Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Announcing NNN Syndication

by Kyle Michaelis
Getting with the times, the New Nebraska Network is now available on syndication at this site. That means you can now access NNN posts on MyYahoo, MyMSN, or any number of readers and aggregators. If none of that means a thing to you, don't worry - not a things changing to the main page (at least until I figure out how to make it more aesthetically pleasing). I'm sure it's 100% apparent that I'm still learning as I go. Stick with us. Spread the word. We'll figure this thing out one way or another.

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Goodbye Clair Callan

by Kyle Michaelis

The AP reports on the passing of one of a rare breed - a Democratic Congressmen from Nebraska and a proud "Great Society" liberal to boot:
Former Nebraska congressman Clair Callan died Saturday night at Heritage Care Center. He was 85. The Odell native lived with his wife, Joyce, in Fairbury. Friends reported Callan had been sick in recent weeks.

Callan was a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1965 to 1967. More recently, he made a name for himself in court cases challenging the constitutional legality of President Bush's decision two years ago to go to war in Iraq.

In April, Callan heard from the U.S. Supreme Court that it would not hear his lawsuit challenging the war. Callan said then that his court battles were over, but believed history would prove him right.

Callan maintained that the courts had abdicated their responsibility in the case, saying the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war is morally, legally and constitutionally wrong.

Callan was the son of a member of the first unicameral Legislature, John Callan. The younger Callan had a hand in helping write history during his two years in Congress. During that time, federal social service programs Medicare and Medicaid were created, and the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed.

Callan will be remembered in Nebraska as a watchdog for the people, said friend Steve Sorum, a Nebraska Ethanol Board project manager. "Clair was a populist in every sense of the word," Sorum said. "He cared deeply about Nebraska and the people in it.

"He was one of the last strong liberals of Nebraska, and he maintained that stance to the very end."
History has already proven Callan right on many issues from his days in Congress, for which he paid a political price at the time. Should he be proven correct on Iraq, as the facts (and death toll) already suggest, there will be no similar accounting. He's already paid his dues.

Condolences to Callan's family. As one falls, another shall certainly rise to carry the banner.

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Andersen Lets Achelpohl Speak for Himself

by Kyle Michaelis
In a strange gesture, aging conservative "journalist" Harold W. Andersen ran this bit of correspondence in his Sunday World-Herald column:
An interesting letter came my way recently from Steven E. Achelpohl, state chairman of the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party leader's letter, written after the Terri Schiavo affair but before the embryonic stem-cell controversy, said in part:

"Too many politicians have used religion to distract us from addressing important issues like globalization and what we can do to cope with it. Let's discuss how we finance educating our youth to compete in the global economy, how we bolster our manufacturing economy to compete with China, India and Japan, how we protect our intellectual property from pirating by foreign interests, what kind of tax policy we fashion which keeps the economy stimulated but affords a safety net for the poor and aged."

And finally, Achelpohl wrote, "When on Earth are we going to balance our trade and budget deficits and pay down our national debt?..."

Achelpohl had written me earlier, and I had written back to ask if I could quote him. His reply: "You certainly can quote me that many Democrats, including this Democrat, agree with the Omaha World-Herald editorials much more than your editors might think. To take one issue, your newspaper is committed to a healthy climate for job creation, which is essential to the growth of our local and state economy."
Not a whole lot to chew on there, but it's nice to see Achelpohl get the chance to raise some of the issues that the Republican Party fails to show any concern for at all. I do take issue, though, with his attempt to "make nice" with the World-Herald editorial board. Occasional fits of common sense do not even begin to justify their flimsy Republican apologetics and incessant liberal-baiting, a style perfected in Andersen's years as publisher.

Commitment to "a healthy climate for job creation" means nothing in and of itself - the true distinction of such an idea is in how it is achieved. On that, the World-Herald has sided with large corporations time after time at the expense of small business owners and common workingmen and women. They've similarly refused to write in good faith in all matters Republican and Democrat, hurting Nebraska and the democratic process by their failure to provide balance and a multitude of voices.

Achelpohl's letter followed a passage in Andersen's column in which he scolded President Bush for using an extremist religious agenda to hamper life-saving (and life-extending) medical advancements using embryonic stem cells that will otherwise be thrown away. Sounds like someone's mortality may have caught up with him. It's ironic to see that the uniting of "Christian" values with the Republican agenda falsely perpetuated by Andersen and his like over the years has been so successful as to now drive him from the party.

You reap what you sow. The problem here is that the whole country could be paying the price for a good long while. Alas, Andersen's case of buyer's remorse is likely far too little this late in the game.

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Bush & World-Herald Share Playbook

by Kyle Michaelis
Amnesty International has unleashed a scathing report on U.S. violations of human rights under the Bush Administration. It's introduction reads:
The blatant disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law in the “war on terror” continued to make a mockery of President George Bush’s claims that the USA was the global champion of human rights. Images of detainees in US custody tortured in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq shocked the world. War crimes in Iraq, and mounting evidence of the torture and ill-treatment of detainees in US custody in other countries, sent an unequivocal message to the world that human rights may be sacrificed ostensibly in the name of security....

The US administration’s treatment of detainees in the “war on terror” continued to display a marked ambivalence to the opinion of expert bodies such as the International Committee of the Red Cross and even of its own highest judicial body. Six months after the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had jurisdiction over the Guantánamo detainees, none had appeared in court. Detainees reportedly considered of high intelligence value remained in secret detention in undisclosed locations. In some cases their situation amounted to “disappearance”.
In presenting this report, Amnesty International's Secretary General Irene Khan elaborated further:
Guantanamo has become the gulag our times, entrenching the notion that people can be detained without any recourse to the law. If Guantanamo evokes images of Soviet repression, "ghost detainees" – or the incommunicado detention of unregistered detainees - bring back the practice of "disappearances" so popular with Latin American dictators in the past. According to US official sources there could be over 100 ghost detainees held by the US.

In 2004 thousands of people were held by the US in Iraq, hundreds in Afghanistan and undisclosed numbers in undisclosed locations. AI is calling on the US Administration to "close Guantanamo and disclose the rest". What we mean by this is: either release the prisoners or charge and prosecute them with due process....

The US, as the unrivalled political, military and economic Super Power, sets the tone of governmental behaviour world-wide. By thumbing its nose at the rule of law and human rights, what message does the US send to repressive regimes who have little regard for the rule of law anyway? By lowering the human rights standards, the US has weakened its own moral authority to speak out on human rights.
How is this relevant Nebraska news? Mainly because the Omaha World-Herald, the state's largest newspaper, viciously attacked the motives of the report without refuting a single one of Amnesty International's largely well-documented claims. Their disingenuous attempt at defending U.S. policy went as follows:
• Many of the indictments of U.S. policies are being made far from the gritty realities of war, terrorism and interrogation by people who have only thirdhand accounts.

• Prisoner complaints, in some instances, have been given equal or greater weight in comparison with the explanations of military officers on the scene.

• The hunt for damning detention material sometimes exceeds in intensity that of some other legitimate areas of journalistic inquiry, leading to the likes of Newsweek's stumble.

This is not to dismiss the concerns. The documented cases of abuse at Abu Ghraib constituted, at best, a shameful breakdown of command and discipline. The Army has acknowledged other incidents, at Guantanamo as well, of behavior that flies in the face of any policy of respecting the detainees' religious and human rights.

The U.S. Army says they are isolated incidents. The critics say they are a logical outgrowth of U.S. policy. But if such treatment is condoned, as the critics say, why are the perpetrators being court-martialed?

These can be difficult concepts for the tenderhearted. All discomfort is not torture, and all stressful interrogation is not a war crime. Targeting terrorism on its turf can be dangerous and unpleasant work...

"Gulag of our time" is hateful, judgmental, demonstrably inaccurate and sufficiently biased to render inoperative any claim of objectivity by the authors of the Amnesty report.
The majority of Amnesty International's complaints were rooted in violations of the United States' own judicial standards. Notice that none of these claims were challenged by the World-Herald... or even mentioned in this classic example of misdirection (see manufactured link between this report and Newsweek's Koran article).

Unsurprisingly, in response to the report, President Bush took much the same approach, avoiding the very real and well-established issues of legal hypocrisy in favor of the entire reports' dismissal as the propaganda of boogeymen:
"I'm aware of the Amnesty International report, and it's absurd. It's an absurd allegation. The United States is a country that is -- promotes freedom around the world. When there's accusations made about certain actions by our people, they're fully investigated in a transparent way. It's just an absurd allegation.

In terms of the detainees, we've had thousands of people detained. We've investigated every single complaint against the detainees. It seemed like to me they based some of their decisions on the word of -- and the allegations -- by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble -- that means not tell the truth. And so it was an absurd report. It just is."
Maybe declaring Guantanamo "the Gulag of our Time" was an unnecessary exaggeration, but using this mere soundbyte in the manner employed by Bush and the World-Herald - to obscure the meat of Amnesty International's report - is utterly despicable. Can't really blame them for using such a reprehensible tactic, though, as an honest defense from the charges at hand is all but impossible. Yes, they're shameless, but understandably so since both parties obviously have zero integrity and no legitimate alternatives.

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Monday, May 30, 2005

Heineman Targets Enemies: Bruning & the Poor

by Kyle Michaelis
Catching up with some news from last week, Gov. Dave Heineman made some miniscule but very telling cuts to the Legislature's $6+ billion budget. Heineman cut a grand total of $8 million from the budget, such a pithy, token amount from so monstrous a figure that those programs targeted must almost have done something personal to make Heineman hate them. There's certainly no principle at stake.

In the case of his vetoing $134,000 to improve salaries for attorneys in the State Attorney General's Office, this idea of Heineman targeting enemies might hold especially true. AG Jon Bruning has publicly endorsed Heineman's opponent in the Republican primary, Tom Osborne, likely in an attempt to position himself as Osborne's successor if Dr. Tom follows through on his promise to serve only one term in the Governor's Mansion.

Bruning is still in his 30s and doesn't seem to mind waiting in the wings for another 4 years, surely hoping his early loyalty will be remembered and rewarded with what could be a huge endorsement from Osborne when the time comes. That leaves Heineman out in the cold. His response? Cut the pay raises intended to make the salaries of Bruning's lieutenants competitive. The Lincoln Journal-Star elaborated:
Osborne, who is running against Heineman for governor next year, was a special guest at an April fund-raiser for Bruning, who is running for re-election. And Bruning does think the former Husker football coach turned congressman would be the best governor.

"I am proudly supporting Tom Osborne. I am not against Dave Heineman, but I think with Tom Osborne we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity. To have a leader of his vision is unusual. He can take this state to a higher place," Bruning said on Friday.

"I hope the vetoes had nothing to do with the race, but if that's the price I pay for supporting Tom, so be it."
Not a bad retaliatory move if I might say so myself. Lower wages and the increased incompetence assumed to go along with it in the Attorney General's office are bound to catch up with Bruning eventually.

As for Heineman's other cuts, it seems quite obvious who they're targeted at: the poor, children, and anyone unfortunate enough to be caught up in the penal system. According to the World-Herald, his cuts include:
• $1.1 million for additional probation officers to ease caseloads and help the state keep nonviolent offenders out of prison.

• $562,500 for expanding the state's regional child advocacy centers, which offer safe places to help abused children.

• $656,200 for providing health care to uninsured Nebraskans at the state's five federally qualified community health centers.

• $3 million for helping Omaha and Lincoln operate their mass-transit systems.

• $1.2 million for financial aid to needy college students.

• $817,000 for reimbursing counties to house prisoners before their convictions.
Got to hand it to Heineman...he's certainly earning his street cred as a Republican, happily handing out hundreds of millions to corporations with the "Nebraska Advantage" tax break program while standing in the way of improved services for Nebraska's least advantaged. Right here, he's gone out of his way to turn a blind eye to our disastrous prison over-crowding, sky-rocketing college tuition, and ever burgeoning numbers of uninsured. Yup, sure sounds like a Republican to me.

What are these people's crime? What have they done to so offend Heineman and draw his ire? For starters, those affected don't vote - and those who do certainly don't vote Republican. It's called playing to his base. Too bad it won't do him a bit of good as he gets steam-rolled by Osborne next year.

Until these petty and inhumane cuts showed Heineman's true colors, I was almost feeling sorry for the guy. Not anymore.

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Saturday, May 28, 2005

Neb. Dems Feel Love from National Party

by Kyle Michaelis
It's usually safest to take a "I'll believe it when I see it"-approach when dealing with political parties and promises of money, but Nebraska Democrats have a little bit more to believe in than they did a few days ago with the announcement that their national party is finally making an investment in them. The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Howard Dean came through for the Nebraska Democratic Party.

Although officials of the state party had predicted more, it will get at least $120,000 this year to help organize grass-roots groups in all of Nebraska's 93 counties.

The hope is to rejuvenate the state party and get local Democrats elected. It is part of the national party chairman's efforts to make Democrats competitive in all 50 states, including GOP-dominated ones such as Nebraska.

"We're ecstatic. This is the first time the national party has even done anything more than simply fly over our state," said Barry Rubin, executive director of the state party....

The money can be traced to the election of Dean as party chairman. The former Vermont governor, who lost his bid for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, argued that the party could not return to national power unless it was competitive in every state.

The Nebraska Democratic Party has had trouble in recent years winning statewide races. In the 1990s, Democrats held three of the state's top elected jobs - governor and the two U.S. Senate seats. Today, U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson is the lone Democrat holding a statewide office.

Dean promised that if he became chairman, more national dollars would flow to state parties. Nebraska is one of the first to get the money he promised.

It is a large amount compared with the $12,000 the state party got year. However, it is less than the $250,000 officials earlier predicted they might receive. Rubin said he expects the state party to get more money later this year.
It's a start - what more is there to say at this point? The first thing the Democratic Party has to do in this state is remind voters that they exist - that, yes, they have friends and neighbors who are Democrats and are proud to be so.

This idea that Nebraska is a "Red" state and that's that is not only mindless in the extreme but also the lowest form of self-fulfilling prophecy - that which confuses ignorance for virtue, as if jumping on the Republican bandwagon and drinking the Kool-Aid are rights of passage. Nevertheless, this negation of any possibility of progress has infected the political and intellectual climate of Nebraska and must be addressed with force. Money well-spent won't work any miracles but will help pave the way for the right candidates with the right message who will eventually restore balance and reawaken the quiet fires of enlightened truth and compassion that burn in the heart of this great state.

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World-Herald Stands Against Decency

by Kyle Michaelis
In a stunningly idiotic editorial Friday, the Omaha World-Herald had the audacity to suggest that the 14 Senators who came together earlier this week to avert the "Nuclear Option" that would have devastated the operation of the U.S. government were actually doing a disservice to their country. Why? Because, in the OWH's perverted conception of democracy - that of the lowest expectations imaginable - these Senators were actually obligated to be nothing more than party hacks and yes-men and had no right to stand in their own name for the common good. Read for yourself:
How does country benefit when 14 senators take control of party business?

Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, one of the 14 U.S. senators whose agreement led to votes on three of President Bush's stalled judicial nominees, has written that he and his 13 cohorts put partisan politics aside for the good of the country....

Whether, indeed, the good of the country was served at all by the seven Republicans and seven Democrats is highly debatable. By denying their respective parties the votes to pursue announced positions, the 14 in effect seized control of a portion of the judicial-confirmation process, substituting their arbitrariness for the ordinary working of Senate procedures.

What evil did they prevent? How was this action for the greater good of the country?

Certainly the confirmation or nonconfirmation of a few circuit court judges has no significant bearing on the condition of the country. These are petty political fights best handled via the political process.

Yes, a possible showdown was averted on the Republican plan to eliminate the filibuster as a potential weapon in judicial confrontations. But how is averting (or, perhaps more accurately, delaying) a showdown good for the country? It's a legitimate question; it deserved a legitimate hearing.

The Republicans hold 55 of the 100 Senate seats, leaving the Democrats enough votes to block the majority with a filibuster. So why not play it out?

Let the Republicans seek their filibuster change and reap whatever public acclaim or criticism might result. Let the Democrats follow through on their petulant threat to stall the Senate's machinery in retaliation. See how well that plays in the court of public opinion.

That's the way democracy works. Take the responsibility and bear the consequences.

The interference of the 14 senators freed the party leadership of accountability, at least for the moment. It didn't in any way ameliorate the poisonous partisanship; it merely created a new kind of minority rule, making the Senate look something like the Italian parliament with its multiplicity of factions....

A recent editorial expressed the hope that Nebraska's two moderate senators, Nelson of the Democrats and Chuck Hagel of the Republicans, could be instrumental in bringing about a reasonable way of avoiding the confrontation.

Maybe it was overly optimistic to think that a reasonable solution existed. Now that we have seen what passes for one, the good of the country seems easier to discern: Let this new creature get out of the way and let the political process take its course, with all the public accountability that implies.
For starters, when did the health and functioning of our democracy become nothing more than party business? How cynical and contemptible. In fact, what a pathetic exercise this entire editorial is for justifying the paper's unhappiness with an end result. That they suddenly romanticize partisan warfare in this fashion, subverting the common good in the name of letting easily manipulated public opinion have its say, is simply absurd.

In this editorial, the World-Herald is literally claiming that a game of chicken is more democratic than compromise. Huh? No wonder Nebraska is so starved for progress and leadership when it's largest newspaper is this extreme and blinded by its own self-serving agenda. How they would love a Senate of black and white hats that they could alternately glorify and demonize while calling on both to act more civil. How hollow this pleading must be when so obvious a victory for America's prevailing moderate majority is attacked for daring to tamper with the "us vs. them" politics they've been shoving down the peoples' throats for decades.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Dimming the lights

by Kyle Michaelis
From Sunday 5/22 to Thursday 5/26 the New Nebraska Network will be on temporary hiatus as I attend a conference in Washington D.C.. That doesn't mean the work of building this state's progressive community becomes any less urgent. All readers are urged to check out the Nebraska Democratic Party's new website at www.nebraskademocrats.org until we get back up and running later in the week.

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

When Big Business Writes the Budget...

by Kyle Michaelis
A very insightful and surprisingly candid article ran earlier this week by the APs statehouse reporter, Scott Bauer. Under the title "What Business Lobby Wants, It Gets" , the article made it quite plain whose really pulling the strings at the state capitol and the Governor's mansion:
If there ever was any doubt about the power of business interests in Nebraska, take a look at what has happened this week in the Legislature. Business lobbyists — primarily the Omaha, Lincoln and state chambers of commerce working in conjunction with the Department of Economic Development and others — got lawmakers to agree to three key economic development initiatives. And they won't come cheap.

The main proposal, an expansion of the LB775 program passed in 1987, is estimated to cost $430 million over 10 years. That's on top of the $140 million already awarded each year in sales and income tax breaks to qualifying companies such as Union Pacific and ConAgra.

Along with that, lawmakers approved an immediate injection of $15 million for job training — a carrot of upfront cash to lure in companies. A third piece, thrown together to satisfy rural senators, would spend a comparatively paltry amount — $7.5 million over two years — to fund incentives for new ethanol plants and grant programs to help entrepreneurs and small businesses in Nebraska's towns and villages.

All this comes as the Legislature continues to dig out after four years of budget cuts that resulted in reductions in spending across the board in state government. But guess what program also escaped those cuts unscathed? That's right, LB775.

Even when then-Gov. Mike Johanns, a vocal LB775 supporter, proposed in 2002 a $25 million surcharge on companies receiving the benefits, it was rejected. The tax was to be repaid to the businesses over time, and they would have lost no money. However, the Legislature that same year raised income and sales taxes and cut funding for the University of Nebraska and most other state agencies, including aid for the poor and K-12 schools. Many of those cuts have yet to be fully restored....

"This is big business and the governor's office going off on a spending spree with the state's credit cards," said Tim Rinne, statewide coordinator for Nebraskans for Peace.

The push for more incentives has been aided by an improved economy, which has led to more money in the state budget...All of this goes to show that when the business lobby speaks, senators listen. And spend.
Maybe this is the true impact of term limits in the Unicameral. Senators who have no long-term interest in serving their constituents are that much more likely to sell-out while they have the chance to secure favor and fortune with the business community.

This isn't to say that all business tax incentives are inherently flawed, but the priority they receive over every other interest of the state should rightfully raise a lot of questions. While some important and common sense disclosure rules are finally being imposed, it remains incredibly distressing that the legislature has proven otherwise unwilling to mandate expectations of quality job-creation from these business subsidies. The Lincoln Journal-Star reports on the new incentive proposal:
While LB312 does offer a richer package of tax breaks than LB775, it does contain some concessions critics of LB775 have long wanted, such as disclosure of how much companies receive and increasing investment thresholds that trigger tax breaks in accordance with a price index. Thresholds in LB775 have remained unchanged since the bill was passed.

It also calls for businesses that receive tax breaks to pay at least 60 percent of the average state wage, or about $19,500 annually, and increases tax credits for those that pay more; there are no wage levels in LB775.

Sen. Chris Beutler had wanted more incentives for businesses to pay higher wages. But like another measure that was designed to motivate businesses to provide adequate health insurance, it suffered Tuesday from lawmakers' unwillingness to take a firm stand.

Omaha Sen. John Synowiecki said of his proposal to increase tax credits for companies that provide health insurance: "Without a health insurance plan a family's assets are wiped out with one trip to the emergency room."

It failed on a 20-2 vote, with 22 senators not voting. Twenty-five votes are needed for passage. Beutler, who introduced another amendment that would have encouraged companies receiving tax breaks to provide health insurance, said not doing so would further burden the state by forcing people onto Medicaid. That could exacerbate what he described as the "fiscal crisis" that could be created by the tax-break plan.
There's the problem with selling off the state's fiscal security to the highest bidder. There are long-term problems in the state budget that the legislature has simply turned a blind eye to. Of the total budget and the on-coming financial catastrophe it portends, the AP reports:
State spending would increase more than 7 percent over the next two years, but there would be no sales or income tax increases to pay for it, under the budget lawmakers sent to Gov. Dave Heineman on Wednesday.

The governor must decide by midnight Tuesday whether to accept all of the $6.1 billion in spending, or veto specific spending and force senators to override. The governor will take until Tuesday to announce any vetoes, said Heineman's spokesman, Aaron Sanderford. "He's going to carefully examine the entire package," Sanderford said.

For the first time in four years, the budget does not include major cuts or tax increases....The main budget bill passed on a 34-10 vote.

Even though the current two-year budget is balanced, there are problems on the horizon. Based on the impact of various bills expected to pass this year, the state's budget will be $236 million short in four years.
Oh goodie! We've put in more untouchable incentives for businesses so the next crisis will be even more destructive to the state's education and health programs. Who are we to expect the Governor or the legislature to protect the long-term responsibilities of the state?

Goodbye Medicaid and hello tuition hikes! With these short-sighted bozos in charge, it's only a matter of time.

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Hagel Buckles on Filibuster

by Kyle Michaelis
While Sen. Ben Nelson continues with late-hour talks to avert the Republican "Nuclear Option" banning the filibuster of judicial nominees in the U.S. Senate - thereby changing a hundred years of Senate precedent to appease the farthest reaches of the right-wing in their attempt to undermine accepted Constitutional freedoms and the rule of law - Nelson's Republican counterpart Chuck Hagel states in an Omaha World-Herald report that he'll have nothing to do with these compromise efforts:
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., for weeks said he was undecided on whether to back a move by (Republican leader) Frist, if it comes. Wednesday, he officially rejected signing on to a compromise.

"I believe that all of the president's nominees deserve an up or down vote," Hagel said, quoted by spokesman Mike Buttry. "The agreement that has been proposed calls for three of the president's nominees not to get a vote. I could not agree to that. That is unfair and it's not right."

Of Nelson's effort, Hagel said that he wants a vote on all nominees, that the Senate is in a very difficult position and that "Sen. Nelson, like all of us, has to do what he has to do."
That last sentence just about says it all. Hagel, like many of his fellow Republicans who know better, is backing down from previous calls for compromise to cow-tow to those he believes hold the keys to his White House ambitions.

How ironic and unsurprising that Nelson, who doesn't hide his true colors and actually practices what he preaches - a rare commodity indeed in this day and age - is now being attacked by the Nebraska Republican Party for his efforts to restore civility to the Senate. Their Executive Director, Jessica Moenning, told the World-Herald:
"This is typical Ben Nelson. He's grandstanding on this issue to save himself at home for a political year."
Whipping-boy Hagel is on national TV every chance he can get talking like a man of reason to provide cover for his record of right-wing recklessness, and Nelson's the grandstander??? For what - doing what Hagel only wishes he had the courage to do? Outrageous!

Nebraska....Nebraska....wake-up and smell the hypocrisy. Your conscience and country are calling upon you.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Lincoln Republicans: Spying or Lying?

by Kyle Michaelis
Not content with the success of their unprecedented Blitzkrieg-style bombardment of former City Councilman Terry Werner before the general election two weeks ago, it has been discovered that 10 days later the chairman of the Lancaster County Republicans sent a childish and gloating message to Werner that demonstrates the very worst of his party's mentality.

This insulting "gotcha" letter caps off their well-coordinated campaign of character assasination, showing the full lengths to which the Republicans were willing to go to win. The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Ten days after the May 3 election, the chairman of the Lancaster County Republican Party sent an e-mail to ousted City Councilman Terry Werner in which he taunted Werner for losing his council seat and said "having a private eye follow you was a joy."

Haga's e-mail read, in part: "Let this be a wakeup call to you. The voters of Lincoln wisely rejected your socialist agenda. If needed, we could have addressed your driving record (having a private eye follow you was a joy), . . . and more. Had you been a good Democrat and not a socialist, you might have been re-elected."

Chairman Jim Haga acknowledged to a reporter Tuesday he wrote the e-mail "in anger" but said he regretted it. Haga declined to comment on whether he hired an investigator, saying, "I'm not going to address that . . . To me it's not even a news story."
He wrote the message "in anger"? Anger for what - his mother not loving him enough? They'd ousted Werner, so I can't imagine what would have had Haga in such a tizzy unless his troubled conscience demanded that he fabricate some sort of justification for his despicable actions.

Haga goes on to attempt worming his way out of responsibility for the e-mail, claiming it was all an elaborate ruse. Get a load of this:
Later in the day, Haga told the Journal Star editor that he did not hire a private eye but put that in the e-mail because he knew Werner would take it to the press and the Journal Star would write about it — proving the paper's bias. When asked if he lied to Werner to try to prove a reporter's bias, he said, "I guess I did."
Oh, that's rich - and the Roman's crucified Jesus to prove there was an Easter bunny. What a pathetic low-life regardless of which version of his story you choose to believe. If I was a Lancaster County Republican, not only would I be asking for my money back if it's gone towards efforts such as this but also for part of my soul.

Meanwhile, Werner may be gone from office but his legacy of passion and integrity lives on. His only words to the City Council at Monday's farewell meeting were, "It's been an honor. Thank you."

For more, today's Journal-Star ran a column by Werner about the above controversy while also extending his many thanks to his constituents. Classy to the last, he will be missed.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Ben Nelson Senate's Last Hope

by Kyle Michaelis
Everything is coming to a head this week in the senate, as Republicans seem poised to put their plan to eliminate the judicial filibuster to vote. Compromise talks between Majority leader Bill Frist and Minority Leader Harry Reid have officially broken down, as Frist and company move ahead with the nomination of William Pryor to the Federal Bench over the filibuster that has thus far kept him from receiving a life-time appointment.

The way national media are reporting on this thing, that leaves one man who stands in the way of the dreaded Nuclear Option - which would shatter the long-standing minority protections in the U.S. Senate and bring that institutions work to a halt. Who is this brave soul? None other than Nebraska Democratic Senator Ben Nelson. The Washington Post reports:
There is still a chance that a confrontation can be avoided, if a bipartisan group of senators finds support for a compromise.

The group, led by Sens. Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and John McCain, R-Ariz., had deferred to Frist and Reid. But now it plans to intensify discussions in hopes of attracting half a dozen members from each party to agree to a deal that would block any change in the Senate rules while allowing filibusters only in extraordinary circumstances....

Nelson said he and others are prepared to find a compromise in the absence of a deal between Frist and Reid. The group has been discussing a deal in which a handful of Republicans would agree not to vote to bar filibusters on judicial nominations and Democrats would agree to avoid filibusters except in the most extraordinary cases.
This is a mighty task which Nelson has undertaken, and all Nebraskans should be proud of his efforts on their behalf. Whether a success or failure, Nelson can be counted on to work until the very last moment to avert this legislative catastrophe.

The Lincoln Journal-Star thanks Nelson so:
Sen. Ben Nelson is getting deserved praise for his plan to move forward on President Bush's judicial nominees while avoiding either the end of the right to filibuster or shutting down the Senate.

Last week the Washington Post commended Nelson's "admirable effort" to broker a deal among moderate senators of both parties...Nelson, a moderate who generally has not supported the filibusters of Bush's nominees, is doing the nation a great service in brokering this compromise. He is also doing a great service to his Nebraska constituents, who will certainly benefit from future filibusters as long as that right is preserved.
Meanwhile, the Omaha World-Herald got in on the action of praising Nelson with:
Nelson said he was working with Republican Sen. Trent Lott to facilitate talks between the parties. That's the kind of leadership that is crucial to actually accomplishing something, forging common ground that is considerate of all informed viewpoints.
Bravo to Senator Nelson, whose lead we can hope Senator Chuck Hagel will follow in making a stand for common sense. Just last week Hagel said on national television:
The Republicans' hands aren't clean on this either, what we did to Bill Clinton's nominees, about 62 of them. We just didn't give them votes in committee or we just didn't bring them up. We need to work this through...I don't think it would be wise in the interests of our country or the United States Senate to let this come to this kind of an explosion in the United States Senate. My goodness, you've got a hundred United States senator. Some of us might be moderately intelligent enough to figure this out. We would, I think, debase our system and fail our country if we don't do this. But you can't give up a minority-rights tool in the interests of the country, like the filibuster.
Sounds good but, in true Hagel fashion, he has played coy ever since with how he will vote if the Nuclear Option gets to the floor of the Senate, likely because of threats such as this from Rush Limbaugh:
I know he's running for president, but I don't know who he thinks his voting base is or is going to be. Because I guarantee - Senator Hagel, you know we love you here but I guarantee you - the last thing you want for your presidential campaign is for a Democrat...to say you are the kind of guy that gives the Senate Democrats hope. That is not going to help you as you seek the Republican nomination.

I've been at odds with Senator Hagel over the years, but, you know, in this case, this is an honest appraisal of the political climate and circumstances out there. The last thing he needs if he really wants the nomination, is to have a bunch of Democrat senators out there singing his praises.
Will Hagel back down to this extreme right-wing pressure, leaving Nelson and common sense hanging out to dry, to protect his presidential ambitions? Is he willing to forsake his "moderate intelligence" and principle to appease these rabid dogs' hunger for absolute power? Stay tuned. We'll know soon enough.

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Monday, May 16, 2005

Democracy Demands Primary Reform

by Kyle Michaelis
The Associated Press reports on a Democratic National Committee hearing in Chicago last weekend on reforms to the Presidential Primary schedule that could have some changes in store for Nebraska Democrats:
Democratic officials heard competing proposals Saturday to revamp the election calendar the party uses to choose a presidential nominee every four years. The three major proposals would focus on regional primaries. Two of those proposals would allow Iowa and New Hampshire to retain their leadoff roles in the candidate selection process.

A third plan, offered by Michigan Democrats, would create a rotating series of six regional primaries. A different region would launch each presidential nominating season. That plan would allow single-state contests to begin the process, but those states would be rotated. "Share the wealth," said Michigan Sen. Carl Levin. "I would not lock in specific states."

Officials from Iowa and New Hampshire vowed to defend their status and said the system's real problem is excessive "front-loading." In 2004, 30 states selected delegates by mid-March, which former New Hampshire Gov. Jeanne Shaheen said takes influence away from voters in later states...

Backers of the early status of Iowa and New Hampshire also argue that those states have traditionally opened the nominating season for decades and that voters there take their politics seriously.

Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa defended his state's position. "It emphasizes face-to-face politics, not big money," he said. "There should be a role in the beginning of our process for the party faithful."

Levin, however, blasted this perpetual privilege..."What's at stake here is nothing less than a struggle for political equality and political relevance," Levin said.

The proposals were made before a special commission selected by the Democratic National Committee. Any changes will be recommended in December.

Leslie Reynolds of the National Association of Secretaries of State said her group favored a plan that divides the country into four regions, which would hold rotating primaries after Iowa's leadoff caucuses and New Hampshire's opening primary.

A group called Democrats for the West pushed for an early primary group of eight interior Western states that would also vote after Iowa and New Hampshire. Brian Kuehl of that group said the region is the fastest-growing in the nation.
No offense to our Democratic neighbors to the east, but Levin is absolutely right in questioning the priveleged status of Iowa and New Hampshire. As much as I otherwise respect Sen. Harkin, there's nothing at all unique to Iowa and New Hampshire that qualifies their "party faithful" for this positioning.

The current system is indefensible but as tradition for tradition's sake, with the notion that these voters' take their job more seriously insulting to Democrats across the country. Even if this preposterous notion were the case, it would be no more than a reflection of these voters' undue influence, which undoubtedly serves to suppress the larger vote nation-wide.

In this era of politics-by-hype, there is still a place for the "retail politics" Iowa and New Hampshire have traditionally represented, but the time has come for other communities and other voices to be heard. Try as representatives of these states might to shift blame on other states' for moving their election calendars up, they are dancing around the obvious hypocrisy of their sense of entitlement to first-in-nation status. How dare they condemn others for "front-loading" when they are the ultimate front-loaders?

Of these proposals, the Michigan plan simply makes the most sense. It's the most fair - the most democratic. As a gesture of good will, I'd even endorse Iowa and New Hampshire maintaining their traditional status in 2008, with a complete overhaul not taking effect until 2012. From there, though, the time has come for leveling the playing field and returning the "Party of the People" to people nation-wide.

Here's a suggestion I personally would like to receive consideration since regional primaries are not the only possible avenue of reform: base the election calendar on the prior Presidential election. I'd say, for excitement's sake, let the highest and lowest Democratic-performing states from the previous election vote first, followed from there on out by the most closely-divided swing states.

A Democratic strong-hold and the Democratic-starved would be heard first, likely pretty divergent voices receiving a lot of attention. Then, the Democrats in the trenches could choose from there. Just an idea - something else to throw at the wall.

I'm actually a little bit troubled by regional voting that might emphasize cultural differences in a monolithic sense. I'd rather see regions established for the sake of staggering bordering states to ensure they did NOT vote in too close of proximity. For example, one state from each region (or select regions) would vote on the same day, emphasizing the larger American community. From these regions, perhaps assignment via lottery might even make the most sense. Any thoughts?

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Would-be Osborne Replacements Look for Lifetime Appointment

by Kyle Michaelis
Nothing humble about this guy - State Sen. Adrian Smith of Gering - who announced his intention this weekend to run for Nebraska's Third District seat in Congress. The Omaha World-Heral reports:
Smith, 34, will run for the seat held by U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, who is running for governor in 2006. In Congress, Smith said, he will work to redirect more tax money to Nebraska for highways and telecommunications services.

"I want to make sure we get back at least what we pay in," he said in making his announcement Saturday. "That's something that doesn't always happen..."

In the interview, Smith said that if he wins in 2006, he will work to keep the seat for a number of years. The longer a person serves in the U.S. House, he said, the more he can contribute to the district.

"There is a need for someone with a long-term commitment to serve for several years in the House. That's how clout is gained," Smith said.
Smith was also quoted by the AP saying:
I hope to serve a good many years...I am only 34 years old and in order to gain clout in the U.S. House of Representatives you need longevity. I want to at least offer that to the voters.
Well, he's not earning much in the way of credibility when he claims Nebraska doesn't get back what it pays in to the federal government. That's just plain ignorant or a flat-out lie since Nebraska's been a net beneficiary, taking more money than it's put in, every year since 1982.

Of course, the third District is heavily Republican, so maybe Smith thinks the 57-30% split between registered Republicans and Democrats will allow him to play fast and loose with the facts. But history should teach he and his fellows not to count their chickens before they hatch, even in Western Nebraska.
Two of the last three times when the seat opened, Democrats pulled within a few percentage points of a win. In 1990, Democrat Sandra Scofield came with 2.2 percentage points of (Bill) Barrett. In 1974, Democrat Wayne Ziebarth lost to (Virginia) Smith by 737 votes...

"It is a district we can win, with the right candidate," said Barry Rubin, executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party.
I agree completely. A bit of hope, however, doesn't change the raw depressing facts:
An open seat, with no incumbent, is an attractive political opportunity. It is doubly attractive to Republicans, who have held the 3rd District seat in western and central Nebraska for the past 47 years...

"This is a big chance," said John Hibbing, a political science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Whoever wins the Republican nomination is probably going to be the U.S. representative from the 3rd District for as long as she or he wants to be."
That's obviously what Smith and others are counting on. The only other announced candidate for Osborne's seat is 28 year-old fellow Republican David Harris, although word's out that State Sen. Phil Erdman of Bayard, also in his 20s, might also contend for the nomination.

All of these candidates could put in a lot of years and likewise do a lot of damage. That's not to say all of them are without merit, but the sense is definitely there that they are grooming and selling themselves as right-wing stooges. If that's what voters in the third district want - and they want it for a real long time - they just might be in luck. It's been a good couple of years for lackies and yes-men. Why not keep a good thing going?

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

Common Thread in Campaign Corruption

by Kyle Michaelis
Thanks to the Lincoln Journal-Star and reporter Matthew Hansen for their finally tying together the corrupt campaign-styles of a trio of members on the Board of Regents, all of them linked in disregard for the public interest, disdain for the rule of law, and the all-too-curious involvement of Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear. They report:
The last three men elected to the University of Nebraska's Board of Regents took strikingly similar paths to Varner Hall. The trio spent nearly $1 million combined to unseat three incumbents, collectively transforming regents' races into high-profile political affairs in the process. They won with similar ideology, a similar campaign strategy and similar Election Day ease. Randy Ferlic, Howard Hawks and Dave Hergert have something else in common: Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear.

Brashear's connections to the three, his long-standing opposition to campaign finance law and his dual role as lawyer and lawmaker may take on increased importance as possible impeachment proceedings begin against Hergert Friday.

"The three cases just seem so interrelated," says Jack Gould of the government watchdog group Common Cause. "You just see the same things over and over. And Brashear is right there every time...."
In the Legislature, Brashear has tried on numerous occasions to eliminate Nebraska's campaign finance laws, but his opposition to these laws can not possibly justify his aiding Ferlic and Hergert in their circumvention.

The idea that the chief legislator in Nebraka has worked so hard to undercut the laws of this state should scare the hell out of every citizen. This is our government working against us, putting the interests of the rich who believe they are entitled to power before all else. Worst of all, this is actually who our Senators' chose to lead them as Speaker.

The stench of Brashear's actions may not make for impeachable or even disbarrable offenses, but censor should not be out of the question. This man and his cohorts have made a consistent mockery of our laws, portraying them as unenforceable in most devious and calculating manner. That Hergert might finally be held responsible is hopefully a sign that the legislature is waking to the problem and might finally recognize the traitor in their midst.
Last week, a Journal Star reporter asked Brashear if there was any connection between his representation of Ferlic and Hergert in their campaign finance cases.

Brashear said he had known both long before they were regents' candidates and had represented each on and off through the years. "It's a coincidence," he said.
Ha! Who is he kidding? Brashear is the go-to guy and chief advocate for anyone interested in buying an election in this state. What's really perverted in these instances is what they are buying: our children's future. Regent Howard Hawks, who spent more than $400,000 for his unpaid seat, following the example set in 2000 by Ferlic, said:
"I wanted to change some things at the university, the cost of education, how long it takes kids to graduate...I invested my money and a lot of my friends' money to get to do that."
Well, I don't know what we're supposed to assume from that statement since tuition has sky-rocketed about 10% each and every year that Hawks has been on the Board. Maybe, in keeping with his philosophy that the rich should be able to buy elections without restriction, he also thinks they and their off-spring are the only ones who deserve a college education.

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Friday, May 13, 2005

A Disappointing Democrat

by Kyle Michaelis
As easy as it may be to decry all of it as debasing and damaging to democracy, there is a place for negative campaigning. In fact, when it focuses on an opposing candidates' record or blatant hypocrisy, criticism is not only healthy but is an essential component in the education and winning of voters. Democracy is not a happy-go-lucky game and it isn't served by turning a blind eye to the failure and failings of those who would be our leaders.

However, one can either go on the attack with integrity, in a forward and open manner that trusts voters and weighs the consequences of going negative, or they can attack as cowards, using fake committees, cheap insults, and improper funds to do the dirty work. Sadly, the latter of these types is disgustingly prevalent, as evidenced by the Republicans' pathetic, dishonest, but nevertheless effective attacks against out-going Lincoln city councilman Terry Werner earlier this month. Such exploitative and cynical campaigning makes less of our democracy and, in so doing, make less of the character of our nation.

In Lincoln, the Democrats conducted themselves honorably and with integrity against this vicious on-slaught. They were the good guys even if they suffered somewhat for their strategy - the idea being that the long-term gain for the party and the people would far outweigh any short-term loss. Of course, lack of funds was probably a facter as well because some of Robin Eschliman's most outlandish statements deserved to be brought to light. As stated, though, there would have been a principled way to do this, which I'm sure would have been the case here if the Dems had the resouces and inclination to go negative, painting a stark contrast with their "anything goes" counterparts on the other side of the fence.

In Omaha, I'm now sad to report, this distinction of principle was not maintained, as the Douglas County Democratic Party Chairman got caught up in the scandal-mongering and brought shame on his party in the process. I am pained to agree with the World-Herald as they wrote:
The very expression "self-government" evokes the reverence this concept (fair play in democracy) should command. It also explains why Omahans should be outraged at the mud-slinging that tainted and tarred everyone who had a hand in it.

We refer particularly to the 11th-hour attacks on City Councilmen Jim Vokal and Chuck Sigerson - attacks with allegations of the sort that backbiters and gossipers are too cowardly to bring into the light of day, the sort of smearing that reflects on the character of the smearer.

This is the kind of sludge so noxious that it has to be dropped on doorsteps in the night or mailed over the name of made-up "committees" from short-term post-office boxes.

These boxes are rented for only one purpose by people such as Ron Hug, the Democratic Party chairman for Douglas County, whose name was on the box listed as the return address for the attempted Sigerson smear. Hug did not admit or disavow the Sigerson mailing.

Fair-minded people can only hope that whoever engineered the attack on Vokal also will be named. The proper penalty is to carry the black eye of the mud-slinger into future political activities.

Campaign laws, disclosure rules and pure ethics should be enough to stem this kind of activity. But it happens anyway. Thus the community needs to rely, in addition, on the long memory of the voters. Let them draw what conclusions they will about the character of those who slink around in the political shadows seeking to destroy reputation for partisan gain (in a nonpartisan election, no less).

And then let them remember, and remember, and remember some more, so that the mud-slinkers will have a good long time to regret what they have done to their own good name - and to the people's cherished process of self-government.
The flier with which Hug was involved came from a fictional group called "Omahans for Truth" and asserted that Sigerson "sexually harrassed a minor." The World-Herald previously reported:
When questioned by The World-Herald about its discovery of Hug's involvement, Hug acknowledged that he lined up the post office box, gave his name and listed the address of the county party headquarters on the application. Neither the party nor organized labor was involved in arranging for the box or in financing the mailing, Hug said.

"Omahans for Truth"...is made up of individuals that Hug declined to identify.
No matter the legitimacy of this sexual harrassment claim (which is not without merit), tactics such as this misdirection from the shadows should not be employed by anyone, let alone the chair of the county Democratic Party.

How dare Hug say the party was not involved when his stupid choices as the leader of that organization made that impossible. This revelation most certainly hurt Anne Boyle when she claimed to have had nothing to do with the mysterious anti-Vokal mailing. Hug's actions made for a pattern of deceit and dirty politics that informed voters' could not help but link to this situation, thus assuming the worst of a fellow Democrat. This was shameful and hurtful, and it's about time Omaha Democrats held their elected chair accoutable.

Whereas Mayor Fahey's massive victory should have been a sign of good things to come for Omaha and Nebraska Democrats, some of that spark has most certainly been dimmed by this abuse of the people's trust.

My God, chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party Steve Achelpohl, in the week of an election, had to step in and say he was "appalled" by the attack, praying most people would appreciate that "the Nebraska Democratic Party had nothing to do with this." Fat chance. Things are hard enough for Democrats in this state without nonsense like this making the party's difficult task of reconnecting with voters that much more impossible.

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Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Uninsured in Nebraska

by Kyle Michaelis
Nearly 145,000 Nebraskans have no health care protection, be it insurance or Medicaid, according to a study by the Nebraska Center for Rural Health Research. As a percentage of the population, this is better than the national average but is nevertheless a sad testament to our society's failure to meet the basic human needs of our less fortunate.

What should come as the biggest surprise to all those who turn a blind eye to this human tragedy is the fact that these uninsured Americans are NOT the dead-beats and do-nothings we tell ourselves they must be to quiet our consciences. Nearly 2/3's are members of working families, including 21% who are children.

The study was done on behalf of Nebraska's Health and Human Services System to help in strategic planning. Here are some of the other important findings about Nebraska's uninsured as reported by the Lincoln Journal-Star:
* Almost half — 46 percent — had incomes of less than 200 percent of the poverty level ($38,700 for a family of four).

* Sixteen percent of young adults, ages 19 to 34, are uninsured, the highest percentage by age breakdown.

* Almost one-third are middle-age Nebraskans, ages 35 to 54.

* Hispanics were nearly three times more likely to be uninsured (26.9 percent uninsured) than white or black Nebraskans.

* About two-thirds of the uninsured under age 65 without access to employment-based insurance don't buy private insurance because it is too expensive.

* About one-fourth of Nebraskans working for companies with health-care insurance didn't buy the insurance because it was too expensive. More than 50 percent who didn't enroll in the company plans were not eligible.
Read the full report (and wake-up call) here.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Election Results - All Aboard Fahey Express

by Kyle Michaelis

Democratic Mayor Mike Fahey had a tremendous victory over challenging Republican Dave Friend yesterday. Fahey won with over 60-percent of the vote in true landslide fashion. This one wasn't even close to being close.

Sadly, the non-partisan nature of these city races prevented Fahey from having much in the way of coat-tails. Party-control of the city council was on the line in the third district in the most costly race in the city's history. Democrat Anne Boyle failed to unseat incumbent councilman Jim Vokal, losing by about 415 votes.

The only seat to change hands was Marc Kraft's, who lost to fellow Democrat Jim Suttle. Suttle had a great bunch of Young Democrats from UNO working for him, and their efforts obviously paid off. Congrats.

All in all, Omaha voters proved to be happy with the direction the city is heading, a far cry from four years ago when Republican Hal Daub and a majority of the city council were sent packing. Fahey's can-do attitude and strong leadership have really brought a new vibrancy to city hall.

The Omaha World-Herald reports that this may be Fahey's last campaign, though Chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party Steve Achelpohl was quoted saying he hoped Fahey would take his popularity to the next level and run for Sen. Chuck Hagel's office if Hagel makes a run for President in 2008.
"We would beg, borrow and steal to run him," Achelpohl said..."He's a rock star."
Meanwhile, talk was already emerging about who might make a run for Omaha's mayor next time out - the just-elected Suttle was already being mentioned by the Democrats while Vokal was already talking himself up in the OWH to make the big leap four years from now:
Vokal emphasized in an interview that he will focus on being a strong council member, but he said a bid for mayor would be the next logical step for him if he were to continue seeking public office.
Mayor Jim Vokal???

Scary thought. Hopefully we won't regret failing to get rid of this guy when we had the chance.

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Cronkite's Proposal

by Kyle Michaelis
Television news legend Walter Cronkite made his first post on the new left-leaning celebrity blog started by columnist and socialite Arianna Huffington. The site is positioning itself as a more multi-faceted counterpart to the dreadfully one-sided Drudge Report, and it will be interesting to see how well it's able to establish itself, not to mention how committed it's more high-profile contributors will prove.

As for Cronkite, whose involvement can't help but lend a bit of credibility to the entire venture, he wrote:
I've got some other exceedingly interesting pieces up my sleeve, like a proposal that the Democratic Party organize a convention this year to debate and resolve a platform that would provide the confused electorate some idea of what the party stands for - a regretfully missing ingredient in the politics of the moment.
Not a radical idea at all but certainly one with merit. The only problem is that the necessary media coverage to make such a grand gesture work might be hard to come by. Most people can't stomach and don't really care to see an all-out platform battle even if the different wings of the Democratic Party started tearing each other to pieces on national TV.

Still, showing the Democratic Party's diversity of thought, challenging the monolithic concept that the Republicans have fabricated, could be of immense value. As for the purposes of this site, I'd say Nebraska (Qwest Center anyone?) would be the perfect place to host such a convention, both geographically and politically.

The one problem would be the attention it would bring to Sen. Ben Nelson's being a Democrat on the verge of an election year, but advancing the idea that it's okay to be an otherwise moderate-to-conservative Democrat so long as the concerns of the working class and disadvantaged remain central to your focus could provide a huge boost to the Democratic idea in the Midwest and across the country. Hell, it could even help Nelson. If you're running with that "D" by your name, might as well do so proudly and invite others to join the team.

So, the idea's been proposed. If anyone from the Nebraska Democratic Party wants to make it a reality, I say go for it. Just tell Howard Dean and the powers that be that Cronkite sent ya'. We ain't in it for the glory around these parts.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Big Changes for Voting in 2006

by Kyle Michaelis
The state legislature approved LB 401 on a 39-0 vote yesterday, paving the way for a host of reforms intended to increase voter turn-out. The changes will allow (according to the OWH):
• Voting at satellite sites, such as supermarkets, college campuses and other nontraditional locations.

• Conducting elections by mail in counties with fewer than 7,000 residents.

• Casting votes by Internet or faxed ballots for members of the military and other Nebraskans living overseas.

• Permitting people who grow up overseas but are U.S. citizens to register to vote in the same Nebraska county as their parents.

• Dividing fast-growing precincts into two or more parts between the statewide primary and general election.

• Allowing people who lose, spoil, destroy or never receive an absentee ballot to cast a provisional ballot on Election Day or get a replacement absentee ballot.
All in all, these seem to be pretty good ideas. Making a provisional ballot available to those who fail to cast their absentee vote is especially reasonable and necessary. As for elections by mail and even internet voting for those in the service, that's all well and good so long as necessary safeguards are in place to prevent the world of fraud that becomes possible with both.

Of course, the idea of people voting at the mall or grocery store is the one that gets the most attention. Technology makes this fairly radical notion possible, but it's ultimate merit may be somewhat questionable. Sure, it would be great to bring in more voters, but when does the expense become too great attracting those who refuse to make the small investment of their time that democracy demands?

In satellite voting, officials will use a laptop computer to check a voter's registration against a state database. Officials then print the proper ballot for that person's precinct. Considering the lengths to which the state is going with such a system, it seems stupid that the far more obvious and undemocratic barrier to voter participation, our 10-days-in-advance registration requirement, hasn't been similarly addressed.

The time has come for same-day voter registration in Nebraska, allowing people to register at their polling place before casting a provisional ballot. In this age of immediate background checks, this is entirely doable and should, in fact, already be in place.

Opening up voting without doing the same of voter registration is just poorly reasoned on the part of the state legislature. Lucky for them, it's never too late to correct that. They're trying everything else - might as well try something guaranteed to make a difference.

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Monday, May 09, 2005

Heineman the Quiet Man

by Kyle Michaelis
Pseudo-incumbent Governor Dave Heineman has promised to win over Nebraska voters with his leadership, but so far he's proving unwilling as only a politician could be to lead. Most indicative of this is his failure to stand with the majority of state senators in their call for University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert to step down from office or face impeachment for his blatant violations of state campaign finance laws.

The AP quoted Heineman saying of Hergert:
"I certainly don't condone what he did. There is no question that he violated the law, and he's been penalized for that. Whether or not he should be impeached or asked to resign is a legislative matter."
So, Heineman feels confident to assign guilt, which is the domain of the courts, but he won't simply share his opinion on what the punishment of such acts should be because that's "a legislative matter?" Who is he kidding? This is a question of who is fit for office and what kind of standards Nebraskans should expect from their representatives and Heineman thinks he can just opt out without sharing an opinion? How is that leadership?

If Heineman's going to claim to be a leader, he has to start by acting like one. That means standing for something and, yes, speaking out when a mockery is made of the laws it is his consitutional duty to uphold and execute. If this duty were taken seriously, Heineman would be the most outspoken critic of the campaign hijinks for which several Regents, especially Hergert, are responsible. As is, he appears to have no backbone, as well as little integrity or understanding of his office.

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Senator Nelson Defends Himself

by Kyle Michaelis
The following letter to the editor in the Journal-Star last week got the attention of its intended target, Sen. Ben Nelson, who obviously felt the need to respond when his long-avowed independence was challenged.
Sen. Ben Nelson spent the last of his credibility. He voted last week to approve the Family Planning Amendment to the $34 billion Foreign Affairs Authorization Act. The amendment reversed the U.S. policy to prohibit foreign aid from going to organizations that provide abortion services. Money for women's health issues could have been channeled through numerous groups that don't promote abortion. The act didn't need amending to include the Democratic Party's pro-abortion ideology.

Nelson has been an honorable man. He doesn't believe in promoting abortion using taxpayer money, regardless of whether it's in the United States or abroad. He has always leaned toward pro-life, at least he used too. Unfortunately, he feels it's necessary to sacrifice his pro-life beliefs, like other Democratic Party leaders, to gain political power within the pro-abortion party.

Nelson campaigned for office vowing to be independent, that he wouldn't be a rubber stamp for party ideology, like a Republican. Instead, he has become a yes-man for the Democratic Party's pro-abortion ideology.

Tom McLaughlin, Lincoln
GASP! Nelson voting like a Democrat - we can't have that. But wait, isn't Harry Reid, the Democratic Leader of the Senate, also pro-life? How'd he get so high-up in the "pro-abortion" party? Ahh...why even try to reason with these label-crazed fools? Here's the big guy swooping in to defend his own record:
In response to Tom McLaughlin's letter of May 4, I would like to clarify my vote on an issue that unfortunately has been cast as a pro-abortion issue. As the father of two children adopted at birth, I am a pro-life parent, not just a pro-life politician.

I support the Helms amendment which specifically prohibits the use of U.S. taxpayer dollars to provide or promote abortions in countries receiving funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development. As McLaughlin knows, the vote in question provides for essential women's health services to countries that, in many circumstances, have no such opportunities available for women. Contrary to what McLaughlin suggests, my vote did not provide direct or indirect support for abortions.

This was not a partisan vote. Republicans as well as Democrats voted to support women's health services. I am pro-life. As a leader in Democrats for Life, just last month I supported an initiative to reduce the rate of abortion in the United States through education and alternatives like adoption.

McLaughlin is right about my pledge to be an independent voice for Nebraska. I think my record on this and every issue backs up my pledge.

Sen. Ben Nelson, Omaha
All kidding aside, one can't help but appreciate the care and thought Nelson puts into making sure his votes represent his consituents in Nebraska while still serving the larger interests of the country and, in this case, the world. It's a difficult, unenviable and oftentimes lonely road he travels that has nevertheless garnered the same respect amongst his peers that we've learned for him since his days as governor.

Nelson's defense not only adequately refutes but makes ludicrous McLaughlin's accusation, which seems driven far more by political motivations than any sort of principle. Nelson's avoidance of extremes makes him difficult to pigeon-hole and an attempt as exaggerated in its partisan rhetoric as this one borders on flat-out dishonesty exploiting voter's ignorance and their religious beliefs in most predatory fashion.

Sadly, not everyone who read McLaughlin's twisting of the facts also read Nelson's correction. Therein lies the power of deceit. Hopefully, those swayed by the first letter will seek out the truth for themselves rather than doing as too many do and taking another's word for it. More citizens should follow Nelson's example of thinking for himself with their votes. Would that really be asking too much? Is a functioning democracy really so impossible???

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Sunday, May 08, 2005

World-Herald Not So "Friend-ly"

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald knows a winner when it sees one and has put its quite obvious partisan leanings aside for the moment to endorse Mayor Mike Fahey without reservation for a second term. This is almost surely the second-to-last nail in the coffin of the Dave Friend campaign, with Omaha voters picking up the hammer Tuesday to deliver the final blow. That's one horse that just wasn't able to get out of the gate, as much as the local media, including the OWH, tried to make an interesting race of it.

Here's what they had to say:
The World-Herald editorial endorsing Fahey four years ago said "a new cooperative, collegial, respectful tone coming out of city government should help overcome the perception that Omaha is a city divided by geography, race and income."

Mike Fahey has been instrumental in establishing such a tone, and the city is the better for it. He has pursued the well-being of Omahans in a broad sense, one that reflects a varied life experience gleaned from business, politics and civic involvement.

Omaha voters would do well by their city to elect him to another term.
Just think of all the bad puns using Friend's name that will now go unusued. Enough to make a headline-writer weep even if it is in Omaha's best interest.

More importantly, just what was this guy thinking making Omaha's police response times, which are as good as they've ever been, his number one issue. It may be a nice soundbyte at the Senior's Center, but that does not a campaign make. Friend's still running commercials on local tv with this the only subject. Frankly, I think he would have been better off trying on that much talked about cheerleading outfit.

He's still got time to try this one out at his concession speech: "Hey Fahey, you're so fine...you're so fine you blow my mind...hey Fahey...hey Fahey..."

When all else fails, fall back on 80s pop music. Everyone knows that.

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Robin Eschliman's "Fortress Lincoln"

by Kyle Michaelis
She hasn't even taken the oath of office to join the Lincoln City Council, but already newly-elected Republican Robin Eschliman is demonstrating her simplistic, backwards, and ultimately destructive vision of a city united in its provincialism. The Lincoln Journal-Star quotes her as saying:
"I think a new day has dawned, and it is no longer neighborhood against neighborhood and business against neighborhoods. I think Lincoln is realizing that it's outside forces against Lincoln. Other cities are competing for jobs ... There are much huger forces out there that we have to contend with."
While I appreciate the sentiment that the city must work together to succeed, making an enemy of the world around us is hardly the answer. That Republicans are so eager to play city off of city and state against state in an endless cycle of big business subsidization in the name of development demonstrates the most fundamental element lacking from their party's philosophy: common sense. This is just as true in the state legislature where a huge new corporate tax break seems on the verge of passage.

Democrats and progressives must move beyond this short-sighted tactic and provide real leadership and responsibility, working to create and enforce compacts that prevent this petty and fruitless financial warfare costing our communities jobs and our taxpayers millions. America is always going to be more efficient and better able to compete in the world working together rather than with each illegitimate sub-division at each other's throat. We can do better than that, and some of us are. Just look at the refreshing difference between Eschliman's idea of Lincoln and the far more visionary approach of Omaha City Council candidate Anne Boyle, whose website reads:
Only by becoming partners with surrounding communities and our capitol city will Omaha and Nebraska truly thrive as a major national presence. Anne believes the findings of the Omaha-Lincoln Conference must be addressed and there is no time to lose. It can start by supporting LB 546, legislation introduced by Senator Brown, which would set up a 15-member economic development commission to foster partnership and growth between Lincoln and Omaha. We will be partners in progress. Anne believes an Omaha-Lincoln alliance will be good for the entire state of Nebraska. This is an opportunity and the will to do it is there. Anne will work diligently with all parties to make the partnership proposal between the two cities become a reality and achieve the important goal of reaching the U.S. Census official Metropolitan Statistical Area above 1 million people.
Two very different women from two very different parties with two very different visions for the cities they serve. Personally, I'm proud to associate with the one less dependent on envisioning our neighbors as enemies and more focused on building a stronger community through cooperation rather than corporate-whoring.

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Boyle - Vokal Race Gets Ugly

by Kyle Michaelis
Since the Omaha World-Herald's endorsement of Anne Boyle over City Councilman Jim Vokal last week in Omaha's 3rd District, that race has continued to draw attention for its unrivaled expense, and now for its mud-slinging. Friday's OWH carried the following:
The most intense contest on Tuesday's ballot also is the most expensive council race in the city's history. The District 3 candidates already have spent a combined $260,000 and between them had nearly $100,000 cash on hand to spend during the final two weeks.

All this spending falls on Omaha's most diverse council district, with residents ranging from people sleeping in doorways and under bridges to America's second-richest man, Warren Buffett....

With the campaign winding down, Vokal and Boyle have few kind words for each other.

"The civility he talks about doesn't extend to me," Boyle said of Vokal.

"My wife and I are ready for the campaign to be over," Vokal said.
From the sound of it, Vokal's taken quite a beating by word-of-mouth over the issue of his sexual preference. That's cheap and low in any instance, even if it suggests immense hypocrisy on the part of a political candidate.

Those spreading these unsubstantiated rumors should be ashamed, and it brings this writer no satisfaction even giving them the time of day. However, sad as it may be, one can not write about the ugliness of these attacks without writing about the the nature of the attacks, giving them even more coverage. It's a sad dilemma but one in which the public must be trusted with the information at hand to make heads and tails of it for themselves. A news source either trusts its readers or it does not.

Well, perhaps a show of good taste, it was nevertheless poor journalism and a show of little trust in Omaha voters for today's World-Herald to run a cryptic and ultimately one-sided article that tried to address the rancor inspired by a flier attacking Vokal's sexuality without specifically mentioning the controversy. See for yourself:
A postcard aimed at damaging Councilman Jim Vokal's re-election chances against challenger Anne Boyle threw one more wild card into the hard-fought District 3 race.

The message on the pink card has nothing to do with anything that could come up before the City Council. One group mentioned in the card has disavowed the message, and another group listed is nonexistent. No return address was on the card, which apparently went to a limited number of houses Friday in the district.

Although Vokal acknowledges no proven connection to Boyle, his campaign began blaming her Saturday for taking the campaign onto a low road.

A recorded phone message going to all frequent voters has Vokal's wife, Liz, saying Boyle is responsible for the personal attack "on my husband and my family."

The campaign phone message is justified, Vokal said. "She (Boyle) is the only one who stands to benefit from it," he said.

Boyle said she knew nothing about the postcard until a couple of people called her and asked her about it. During an interview Saturday, she seemed unaware of its most provocative statements.

Such a campaign technique goes against everything she stands for, Boyle said. "As the campaign ends, this is a sad note."
How dare the Omaha World-Herald publish the accusation that Boyle is responsible for these attacks without likewise publishing the accusation made against Vokal! If the original controversy is "too hot to publish", there is no story here but one baseless accusation being printed in place of another.

This is completely irresponsible journalism just as it demonstrates irresponsible leadership on the part of Vokal to attack Boyle for something for which she is so unlikely to have had a part. Although one can never be certain in this game of lows, the resemblance of Vokal's wife's extravagant defense to that of Lynne Cheney's ("he is not a nice man") when her daughter's homosexuality became an issue in the 2004 campaign has the stench of over-whelming convenience. Presuming the Vokals are responsible for the attack in hopes of a sympathetic backlash is hardly more preposterous than Boyle's involvement. To give creedence to the one possibility demands recognition of the other, even while both appear rather far-fetched.

For further discussion and example of the ugliness spawned by campaigning and reporting in the above manner, see the UNO Democrats Blog.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Lincoln Election Results

by Kyle Michaelis
Yesterday, Lincoln's progressive community took a big hit with the fifth-place showing of incumbent Terry Werner in the city council race after approximately $100,000 of negative advertising was directed at him, an unprecedented amount that could very well poison the city's political climate for years to come.

To be honest, the negative campaigning hurt, but it probably was not the deciding factor in this election. The ever-passionate Werner opened himself to criticism on a lot of fronts. He led with conviction and stood on principle, but a majority of Lincoln voters obviously weren't willing to stand with him. More than any of the lies claiming Werner hated the troops, refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance after 9/11, and was hurting Lincoln's cats and dogs, there was the simple fact of Werner's engaging in national (and controversial) issues on city time that voters could not accept. It's the line of attack that stuck and could not be undone - doing a job for which he was not elected - everything else was Republican contempt and insecurity run amok.

In a city-wide race such as this, money is also much more of a factor than it is in the more personal district elections. That's always going to make these elections harder for those who don't have the corporate interests flooding them with cash. Too many constituencies to reach out to at too great of expense. Beating back the tide of Republican-orchestrated personal attacks was all but impossible - the resources just weren't there.

Yes, we lost the shirt off our backs, but at least we still have our pants - Democrat Dan Marvin came in third-place, maintaining his party's majority on the city council. Marvin is a good man who will serve this city well. He will never take the risks Werner was willing to, but that's not necessariy a slight against him. Marvin just isn't Terry Werner. He's promised to be a consensus-builder rather than a boat-rocker and shows every indication of being so. That's fine so long as he proves able to take a stand and hold his ground when it counts - which he will need to do now that Robin Eschliman will be joining him on the council pushing her dangerous "any job's a good job/let's annex Beatrice" agenda.

Now, all eyes turn to Omaha, which has it's own elections coming up on Tuesday, May 10. Douglas County Democrats seem on course for a banner year, but who knows what tomorrow holds, let alone a week from now. Stay tuned (or logged on, hooked-up...whatever works for Internet lingo).

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Monday, May 02, 2005

More Outlandish GOP Attacks

by Kyle Michaelis
This weekend, I received a mailing making the preposterous claim that Lincoln City Council candidate Dan Marvin would be a tool of developers from some made-up front group, all on the basis that he has the backing of two men with some degree of development interests. Who are they kidding?

The Republicans in this race are all trying to outdo one another as slaves to endless expansion. Dan Marvin, on the other hand, is one of only two candidates (the other being Terry Werner) to receive an A rating from the Lincoln Neighborhood Alliance, a group with rather divergent interests from the development communtiy. That Dan Marvin is able to bridge such a divide shows just how strong a candidate he is and how strong an asset to Lincoln he would be.

Meanwhile, the Lincoln Journal-Star reports on the latest absurd and vicious attack against Terry Werner, this one laughable if it didn't follow on the heels of so many other treasonous violations of the public's trust:
Lincoln's City Council race has officially gone to the dogs. But apparently not to those at the Capital Humane Society. The negative campaign ads saturating the city council race took a new turn Saturday when some Lincolnites got a mail flier accusing Democratic incumbent Terry Werner of stonewalling contract negotiations between the Humane Society and the city.

Bob Downey, the humane society's executive director, found out about the ads when he started getting messages on his answering machine. He wants people to know his organization had nothing to do with them.

"We have no knowledge of this happening,'' he said. "We don't know . . . the group that sent this out. We were not contacted for use of our name in any such manner. If we had been, we would not have given our permission....''

The flier says: "For 30 years, Lincoln has trusted the Humane Society for animal rescue and shelter. This year, for the first time ever, Terry Werner has personally stonewalled a valid, competitive contract with the humane society. Why would he be so mean? Friends of Lincoln's Cats and Dogs thought you should know, before you vote....''

Werner said the return address is Nebraska Printing Center's post office box. Scott Stewart, who owns the printer business, has paid for ads critical of Werner. "The Republican Party will stop at nothing,'' Werner said. "It's all about winning. Period.''
"Why would he be so mean?" Is that what this election has come to? My God, how did the Republican Party and those doing its bidding ever sink so low?

Even the LJS has had to publicly go on record criticizing the Republicans many trespasses against common sense and human decency in the name of partisan gain:
The Republican Party is putting all the warts of partisan politics on display with its attack ads in the race for three at-large seats on the Lincoln City Council. Lincoln voters should remember that they hold the power.

At minimum they can refuse to pay any attention. To send a stronger message they can vote for candidates targeted by the ads. If the attack ads succeed, they'll multiply in the next election.

There was a time when political animals laid low in nonpartisan elections, where, as a matter of law, candidate names are on the ballot without political affiliation. Those days slipped into history some time ago.

Finally, in this city election the Republicans have dropped any pretense of restraint. They're pouring major sums of money — by city election standards — into ads attacking Dan Marvin for doing the same thing Republican candidates did.

The voter is left with no other conclusion than Republican Party officials don't give a fiddle about the issues. They're not focused on finding the best way to deal with the challenges facing the city. All they care about scoring an election victory.

Not all Republicans, it should be quickly noted, agree with the tactics being employed by party officials acting in their name. On Thursday, Republicans Jan Gauger and Russ Bayer and independent Brad Korell, who served with Marvin on a citizens committee that recommended a bond issue, publicly blasted the anti-Marvin campaign.

"I think it's a really low point for my party," said Gauger, who was elected to the Lancaster County Board on the GOP ticket. "I don't think that's the way we want to win an election..."

Said Republican Bayer : "I'm fed up with it."

He couldn't have put it better. But it's only going to stop when enough people are so fed up with it that they show up at the ballot box to register their displeasure.
We are getting a good glimpse of new Nebraska Republican Party Executive Director Jessica Moenning's campaign strategy. It's obvious there's no depth to which she will not sink.

Is this outrageous and despicable behavior really the best that Nebraska Republicans have to offer? Voters must stand up and vote NOW against this pathetic and unprincipled power grab or Nebraska's entire political climate runs the risk of turning into a toxic hell of mud-slinging and personal attacks.

Meanwhile, for the sake of the state and the common good, honest and decent Republicans should call for the immediate dismissal of Moenning, former campaign director for now-Congressmen Jeff Fortenberry, before she is allowed to corrupt the vital 2006 election process and the whole Republican Party infrastructure with her hostile and truly undemocratic (dare I say unamerican?) style of political warfare.

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World-Herald Endorses Democratic Council

by Kyle Michaelis
By choosing Anne Boyle over her District 3 opponent Jim Vokal, the Omaha World-Herald has given a de facto endorsement to a Democratic majority on the Omaha City Council. This comes as some surprise from this bastion of Nebraska Republicanism, but it clearly demonstrates not only the strength of Anne Boyle as a candidate but also that of the Democratic Party in Nebraska's largest city. Read their endorsement for yourself:
Anne Boyle has been a prominent Omahan most of her life. By birth and by marriage, she has been the member of families known for their public-sector involvement. From that to her own background as chairing the State Democratic Party for several years, Boyle knows her way around politics and government.

This might be reason enough for voters to consider a City Council candidate, but there is more.

In 1996, she was elected to a six-year term on the Nebraska Public Service Commission and impressively mastered the issues and procedures related to the regulation of the telephone, taxicab and warehouse industries. Re-elected in 2002, she has worked hard and won plaudits for the judgment, knowledge and effectiveness she has brought to the commission post....

Anne Boyle is a walking demonstration of how a person of judgment and intelligence, with the added advantage of her long understanding of the political process, can make a tangible contribution to good government. A vote for her would put the same talents to work on the City Council.
The OWH also mentioned some of the incumbent Republican Vokal's more embarrassing falsehoods and cop-outs, but its clear in this race Boyle can and should win simply on the strength of her own candidacy. That this race is the deciding vote for "party-control" of the non-partisan council really does take a backseat to the great victory a Boyle-win will be for the city and citizens of Omaha.

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