Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs and former longtime member of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, will jump into the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial race this week.
Hassebrook, whose brief 2012 bid for a Senate seat was derailed by Bob Kerrey's sudden return to the state to claim the Democratic nomination, formally will announce his candidacy in his hometown of Lyons in northeast Nebraska on Tuesday.
His candidacy offers Democrats a rare opportunity to combine their traditional urban strength in Omaha and Lincoln with an appeal to voters in central and western Nebraska who are aware of his lifelong commitment to agriculture and rural communities, Hassebrook said in a pre-announcement interview in Lincoln.
"The only way a Democrat can win statewide is do much better in the other 90 counties" beyond the urban concentration of voters in Lancaster, Douglas and Sarpy counties, he said.
"I have spent my life trying to work to make things better out there," Hassebrook said. "I'm going to be a different kind of Democratic candidate who will roll up my sleeves to help rural Nebraska build a better future.
"I think I can do a lot better out there than Democratic candidates who do not always speak to those issues," while still holding on to the Democratic base in metropolitan areas.
Three times, he said, he won election to a northeast Nebraska seat on the Board of Regents in a strongly Republican district. Hassebrook, who left the board at the end of last year, has been the only Democratic regent in the past 30 years.
He is the first Democratic prospect to pull the trigger on a 2014 gubernatorial race.
State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha is viewed as a strong contender if he ultimately chooses to enter the contest.
Hassebrook said he chose a gubernatorial bid over a Senate race because more can be accomplished in Lincoln than in Washington.
"It's really important to govern," he said. "Washington has stopped governing and just fights over the next election. My priority is on governing rather than politics.
"You can get more accomplished here (because) this is a state that works."
Hassebrook listed a number of policy priorities he would pursue and expressed concern about Gov. Dave Heineman's proposals to either eliminate the state income tax or reduce its role in funding government through substantial tax reform.
"The income tax is a fair tax," Hassebrook said.
"If we eliminate or cut the income tax for rich people, that will create a hole in state government Washington-style, eliminate our capacity to invest in the future and shift the burden to sales taxes that impact those Nebraskans least able to afford to pay."
Among Hassebrook's policy priorities:
* Educational opportunity and quality at all levels, including investment in early childhood education opportunities that provide every child with the chance to succeed.
* Workforce development, including providing community colleges with the resources to teach skills that meet workforce needs.
* Development of wind energy in the state, creating investment, jobs and economic development.
* Increased support for small entrepreneurs, especially in rural Nebraska.
"We need to create greater economic opportunity for people," Hassebrook said. "Every person should have a chance for a better future.
"I believe it is really important to care about those who are struggling.
"That's what my life has been about."
Hassebrook has been at the Center for Rural Affairs for more than three decades. He was a member of the Board of Regents for 18 years.