LINCOLN–State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks and Rep. Mike Flood engaged in a debate on Oct. 3, focusing on key issues like abortion, gun control and student debt forgiveness.
KLKN-TV Anchor Rod Fowler moderated the event in front of a live audience at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Andersen Hall. The event was their last scheduled debate before their battle for Nebraska’s 1st Congressional seat on Nov. 8.
Pansing Brooks, a Democrat, said she is the only candidate to fight for women’s reproductive rights and birth control and the only candidate not taking corporate PAC dollars. She talked about her priority for bipartisanship across the aisle on all issues, something she mentioned throughout the debate.
Flood’s opening points focused on inflation and a crisis on the southern border, both problems which he attributed to the Democrats’ one-party control in Washington.
Throughout the debate, Pansing Brooks issued what she called “Flood alerts” whenever she said her opponent was lying about his positions.
Women’s reproductive rights were a central topic of the debate, with both candidates firing shots at each other’s policy stances.
Flood, a Republican, emphasized his initial position on the matter, as displayed by LB1103 in 2010, a bill he sponsored and passed that banned abortion after 20 weeks of gestation unless one’s life was at risk.
“I also want to make it clear that I have always believed that life begins at conception,” Flood said. “That is a personal belief that means a lot to me.”
Flood also said Pansing Brooks’ positions are extreme, stating she advocates for abortions up until the hour of birth, which she does not support. The congressman also said he is not against birth control though Pansing Brooks disputed his stance over one of Flood’s votes in Congress.
Pansing Brooks issued another “Flood alert,” referring to his previous vote against a bill intended to protect access to contraceptives in the U.S. House of Representatives. She also cited the congressman’s support of LB933 this spring, a bill intended to ban all abortions statewide once Roe v. Wade was overturned or regulatory control was given to state legislatures. A criminal penalty would have been imposed on any physician who performed an abortion.
“We as women should not have my opponent making these decisions about what happened to our healthcare and bodily autonomy,” Pansing Brooks said.
Flood defended his congressional vote against mandating federal protections for birth control by his belief that doctors shouldn’t have a statutory obligation to prescribe birth control. He said this includes when such a prescription may be against a physician’s religious beliefs or medical guidance.
Gun control was another contentious topic, with the two candidates rarely agreeing.
Pansing Brooks said she wants to see common-sense gun laws, calling for background checks and red flag laws, which allow family members or law enforcement to petition a court order to temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing guns. She called out Flood for voting against five of six bills that police have supported as well as his stance toward preventing school shootings.
“The teachers do not want to have to be armed,” Pansing Brooks said. “They do not want to be carrying weapons, and we must make a better determination on how to best protect our citizens.”
Flood disagreed with Pansing Brooks on the issue, deploring any instance of gun restriction as against the Second Amendment, something he consistently emphasized throughout the debate. Flood said whether teachers should be armed in schools should be up to individual school boards.
“I do not support the infringing upon the rights of lawful Nebraska citizens, gun owners that want to exercise their right under the Second Amendment,” Flood said.
When asked about support for equal rights for LGBTQIA+ members in Nebraska, Flood’s one key stance was that gay marriage is not under assault, stating it as the law of the land as determined by the Supreme Court.
Pansing Brooks cited the Respect for Marriage Act designed to protect interracial and same-sex marriage, which Flood voted against. She then described a situation in which she has urged her son, a gay man, to marry his partner “as soon as possible” in fear that the laws may be affected.
The candidates clashed on the topic of student debt forgiveness.
Pansing Brooks described it as a difficult issue but said something must be done. She mentioned the lowering of support provided by Pell Grants for lower-income students, as well as touching on Paycheck Protection Program loan forgiveness, which she said both she and Flood have taken advantage of.
“I’m not going to say that we deserved it because we worked hard, but those students don’t,” Pansing Brooks said.
Flood’s response to the question was direct.
“I do not support the college debt forgiveness program,” Flood said. “I don’t think it’s right. I think it’s bad for America.”
The two managed to reach similar perspectives on a few key issues, though. Both argued for U.S. support on the side of Ukraine against Russia, and both agreed President Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election.
When asked how they would help college students if elected, the candidates spoke about different topics.
Flood emphasized the need for off-campus experience in the workforce through internships while attending school. He also voiced support for keeping tuition as low as possible.
“We need to make sure [students] have the best experience possible here, and then hopefully connect them with good paying jobs and pay them while they’re learning,” Flood said.
For Pansing Brooks, working on student loan forgiveness and maintaining access to birth control were two priorities to protect students.
“I think that should be an issue that students care, adamantly and vehemently about,” Pansing Brooks said. “I hope people understand that these freedoms that we have taken for granted are at risk right now.”
Flood won the special election to replace Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a nine-term Republican who resigned his seat at the end of March. The upcoming race on Nov. 8 will decide the 1st district’s representative for the next two years.