By Daniel Thompson

State Senator Pete Pirsch running for attorney general


For the Observer

Nebraska State Senator Pete Pirsch.

Nebraska State Senator Pete Pirsch, an Omaha Republican, hopes to bring both his experience and passion for the work at hand to the Nebraska Attorney General's Office in 2014.

"I'm running for Nebraska Attorney General, and I think that my unique experience, my background, my passion for that, for the position will enable me to do great things for the people of Nebraska," Pirsch said.

Pirsch, who has served eight years on the senate, was originally slated to run for state auditor. However, after current attorney general Jon Bruning cast his hat into the ring for the running for governor, Pirsch switched gears, seeing an opportunity to tap into skills that he learned throughout the ten years that he served as a prosecuting attorney in Douglas County.

"I and all the other candidates didn't think there was this opportunity. I had been, last year, looking at other ways of using my skills and experience and so I had been looking at that position. The long and the short of it is that there's an opportunity that exists today that did not exist then and so i'm just delighted and excited about the opportunity to serve in that capacity, because this is the position that can best leverage my skills and my experience," Pirsch said.

The decision also comes after years of working side by side with the attorney general and his personnel both on the Nebraska Crime Commission and during his time as a state senator.

"I've had a wonderful opportunity over many years to work with the personnel in the attorney general's office so I've got wonderful relationships with members of that office and will be able to hit the ground running from day one just from having worked with the attorney general very closely as a state senator the last eight years and on the crime commission before that," Pirsch said.

However, Pirsch not only has experience working with personnel at the state level but has also worked closely with county attorneys throughout the state, forming relationships he believes could serve as a great benefit if elected.

"I think that's what sets me apart and makes me unique is my experience in the area, not just relationships with the attorney general but also with the county attorneys. I've worked with the county attorneys throughout the state, and that's a very important partnership too. A key point for the attorney general is that you do work in close partnership with the county attorneys. Thankfully, I've had a great deal of experience as I've been working with the county attorneys," Pirsch said.

Pirsch hopes to use the relationships and ties that he has made throughout his years serving on the crime commission and in the senate in order to address key issues that Nebraska faces, issues such as reforming the current good time law.

"I co-sponsored a bill this year that would make a change from automatic time off the sentence no matter what you do to the concept of earned time instead. You have to demonstrate good behavior. You came in for a violent crime, and, if you continue to be violent, you won't get that earned time. I think transitioning to that is a good thing for all Nebraskans. We don't want to just indiscriminately dump out violent people back onto the streets that are going to present a real danger to our families," Pirsch said.

He states that the current law, which effectively gives inmates one day of good time for every day spent incarcerated, is inadequate and puts victims of violent crimes at risk of running into the one who victimized them unexpectedly once freed.

"If you're told 10 years, you're less than five. So you might be a victim out on the street in four years thinking that you've got a good six years to go before you're encountering the guy who victimized you and turn the corner and run smack dab into the person after four years," Pirsch said.

Pirsch, who has twice been given the annual public policy award by the Nebraska Coalition for Victims of Crime, states that the current law is not only not right but also simply bad policy.

"We need to do the right thing for Nebraskans, and yes, it doesn't make sense to Nebraskans why we would automatically cut everybody's sentence in half regardless of what type of crime they've committed and what type of behavior they've exhibited while incarcerated. It doesn't to me either," Pirsch said.

Another major issue facing the state of Nebraska is the current prison overcrowding. Currently, prison facilities sit at over 150 percent of their capacity. According to Pirsch, both short term and long term solutions are being considered at the state level.

The short term solutions partly entail housing state inmates in county jails throughout the state in order to utilize perceived extra space for which county jails would be appropriately compensated, he said.

However, Pirsch's real focus is on the long term solutions that can be worked out over time.

"The long term picture is the more important. We have a study that is currently being conducted, the results of such will come in in a matter of a couple of months which will, I think, shed light on who's in prison, why they're in prison, their background, their histories, and kind of talk about some possible solutions," Pirsch said. "If we're at the point in time where everybody who's in prison right now is violent and they're there for a reason they're the kind of people that Nebraska families should fear, then we're left with the situation of devising the most cost effective way of building new prisons."

However, if a significant population of nonviolent criminals currently incarcerated is found in the study, Pirsch believes that the state should find more cost effective ways to handle their sentences, perhaps sending them into rehabilitation programs instead of prison.

"We can find creative, smart solutions. I have the background. I served as chairman of the legislature's Sentencing and Recidivism Task Force. I served on the Nebraska Community Corrections Council. Should we locate a significant population in the prison, we can come up with more cost effective solutions so we're not punishing the taxpayer, and we're making these prisoners start to participate in paying for their own costs and learning traits and becoming productive members of society upon their release," Pirsch said.

However, concerning violent criminals, Pirsch takes a hard stance, stating that we should work to ensure that they are kept incarcerated and cut off from society lest something like what happened with Nikko Jenkins occur again.

"For the Nikko Jenkins of the world who picked, in my district, out the woman...when they picked her out, the cowards, because she was a single woman going through a fast food line alone and just decided that they were going to kill her for the sake of killing her, those are the kinds of people that Nebraskans just want out of their lives and given no chance to pose a repeat threat to their families.We're not taking any bets on guys like that," Pirsch said.

Along with fighting to protect victims of crime against violent criminals, Pirsch has also spent his time in the senate fighting for local farmers and agriculture by pushing back against out of state entities encroaching on the rights and needs of local farms.

"One of the issues is that some out of state external fringe groups are in many ways waging war against agriculture, and that's bound to continue on many different levels. So you see that occurring today and will continue. That will be a primary emphasis of mine making sure that these fringe groups as they attempt to harass and intimidate agriculture... I think it's incumbent upon the attorney general to make sure that our number one industry in the state is protected from that type of activity," Pirsch said.

He also has recently introduced a bill into the senate, LB1087, which is a homestead exemption bill that would provide 100 percent property tax exemption for veterans with an honorable or general discharge who are drawing compensation for a 100 percent disability from a service related injury.

"These veterans go to bed in pain and wake up in pain. Some of them came down to testify for my bill. God bless them. These are people that still have bullet shrapnel in their skulls from Korea, and in a lot of these cases, these injuries get worse and worse and worse over the years. Some stabilize, but they're 100 percent totally disabled. That's a rating that the Veteran's Administration comes in and investigates and gives so we know that these are major significant medical problems that these people face in their life. I just think that this is one way that the state can appreciate and honor their gift to our nation," Pirsch said.

Pirsch is also a strong pro-life advocate, believing that there must be laws put in place to protect innocent life even in circumstances of rape and incest.

"If you do believe that it's life and if you're normally pro-life and believe that babies can not be aborted, I have a hard time seeing how you could reach an opinion different than that. Then if you believed that it was life, you would have to be saying under certain circumstances we can kill innocent life without the purpose of defending life," Pirsch said.

However, Pirsch states that there is a great deal of sympathy and support for families who find themselves in such a tragic situation.

"I know that the situation is very difficult for families who have gone through it, but I think that the answer is to look at the wrong doer and make sure we have adequate punishments and societal reactions to the actual wrong doer and that we don't have a stigma on women who conceive in such circumstances, and that we have good support of adoption type of resources," Pirsch said. "There are no good answers in some of these cases where criminals have decided that they're going to victimize people and there are lingering effects for years and lifetimes and even longer than lifetimes. It's a very sad situation."

If elected, Pirsch plans to use his experience with the crime commission, the senate and his ten years as a prosecuting attorney to move forward and prioritize the issues at hand to better address the problems that need to be addressed quickly.

"I do think I have unique experience. The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer of the land. I was a prosecutor for nearly a decade. Thousands and thousands of cases over the years. I have a down in the trenches understanding of the courts and nuance cases of the victims. They stay with me over the years, and the problems with the systems comes with me with the nuanced understanding of the judges and just the whole system. I've taken that," Pirsch said.

Pirsch also believes that Nebraskans should look at the backgrounds of all the candidates and see if it lines up with the job at hand.

"People have been talking that they are very interested and that, but do their backgrounds and experience coalesce with that? Is that where they gravitated to in life or is this kind of new ground that they would be getting into. I think in those two respects my background has given me unique knowledge and experience in areas that I'll be able to leverage to better protect the people in Nebraska," Pirsch said. "It's because of this lifelong background that I think you can tell that this is what I get up for in the morning. I'm that kind of an animal. Everybody enjoys different things in life, and this is what I'm built for."


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