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Saying it’s time for change, three fellow Republicans run against Rep. Adrian Smith

March 29, 2018 GMT

WASHINGTON — Rep. Adrian Smith faces challenges this year from a trio of fellow Republicans wanting to represent Nebraska’s sprawling and largely rural 3rd district.

Aurora small-business man Kirk Penner, Grand Island farmer Arron Kowalski and Alliance author Larry Bolinger are all seeking the GOP nomination, saying it’s time for change.

All four candidates are scheduled to square off in a debate Wednesday night at Hastings College.

Smith, 47, first elected in 2006, said his experience has made him an effective representative. He cited as one example his advocacy for rolling back the so-called Waters of the U.S. rule, which many farmers feared would bring high compliance costs.

His seniority also has landed him a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, which tackles trade issues critical to agriculture and crafted much of the recent Republican tax bill.

“Tax reform I think is a huge victory,” Smith said.

Priorities on his agenda include workforce development, boosting ethanol sales and passing a new farm bill.

Of the three GOP challengers, Penner, 48, has the most advanced campaign and is the only one to have raised enough money to trigger reporting requirements — although he still has but a fraction of Smith’s campaign funds.

Penner’s family business manufactures bathing systems for nursing homes. If elected, he said, he would serve no more than five terms, allowing him to concentrate on the needs of his constituents.

Penner called for federal spending cuts, particularly on foreign aid, although he conceded that that area represents a small part of the overall federal budget.

He also is focused on pushing country of origin labeling requirements for meat products, requirements that Congress repealed with Smith’s support.

“You can have meat come into your local grocery store to the meat department in a box labeled ‘product of the USA’ when the beef is actually from Uruguay or Australia,” Penner said. “To me that’s deception.”

The labeling requirements are an issue that has split Nebraska agriculture groups and politicians in the past.

Smith said that he favors the labeling of products but that the mandatory labeling requirements he supported repealing had lost in the WTO four times, with Canada and Mexico poised to implement significant retaliatory tariffs on U.S. agriculture.

“To do nothing and leave COOL in place would have been harmful for all of agriculture,” Smith said.

Kowalski, 24, is a fifth generation Nebraska farmer who raises corn and soybeans outside of Grand Island.

He said he brings an agricultural background the other candidates lack and stressed the need to invest in safety nets for farmers.

That includes increasing funding for federal crop insurance and a focus on protections against low crop prices. He wants to direct more federal spending to rural areas.

He said he’s not sure exactly how to pay for those proposals but suggested consolidating redundant programs to save money and also questioned the need for military spending on items such as the F-35 aircraft.

Kowalski wants to see federal law changes to allow for the commercial cultivation of hemp, which he said has many industrial uses and would help diversify the rural economy.

And he criticized Republican health care proposals and said he would prioritize maintaining rural health facilities.

“We may not like it, but adjusting the Affordable Care Act would be far more likely, as opposed to repealing it and then trying to come up with a new solution outright,” Kowalski said.

Bolinger, 49, an author and sometime Uber driver in Alliance, said he thinks he can do the best job for working people.

He said he would like to save taxpayer money by reducing the “compounded government system.” The Bureau of Land Management, for example, represents a redundant office that interferes with state business, he said.

Bolinger also was critical of emissions rules enacted under President Barack Obama and said he would advocate for “clean coal” technology.