Republican and Democratic leaders sparred Thursday over policy and politics at a joint session of Boys State and Girls State, and the biggest winner in terms of cheers and applause probably was the Second Amendment.
"It's the key safeguard for our constitutional freedom," Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Ryan Hamilton told the high school juniors.
"You can protect the Second Amendment and still pass responsible gun laws," Democratic State Chairwoman Jane Kleeb countered.
Kleeb and Hamilton predictably disagreed on a host of issues, ranging from abortion rights to who's responsible for failure to deliver more substantial property tax relief and more progress on prison reform at the state level.
When asked "which is more important, freedom or peace?" Kleeb said "both."
Hamilton said: "Freedom is always more important than peace."
And so it went, with Hamilton holding the upper hand with an audience largely composed of students who represent high schools outside of Lincoln and Omaha.
Kleeb said Gov. Pete Ricketts and Republican members of the nonpartisan Legislature have "failed to deliver" on substantial property tax relief; Hamilton said that "we can't get (substantial) property tax relief because we can't get spending controls" and that the responsibility lies with Democrats who serve in the Legislature.
Increased revenue, which could be raised through new sources like legalized marijuana sales or "casinos at the border" could provide new funding for property tax reduction, Kleeb said, while decriminalizing marijuana would reduce prison population and costs.
Ricketts is building the Nebraska economy by bringing companies into the state, Hamilton said, and that's a better plan than "casinos and drug dealers."
When Kleeb criticized the governor for the pace of prison reform, Hamilton said "there's more than enough money" available to meet the state's needs and still cut taxes.
Hamilton took a couple of shots at spending by the University of Nebraska, once referring to "out-of control bureaucratic costs" at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and later to "university spending."
The annual forum at Kimball Hall on the UNL campus was a spirited event, as usual, leading to a series of standing ovations and a continuing round of applause.
There were a number of passing references to President Donald Trump with Hamilton defending Trump, praising him for "doing everything he can to keep us out of armed military conflict" and calling him "the president of action."
Kleeb criticized Trump for attempting to "wall off America" and for "mocking our allies," and she challenged the students to consider whether the president's online tweets "match your values."
In her closing remarks, Kleeb said she hopes young Nebraskans will be alert to the need to recognize and address climate change which, she suggested, contributed to the unprecedented March flooding that devastated the state.