By Dave Vrbas
The Wauneta Breeze
Former state senator Tom Baker was already piloting the combine again Monday after last week’s three-day stay in the intensive care ward, and is still strongly considering another run for state legislature in 2010.
The former state senator, who was elected to serve as District 44’s state senator in 1998 and served until 2007 when term limits forced him out of office, was released from Good Samaritan Hospital early Sunday evening, heading back out into the field for wheat harvest by Monday afternoon.
Suffering from a compression fracture in his vertebrae after a head first tumble into a grain dump pit last Thursday, Baker was able to climb up and out alone after using his cell phone to contact his son, Michael, and neighbor, Steve Kollmorgen, who then drove him to McCook Community Hospital.
From there, he was transported by ambulance to Kearney where he spent Thursday through Saturday in the intensive care unit.
Baker said Thursday’s farm accident exacerbated an ongoing problem with his vertebrae, doctors urging him to finally get it taken care of.
Released from the hospital Sunday night in a turtle-shell cast and with a head full of staples scheduled to be removed later this week, Baker realized he wouldn’t be able to do much of anything phsyical.
“I can sit on the combine all day though,” he said, laughing.
In the June 26-28 weekend edition of the McCook Daily Gazette, Baker made mention of a possible run for legislature again in 2010, which would require a primary election run against current state senator and fellow Republican Mark Christensen of Imperial.
“I’ve been encouraged by many of my constituents to run again,” Baker said in an interview on Tuesday.
“Nothing is official right now, but I am strongly considering it. I’ll make an official announcement later this year about that,” he said.
Baker is currently serving on the Board of Educational Land and Funds, appointed by Governor Dave Heineman to that post in 2007.
Board by-laws strictly prohibit politicking of any other kind in order to retain a trustee seat.
“Obviously, my work on that board precludes any other ambitions I have right now,” Baker said. “I have many goals I’d like to reach on that board first.”
One of the main reasons Baker is considering another legislative run is the ongoing fiasco generated by LB 701. The bill required landowners in the Republican River Basin to pay taxes for water to be sent to Kansas as part of the Republican River Compact.
This January, those taxes were deemed unconstitutional and the state was ordered to refund them to taxpayers. That bill was sponsored by Baker’s successor, Christensen.
In February, Christensen tagged LB 681, a bill introduced by Governor Dave Heineman, with his priority status to get those monies immediately refunded to taxpayers. That bill died in committee this spring.
“I was one of those people who paid those taxes and can’t get them back,” Baker said, noting Christensen’s effort to attempt to get them refunded. “Overall though, he sponsored LB 701, then prioritized a flawed bill this year to try to fix it.”
Among other reasons Baker is considering taking on another election is the proposed realignment of legislative districts due to population loss. He wants to be sure southwest Nebraska doesn’t get lost in that shuffle.
“I have the experience and I have the time now,” Baker said. “I’m 60 years old and can go serve a couple more terms,” he added, again noting that nothing is official.
For now though, a great deal of harvest and healing are Baker’s top priorities.
“I’m done with the pain,” he said. “Now I just need to let my back heal.”
Christensen, who said he’s ready to take on the challenge of campaigning against Baker if it happens, said he’s very pleased to hear his likely opponent in next spring’s primary election was doing okay after his farm accident last week.
“I’m thrilled he’s back and doing okay. I hated hearing about that, but I’m sure glad he’s okay,” Christen said Tuesday morning.
Christensen also said he welcomes Baker to the campaign whenever he can make his official announcement.
“It’s great if he wants to run,” he said. “I’m ready for the challenge.”
Discussing LB 701, Christensen said his 2008 bill served its purpose of buying more time for the state to sort out the Republican River fiasco.
“LB 701 didn’t do everything I wanted it to do,” he said. “But as a freshman senator coming in and having to fix all that, I am happy to say it bought us more time until we could get more rain.”
Without his bill, Christensen explained, the outcome of ongoing arbitration regarding the water lawsuit wouldn’t have been as positive due to a general lack of compliance.
“My question in debating this issue is, ‘Why didn’t senator Baker get more done about this when he was there?’” Christensen asked.
“When it’s left up to the state, the east always wins and the west always loses,” he added. “Nobody at the state level did enough before I was there and nobody’s done enough since I’ve been there.”