Saturday, December 03, 2005

Fortenberry's Folly Hurts Small Town

by Kyle Michaelis
The people of tiny Cordova, Nebraska - population 150 - are none too happy that the long-awaited pavement of the dirt road connecting it to Insterstate 80 was dropped from the monstrous federal transportation bill by Congressional Republicans ... apparently without even a whimper from their elected representative, Jeff Fortenberry.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry noticed the muddy and slippery conditions of Cordova Road as he made his way 30 minutes behind schedule to this small village for a meeting.

“I got a taste of it,” he told the more than 50 people who gathered in Cordova Thursday to discuss the 5.5-mile stretch of gravel road that links the town to Interstate 80.

Cordova Road was on track last year to be paved but was the only Nebraska project of more than 20 left off a federal transportation bill passed earlier this year. Local leaders weren’t aware the project had been abandoned and called Fortenberry to their town of 150 for answers.

“I think the biggest question everyone here has on their mind is why were we singled out?” Cordova Mayor Delayne Eberspacher asked Fortenberry during the midday meeting. “Sure, there were budget issues, I know, but nine new projects totaling $25 million and our measly $1.5 million project gets left off?”

Fortenberry said he didn’t consider $1.5 million “measly,” and the Cordova Road project wasn’t given to him as a high priority. Former Rep. Doug Bereuter, whom Fortenberry succeeded for Nebraska’s 1st District House seat this year, had earmarked the road near his hometown of Utica for paving while he was still in office.

“It was a personal decision of Bereuter to work on this project for you,” Fortenberry said. “It was his prerogative to help you and that’s fine. But he controlled more money than me; that came with the tenure. It’s not that you were left off any list, just that the process started over when I got the projects.”

Cordova, about 45 miles from Lincoln, is the only town on the I-80 corridor with a gravel road leading to the interstate....

“I don’t think it was some pet project for Doug Bereuter,” Eberspacher said after the meeting. “It’s a culmination of years and years of work to get this road paved. Years. It still just feels like we got the rug pulled from under us.

I'm sure being a Congressman with a young family is very difficult - does anyone else think Fortenberry might just be in over his head?

First, he shows up 30 minutes late to a meeting attended by more than 1/3 of the town, without having made any contact whatsoever with Cordova officials when the funds they were counting on were dropped without explanation or notification. Then, rather than taking responsibility for the slight, Fortenberry tried to portray this as a low-priority pet project of Bereuter's - right to the faces of people who have pleaded for this and been passed over for years.

Fortenberry can make all the excuses he wants but none can justify such blatant and insulting disregard for his own constituents. For all Fortenberry's talk of Bereuter's lost seniority, something far greater has been lost to voters in the first district, with the citizens of Cordova some of the first (though certainly not the last) to pay the price.

Bereuter knew how to say "NO" to his fellow Republicans when a vote didn't serve the interests of Nebraska's first district. Though far from a true independent, he was, at least, more than a rubber stamp.

Fortenberry, on the other hand, has shown neither the aptitude, the inclination, or even any aspiration to being more than a whipping boy for his party masters. His vote is a given, a non-concern, and - as such - he has no clout as his district receives no consideration. This is an instance of Fortenberry's putting party before people, plain and simple.

By here being a good, loyal Republican lackey (daring to think that's really what anyone wants), Fortenberry forgot the voters and betrayed their interests. Regardless of whether he would have ultimately voted for or against this notoriously bloated legislation, he had an obligation to consult with the people of Cordova about this project's being cut and perhaps to even make a stand on their behalf.

I mean, my lord, while $1.5 million is not chump change, Cordova is being perfectly reasonable wondering what the hell is going on here when this very legislation, which Fortenberry supported, dedicates more than $220 million to the infamous Alaskan "Bridge to Nowhere."

That project benefits a village of only 50 people (who supposedly don't support the bridge themselves) in a state that has only one vote in the House of Representatives. Cordova has three times the people in a state that should have three times the clout and would if its representatives had the backbone to do what is right by their own voters.

Alas, Nebraska's all-Republican delegation is not called "the Timid Trio" for nothing. For his total failure to lead and willingness to follow, Fortenberry might just qualify as the perfect embodiment of their every principle (or lack thereof).

Not wanting to offend fellow members Lee Terry and Tom Osborne, however, I'll simply declare him first amongst equals.


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