In his first interview since launching his campaign, County Attorney candidate Dave Pantos spoke with KFAB Radio News about why he thinks he can win, what he'd do differently, and more.
(Omaha, NE) -- Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine has his first opponent. Dave Pantos, an attorney and consultant, launched his campaign today outside the Douglas County Courthouse.
This is not Pantos' first campaign for elected office. He was the campaign manager for Democrat Kara Eastman's congressional bid, as well as RJ Neary's campaign for mayor of Omaha. Asked why he thinks he can win despite losing all three campaigns, Pantos says this race is different. "Kara won Douglas County both times, and this race is in Douglas County. As for the mayoral campaign, Jean Stothert is very popular and a great campaigner, and that was a tough race."
Pantos says he thinks the issues at hand are different from other campaigns he's run. "This race is about criminal justice reform, and about the values of our community as they relate to sentencing and prison overcrowding. Much different than what was at stake with Eastman or the mayoral race."
"Like a lot of folks, I'm upset with the issues related to prison overcrowding," Pantos said. "You've got to look at what's driving the high incarceration rates in Nebraska -- it's Douglas County. You look at the rest of the state, incarceration rates are getting lower. It's all being driven here, and we've got an 8-to-1, 9-to-1 incarceration rate of people of color over white people. There needs to be accountability." Pantos further contended that despite Douglas County being the most populous in the state, the incarceration here was still disproportionate in comparison to the rest.
Asked what he would do differently in contrast to Kleine, Pantos says he would stop prosecuting most nonviolent offenses, citing marijuana possession as an example. "We need to start looking at more diversionary programs. We have a veterans court -- let's look at other tactics to make sure we're not incarcerating first," Pantos said.
Pantos says his biggest strength is his ability to collaborate and coordinate with other groups. "At this point, the County Attorney isn't out in the public unless he's doing a press conference associated with a murder or some high-profile crime. I want to be actively integrated within the community and make this a public position."
Pantos also says more transparency as a component of his campaign. "I would love to bring in an independent auditor to look at the practice of the office in terms of prosecutorial decisions. We have way too much secrecy when it comes to criminal justice data in our community." Pantos also says day-one transparency items include examining more diversionary programs, ending most cash bail programs, ending fines and fees, and hiring an outreach officer.
The election is in November 2022. Pantos says he intends to knock on as many doors as possible between now and then.