Deb Fischer, Nebraska’s new female senator, is a Cornhusker through and through. Fischer was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1951 and went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for her undergraduate education. She left with her husband Bruce Fischer in 1972 to work on his family’s ranch and returned in 1988 to finish up her degree in education. Fischer served in the Nebraska legislature for eight years, at which point state term-limit laws forced her to move on to other legislative positions.
Fischer won the Republican primary for the Senate election with nearly 40 percent of the vote despite running in a crowded field against Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg. She was significantly outspent by her opposition—Stenberg and Bruning—yet took the election by four points over the next closest finisher. In the general election, Fischer defeated Democrat and former Nebraska governor and senator Bob Kerrey by fifteen points, taking 88 of a possible 93 counties in a decisive electoral victory.
While running for her Senate seat, Fischer touted her ability to reach across the aisle and solve problems—a common theme in this election season as politicians tried to appeal to voters frustrated with partisan gridlock in Washington. In an interview with National Public Radio, the Lincoln native said, “Like most Americans, I find it very, very frustrating to watch…[In Nebraska] we have a unicameral legislature…so we have experience with working with Republicans and Democrats.”
However, Fischer’s bipartisan credentials have been strongly questioned by outside sources. In a New York Times article, Fischer’s Democratic state legislature counterparts asserted that she did not reach across the aisle in the heavily Republican legislature and that she was defined by her “steadfast conservatism.” Indeed, Fischer describes herself as a “staunch conservative” when it comes to fighting for limited government. In the same interview with NPR, Fischer said that she does not support tax increases, and she has signed Grover Norquist’s pledge not to raise taxes.
On abortion, Fischer is “proud to be pro-life,” but she also supports exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or where an abortion is necessary to save the mother’s life. However, liberal politicians illustrate the hardline position they believe Fischer really takes on abortion by pointing to the two main supporters of her campaign—Nebraska’s largest anti-abortion group, Nebraska Right to Life, and the national pro-life organization Susan B. Anthony List. On the question of homosexual marriage, Fischer has expressed public support for a federal marriage amendment that would define a marriage as one between a man and a woman.
Liberal critics also point out that Fischer is a strong gun freedom supporter who has stated conditional approval of the National Rifle Association’s suggestion to put an armed guard in every school. The senator demurred from answering the question directly when interviewed on NPR, stating that the decision needs to be made on a local level. In keeping with her philosophy of limited government, Fischer advocated for the reform and possibly the elimination of both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Highway Agency. She also opposes amnesty and benefits for illegal aliens and voted against the Nebraskan version of the DREAM Act in 2006, co-sponsoring a bill that repealed the state act in 2010.
Fischer paints herself as a bipartisan political figure—catering to a bourgeoning populist appeal for leaders who pursue “common sense” policies and are more proactive legislators. However, Fischer’s entire political experience has been dominated by fellow GOP legislators and comments from former colleagues indicate that in her few opportunities to do so, she neglected to extend an olive branch across the aisle. Her libertarian views and conservative social policies are also consistent with GOP rank-and-file philosophy and it remains to be determined how pragmatic, or bipartisan, Fischer will truly be.