As Mike Groene sees it, it takes being “straightforward,” “direct,” “outspoken” and “forthright” — his words for himself — to accomplish anything in the Nebraska Legislature.
If Lincoln County voters agree and like what he’s done, he says, they’ll give him a second four-year term as District 42 state senator on Nov. 6.
“I’m running to represent the people of Lincoln County, as I did before,” said Groene, 63, who has drawn statewide attention since his 2014 election for his personal style and his role the past two years as chairman of the Unicameral’s high-profile Education Committee.
“I’m a public servant. One of the reasons I’m successful is I really have no ambition to do anything else and they can’t threaten me with political donations, about someday being something else besides this. I really don’t care. I do what I do, and if I do it right, I’m happy. If I wasn’t elected, I’d go on with my life.”
The northeast Nebraska native, who moved to North Platte in the 1990s, was already known for his plain-spoken views on local and state tax matters before he won the District 42 seat over Roric Paulman of Sutherland.
If re-elected, Groene would be unable to seek a third consecutive term in 2022 under the Nebraska Constitution’s term limits on state lawmakers. He expects to seek re-election as Education Committee leader and continue to bypass lobbyists, government administrators and hired staffers of local and statewide groups in seeking Nebraskans’ views.
“I work with individuals,” he said. “I don’t work with groups.”
The “Accomplishments” page of his campaign website, senmikegroene.com, lists enacted legislative bills Groene has written or co-sponsored and measures he helped to kill or at least delay through filibusters. Texts and details can be found by visiting nebraskalegislature.gov/bills and entering the bill number for either the 104th Legislature (2015-16) or the 105th (2017-18).
He’s as proud of the list of bills he worked to stop — including ones that would have mandated meningococcal vaccines for children and granted $95 million in renewable energy tax credits — as the bills he helped write into law, such as taking Title X family-planning funds away from Planned Parenthood while preserving them for two pro-life North Platte agencies.
As Education Committee chairman since 2017, Groene also has been a member of the tax-writing Revenue Committee. He’s been intimately involved through both assignments in efforts to relieve Nebraskans’ property tax burdens, he said, including proposed changes to the state school aid formula.
“I’m one of the leaders that have changed the whole conversation on property taxes to school funding,” he said, “because I repeated it and repeated it.”
He and other senators on an informal 10-member committee should have proposed language for a state-aid bill ready by mid-December, he said. It will focus on boosting “foundation aid,” which districts receive based on enrollment. “Equalization aid,” intended to be based on schools’ student needs and tax resources, has substantially tilted toward Nebraska’s larger cities in recent years.
Though Groene remains staunchly opposed to tax increases, he said the committee’s plan likely will propose limited repeals of sales-tax exemptions for such items as pop, bulk candy and newspapers. To further control school spending, he added, the bill may call for a lid on school budget growth more similar to the spending lids on cities and counties.
Groene intends in a second term to reintroduce his bill giving classroom teachers greater leeway to discipline children with behavioral problems. He found widespread support from individual teachers, he said, but the bill stalled because their union, the Nebraska State Education Association, didn’t agree.
He also would keep working to return the Nebraska Cooperative Republican Platte Enhancement Project site to private ownership, while enabling NCORPE’s partner Natural Resources Districts to retain water rights to help satisfy Nebraska’s obligations under the Republican River Compact.
Groene co-sponsored a 2018 law that legalized voluntary “in-lieu-of-tax” payments by NCORPE to Lincoln County local governments serving the site. Though his reading of state law says NCORPE already can sell the land, “all I want to do is clarify to my ‘peasants’ — and I’m one of them — with a statute that says, yes, you can do it,” he said.
Groene raised $39,271 and spent $53,123 on his re-election effort between Jan. 1 and Oct. 2, according to his campaign committee’s latest report to the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission. Candidates’ reports may be viewed online by entering their names at nadc.nebraska.gov/ccdb/search.cgi.
Groene’s most recent report’s list of contributions of $250 or more backs his statement that he takes no funds from lobbyists or special interest groups. It includes a dozen individual and business entities apiece, as well as a $500 contribution from the campaign of state Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Omaha, a fellow Republican.
Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Cattlemen, the Nebraska Federation of Independent Business, Nebraska Right to Life, the National Rifle Association and the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers are among groups endorsing his re-election, Groene said.