.