Sunday, April 30, 2006

Sign the "Strengthen Rural America" Petition

by Kyle Michaelis
I encourage all readers who care about the future of Nebraska's rural communities to sign this petition being assembled by the Center for Rural Affairs. In anticipation of the 2007 Farm Bill, the petition encourges Congress to:
*Provide loans, technical assistance, and business training to help rural business thrive and enable rural people to start new businesses.

*Provide incentives to sell land to beginning farmers and support initiatives to link beginners with retiring farmers and provide training on alternative markets.

*Provide grants to communities to nurture small business, develop new leaders, and engage youth and foster local philanthropy to support community development.

*Beef up the Value Added Producers Grants program to help farmers tap higher value markets and add value to their products. Prioritize family size farms.

*Invest in conservation of land and water and reward farmers and ranchers for good stewardship.

Most importantly, the petition asserts:
We do not have to choose between family farms and rural development. The single most effective thing the farm bill could do to strengthen family farms is to stop subsidizing mega capping payments.

The CFRA hopes to gather 10,000 signatures to present to members of Congress by August 2006. Right now, they are short of 500 and need your help spreading the word to friends, family, and fellow Nebraskans who recognize how important the next farm bill will be to the future of our state.

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Fun With Endorsements 1: Osborne an Old Hat or a New Hope?

by Kyle Michaelis
Endorsement time is fully upon us, with newspapers, labor unions, and special interest groups staking their claims and betting their marbles on either the candidate they think should win or the candidate they think will win, depending on who they're trying to make happy. All in all, the whole endorsement process has made for quite a bit of intrigue in the upper-tier Republican primaries.

In the Governor's race, Dave Heineman surprised with his ability to leverage his unearned office to pull in most of the right-wing's single-issue heavy hitters. That's left Tom Osborne to piece together a more centrist coalition, uniting behind Osborne because of the independent leadership he has the potential to offer....even if that potential has so far gone unfulfilled throughout his political career.

Still, people want to believe in Osborne - they want to believe he can be something more than a Heineman-style clone of Mike Johanns who could well be any Republican politician in the country. This hope - this possibility of true independence that will unite Nebraskans and give us the power to make some tough choices in the days ahead - certainly played a large part in Osborne's receiving the backing of the state's two largest newspapers, the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star.

But does Osborne really have that courage? Today's World-Herald profile begs the question when Osborne talks about his experience in Congress:
Last spring, after mulling it over for a year, Osborne jumped into the governor's race. It was clear to many that the veteran coach chafed under the constraints of being one of a team with 435 congressional players.

"You come when the leaders tell you to come. You leave when the leader tells you to leave, and you vote when the leader tells you to vote," Osborne said.

Osborne wanted to call the shots. He said he wanted to set his own agenda and, he said, believed he could serve Nebraskans better as their chief executive.

It's troubling that Osborne allowed himself to be bossed around like that in Congress. He took orders not only when to vote but how to vote, abandoning the promise he once held to Western Nebraska voters. And now, I'm worried that he'll disappoint the entire state in the same manner as governor.

This worry is not grounded in Osborne's being a Republican. It's grounded in his proven willingness to be just a Republican when he could have been, should have been - could be, should be - so much more.

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FwE 2: Ricketts & Stenberg "Cardboard Cutouts", "Robotic"

by Kyle Michaelis
Unlike their joint endorsement of Tom Osborne for Governor, the World-Herald and Journal-Star actually parted company on who should be the Republican nominee to challenge Sen. Ben Nelson in November.

The Journal-Star endorsed Pete Ricketts with an echo of every theme the candidate has bombarded TV viewers with over the last 6 months. Since the smart money is now on Ricketts to win the race, such an endorsement did not surprise.

The World-Herald, however, did surprise by endorsing the underdog in the race, David Kramer, taking a number of jabs at the better-known Ricketts and Don Stenberg for their mutual lack of substance and personality. Without naming names, the World-Herald writes:
Many Nebraska Republicans are focusing so intently on the question of how they can defeat U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson - an experienced and respected Nebraska political leader - that they are failing to appreciate a far more important consideration.

Namely: What kind of candidate should the GOP put forward to best serve the interests of Nebraska?

In the GOP primary for the U.S. Senate, that candidate is David Kramer.

Nebraskans deserve U.S. senators who have a breadth of vision. Who have a wide experience in the world. Who can easily work with people beyond boundaries of party and ideology. Who demonstrate a sureness of judgment.

Nebraskans deserve U.S. senators who understand that being a senator means offering substantive analysis on issues rather than developing campaign positions through a paint-by-numbers, appeal-to-the-usual- interest-groups approach.

Nebraskans deserve senators who understand that being a senator means interacting with Nebraskans like an actual, relaxed human being, not a cardboard cutout.

On all these scores, Kramer stands far ahead of his competitors....

Kramer's approach to policy analysis demonstrates impressive depth. Ask him questions about specific issues, and he doesn't respond with robotic answers. He expresses his thoughts in a relaxed fashion, making well-connected arguments rather than burdening listeners with tiresome, canned campaign rhetoric.....

Ben Nelson will likely be a very tough candidate for Republicans to beat this fall - for obvious reasons. Nelson has extensive experience and a formidable record. He demonstrates leadership. And he isn't shallow.

Nebraskans should expect Republicans to put forward a candidate with enough substance to offer a serious challenge to a candidate with those strengths. David Kramer meets that test. He has the breadth of vision and wide experience to provide Nebraska with a productive U.S. Senate contest this fall.

I don't think I'm simply seeing what I want to see in reading this as an unqualified bitch-slap of Ricketts and Stenberg - even if it fails to call them out personally. And, I must admit - having seen all three candidates up close - I could not possibly agree more with the World-Herald in their choice or their reasoning.

Though I would not personally vote for Kramer, Ricketts, or Stenberg, Kramer is without a doubt the most thoughtful, most human, and most dynamic of these candidates. Stenberg is, at best, wonkish and impersonal. At worst, devious and flat-out lifeless. Ricketts, on the other hand, has proven that all the money in the world can't buy charisma or substance. He is a walking talking campaign commercial - so scripted and coached that he almost seems helpless when asked to speak deeper on issues than his handful of pre-fabricated soundbytes.

When the World-Herald speaks of Nelson, make no mistake, its emphasis that he isn't shallow is pointed squarely at Ricketts. This guy's bank account - so far as I can tell - is the only thing that has made him a legitimate candidate, let alone the front runner.

Simply put, a vote for Ricketts is a vote of desperation, one banking that all those millions of dollars offer Nebraska Republicans their only real shot at beating Ben Nelson. With Nelson the most popular U.S. Senator in the entire country, I can't honestly say that's an impractical choice. A self-funded campaign does seem like a rational alternative when such dismal prospects suggest no one else will want to sink their money in the race.

But, if this is about putting the best candidate on the ballot, giving Nebraskans a real choice with even a glimmer of something human in his eyes - if you believe that even Republicans in Nebraska should offer more than rhetoric - then, David Kramer is your man.

Not that I expect many Republicans to take my word for it. Hell, if I were them, I wouldn't. But, if they see the candidates for themselves and tune out the idiot box's constant barrage, there's really no other possible conclusion. Of course, in my eyes, Kramer is still just "generic Republican K." But, "generic Republican K" is so much superior to generic Republicans "R" and "S" that he seems like the best money can buy by comparison.

I just hope every economics and marketing major in the state is paying attention because, right now, this race stands to be as clear a lesson as any that - in the modern world - the larger advertising budget can sometimes sell even the most inferior of goods.

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

My Qualified Endorsement of the Unicameral's 75% Pay Raise

by Kyle Michaelis
On the May 9th primary ballot will be an amendment to Nebraska's constitution raising state senators' salaries from $12,000 to $21,000. This is a change that is long over-due - it having been 18 years since senators last received a boost in pay. As such, the New Nebraska Network offers a qualified endorsement of Amendment 1, based largely on the necessity of a pay raise rather than the merits of this particular proposal.

To be honest, I question whether a 75% increase in pay all at once is really justifiable. It seems a tad excessive, and I've worried that it would needlessly rub many Nebraska voters the wrong way, jeoparding the amendment's passage. But, I don't mean to squabble over amounts. These elected officials deserve and our democracy demands a higher salary that better reflects the vital function and high expectations of our state senators. This change will accomplish that.

Far more troubling is this amendment's inclusion of an annual cost-of-living adjustment that will break Senators' reliance on voters to seek any future pay raise. While 18 years is too long to go without some increase, I don't believe it's hurt the legislature to remain accountable to voters by leaving senators' salaries in the peoples' hands.

This change in the entire system is a break with Nebraska tradition that should bother people - even those like myself who will vote for it with some serious misgivings. Not only does it needlessly shift power away from the people, such institutionalized pay raises also create an illusion of consistency that actually makes state government more inflexible and less dynamic.

Senators should have taken into consideration that the expectations placed upon them can and do change over the years. But, now, both voters and senators will have an excuse to forever default to the status quo - destructively assuming that equitable compensation will take care of itself and that improved performance is no longer necessary.

All in all, it's a short-sighted "reform" - one that exaggerates the difficulty of asking voters for a pay raise while short-changing the accountability that such an act encourages in both senators and citizens alike.

That said, I will vote for the damn thing because the actual harm done by keeping salaries locked in at the ludcrously low $12,000 is worse, on balance, than the theroetical damage I foresee as this amendment's long-term result.

In fact, almost 100 organizations have united to form a coalition in support of Amendment 1. I assume that many do so out of urgency, though sharing some of the worries I've laid-out above.

One group has come forward to challenge Amendment 1, but - from the following Lincoln Journal-Star excerpt - I must say that I'm glad to have narrowly avoided their company:
Nebraska Taxpayers for Fredom says that state senators, who are "high taxers and big spenders," don't deserve a pay raise....

Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom appears to be the only organized group opposing the pay raise, according to Doug Kagan, chairman.

The group's message focuses on the taxes and says the "cheerleaders" for the amendment include active left-wing and special interest groups such as the state AFL-CIO, Nebraskans for Peace and the Nebraska Democratic Party.

The official blog of the Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom also reads:
Once again, liberals want to raise the salaries for state senators, from $12,000 to $21,000 annually, a 75% pay increase. How many of us have received 75% pay hikes lately?? Proponents now make the same argument they made for their case during the last pay hike campaign, that an increased salary would bring us better qualified and more dedicated candidates. Yet, taxes and spending both have exploded since that time. We must fight this pay grab until state senators rein in spiraling taxes and spending....

Citizen legislators should offer public service, even at a financial sacrifice, for only a few years and then return to live under the same laws they themselves have passed for others.

What doubts I have about Amendment 1 are at least somewhat relieved by the fact that a raving bunch of reactionaries like this stand in such vehement opposition to it. If they hate the amendment so much - to the degree that they want to blame it all on liberals, trying to alienate fellow reactionaries by mentioning that the Democratic Party supports it without mentioning that the Republican Party does so as well - then surely the plan must have merit.

For the full list of organizations supporting Amendment 1, see here.

And, for a full display of Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom's insanity (including their declaring conservative U.S. Senate candidate and former Nebraska GOP chair David Kramer a socialist), be amazed here.

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Dennis Hastert Brings His Act to Nebraska

by Kyle Michaelis

None other than the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican Dennis Hastert of Illinois - the man next in line for the presidency should Dick Cheney ever shoot George W. Bush on a hunting trip - made a fundraising appearance in Lincoln Friday on behalf of Tom Osborne's campaign for governor.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
House Speaker Dennis Hastert heaped praise Friday on Tom Osborne, suggesting Nebraskans have an opportunity to elect a governor who already has represented their interests with “a great performance” in the Congress.

In reviewing the 3rd District congressman’s record at a Lincoln news conference, Hastert zeroed in on Osborne’s leadership in acquiring federal drought assistance for Nebraska and other agricultural states.....

[T]he Speaker said, Osborne is “a man of integrity, a quality person who looks you in the eye and tells you what he thinks (and) he’s accustomed to making tough decisions under fire.”

Besides saying a few more nice things about Osborne and taking a bit of a swipe at the round-about way Dave Heineman became governor, Hastert also notably delivered the old Republican song and dance warning that, if Democrats take back the House this November, it will be “back to a big spending Congress.”

Back to a big spending Congress? BACK? Just who is this guy kidding? Under Republican leadership, the federal budget has been totally out of whack for years, running up record defecits without even counting the hundreds of billions of dollars that have been spent in Iraq and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The idea that Democrats could possibly be more fiscally reckless than the out-of-control and generally corrupt bunch that are currently at the helm is just plain ludicrous - and Hastert's a fool or a liar for saying anything otherwise, no matter how desperate he is to hold onto his gavel.

Probably most pathetic is that Osborne vowed to Hastert that he would return to Washington D.C. next week if his vote was needed on "ethics reform." His vote may be needed, but it won't be for anything resembling true reform. It's clear Hastert & Co. only want to push through some feel-good, watered-down, do-nothing legislation to quiet critics of the Republican influence-peddling that has been exposed in recent months.

You'd think the Abramoff scandal, Duke Cunningham's conviction, and Tom DeLay's downfall would be enough to force some real change, but nope. It looks like it's still going to take voters to deliver a wake-up call this November that the American people are fed-up and expect better.

So, my advice to Osborne: save yourself the trip. It's not worth the frequent flyer miles.

Back to Hastert's visit, I'm surprised the Journal-Star article makes no mention that he was a high school wrestling coach. Frankly, it would have seemed like a natural angle to play-up that Hastert's own coaching experience should make him appreciate not only Osborne's amazing success on the field but also the character and passion that made it possible.

Sure, it would have been trite, but at least it would have had some personal touch. Who knows, maybe some such remarks were made and they just weren't reported. I wouldn't know since I wasn't invited to the $100 per plate breakfast. And, alas, it's not custom to offer Nebraska bloggers a press pass.

Not yet, at any rate.

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Hagel Warns of GOP Disaster

by Kyle Michaelis
This just in from Delaware (of all places), where Chuck Hagel had some interesting things to say about the 2006 elections:
Forget the "Straight Talk Express" from John McCain's presidential campaign. U.S. Sen. Chuck Hagel blew into Delaware on Monday evening with something like the "Hard Truth Cannonball."

Hagel shook up his fellow Republicans by warning that a Category 5 political season was upon them and they had better prepare, or else the voters would do to them what Katrina did to New Orleans.

"We may be faced with one of those elections where a lot of people go down,"
he said.

Elected to the Senate from Nebraska in 1996, Hagel officially was here to speak at a private fund-raiser for U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, the Republican ex-governor who has made a career out of rising above the political floodwaters and clearly does not intend to be swamped this time, either.

Hagel also is part of the vast gene pool of candidates looking at the 2008 presidential race, and Delaware is one of a handful of early states voting right after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary....

When Hagel got down to politics, the crowd was riveted. He explained the threat to the Republican Party in numbers that everyone could understand -- a 32 percent approval rating for Bush that is "dangerously low" and $4-a-gallon gasoline prices that he suspects are on the way.

Republican candidates will be in the crosshairs in 2006 because the party has been in charge of the Congress for 12 years and the White House for six years, and it ought not to count on keeping the presidency in 2008 just because Hillary Rodham Clinton turns off so many people, he said.

"This election is going to be, I think, one of the most defining in modern times. It frames the presidential election for 2008," Hagel said. "We need to reflect a little on our leadership. That analysis is going to be forced on us. That's the way the world works. That's the way politics works."

He predicted these early years of the 21st Century would be as transformational as the time after World War II, but he saw opportunity if the party could produce "clear-headed leadership, very solid leadership."

Otherwise, he said the 2006 election could be 1974 all over again, the Watergate election when Republicans lost in droves, sometimes simply because of a picture showing them with Richard Nixon.

Pete du Pont, who nervously survived the Watergate election to win his third House term, agreed that 2006 had the same feel to it as 1974. "Absolutely it does. I think it's worse than '74, unless the Republican Party gets off its butt," he said.

Worse than 1974? Voters are going to do to the Republican Congress what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans? Wow, that's pretty damn harsh - so harsh that I have to again wonder at Hagel's motives.

I'd like to believe that Hagel is just a keen political observer calling the election the way he sees it because the American people are fed-up with Republican corruption and incompetence. There's certainly some truth in that, but it's more clear than ever that what's really going on here is Hagel's positioning himself as "the outsider" to take advantage of his party's increasingly-likely losses.

He's right, of course, that the 2006 election will frame the 2008 presidential race, and I hope he's right about more than that. But, keep in mind that there's more than a bit of wishful thinking in Hagel's comments. This is less a warning to his fellow Republicans than it is an act of political finger-crossing.

Pure politician. Pure self-interest. That's our Chuck Hagel, and - for now - I hope he gets exactly what he wants.

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The Timid Trio EXPOSED

by Kyle Michaelis
If anyone's looking for a reminder of how Nebraska's Republican Congressional delegation operates and who they take their orders from, the DCCC has rolled out a nifty new website called "the GOP Auction House" that holds the Republican Congress responsible for its record of selling out the American people to the highest bidder.

Individual representatives each receive their share of the spotlight, with neither Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry, or Tom Osborne demonstrating much concern for working-class voters or the interests of the American public.

Compared to the other two, at least Osborne hasn't practiced the quid pro quo politics of Fortenberry, Terry, and their fallen master Tom DeLay. He hasn't had to - in fact, he's refused to - take big campaign checks from PACs and special interest groups. But, that then begs the question of his voting record just what is Osborne's excuse?

Fortenberry voted with the GOP leadership 95% of the time. Terry: 94%. Osborne: 92%.

All that supposed independence - Osborne hasn't needed a penny from anyone - and this is what it's gotten Western Nebraska voters: 3-percentage points better than one of the most timid and eager to please rubber-stamps in the House of Representatives.

Whether targeting college students to take on the wealthy's abandoned tax burden, allowing federal research funds to be hijacked, shielding corporate polluters from their victims, or granting Halliburton carte blanche to steal from American taxpayers, Osborne has gone along nicely, voting with his party rather than the people he represents.

I mean, seriously....who in Nebraska's Third Congressional District really thinks off-shore companies that leave the country to escape paying taxes, taking American jobs with them, should be eligible for assistance from the federal government?

As we're paying $3 for a gallon of gas, who supports the oil industry receiving a multi-billion dollar give-away while already reaping record-breaking profits on the backs of the American consumer?

Tom Osborne might but not because he's listening to his constituents.

No, votes like that - like most of Fortenberry's and Terry's - were obviously coming from a higher power than the voters they're supposed to represent. But, at least Fortenberry and Terry see a pay-off for their betrayal. Osborne doesn't even ask for his 30 pieces of silver.

Does that make him the most timid of his fellows in the Timid Trio? Or, is he just the sucker of the bunch?

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Words That Deserve Repeating

by Kyle Michaelis
It really is hard to emphasize how important the following passages - published in the Omaha World-Herald, of all places - are for the future of the Democratic Party in Nebraska.

I posted them once already, but - please - take another look:
Scott Kleeb says his heart is in Nebraska's Sand Hills and in making the Democratic Party relevant again in middle America.

So instead of searching for a teaching job after receiving his doctorate in history at Yale last year, Kleeb, 30, is touring the 3rd Congressional District in his white Chevy pickup, trying to round up votes as the lone Democrat in the race....

The thought of running for Congress emerged while driving across 22 Western states to research his doctoral dissertation. Neither major political party, Kleeb said, was discussing the problems he saw.

"He's disappointed that the Democrats haven't done better, particularly in middle America," said Yale history professor John Gaddis. "He's trying to revive the party"....

Kleeb believes he can connect with voters. "This is the only place that feels like home to me. It is home," he said.

There's a lot more to the article. There's a lot more to the candidate. But just what's there above is enough to show why Scott Kleeb's Congressional campaign is so important.

Kleeb is a legitimate candidate fighting for voters that have largely been forsaken by the Democratic Party for the last 15 years. He is standing up - unashamed to be a Democrat even in the most Republican corners of the state - taking a message to the people that's less about Washington D.C. politics and all about the future of Nebraska's Third District.

That's a big deal. It has the potential to be a very big deal.

Intelligent. Dynamic. Engaging. Kleeb is the best hope Democrats have had in a long time of establishing a new identity with Western Nebraska voters.

Hope. It's what the Kleeb campaign is all about: for the Nebraska Democratic Party after more than a decade of decline; and, more importantly, for all those rural communities in such dire need of a new vision and renewed vigor.

I don't know if he'll win in November, but I do know that - if we're ever going to win back this state and if voters are ever going to take back a stake in their own future - it will be with candidates like Scott Kleeb leading the way.

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Has Heineman Pulled Ahead?

by Kyle Michaelis
A poll by the Rasmussen Report puts Gov. Dave Heineman one point up on Congressman Tom Osborne: 44 - 43%. I don't know quite how I feel about that. Conventional wisdom has had Osborne up for so long that this should come as a big shock, but - having paid attention to the campaign for the last year - it really doesn't.

That isn't to say that I in anyway foresaw Heineman being ahead at this point in the game, but that the race should tighten has always seemed somewhat inevitable. It just wasn't supposed to tighten this much.

I could theorize and subject you all to a lot of conjecture about who's done what right and wrong on the campaign trail, but - with less than two weeks left before the primary - might as well just hold my tongue and wait to let Nebraska's Republican (and Republican-for-a-Day) voters speak for themselves.

Should be interesting. If I had to put money on the race, I'd still put it on Osborne. When 2/3rds of the state sees Osborne's name on their ballot for the first time, there's going to be a sentimental draw there. And, with this the legendary Husker coach's last hurrah, I think voters will prove hesitant to put him out to pasture, especially now that it looks like that's a real possibility.

It's not so much that Osborne will have earned the governorship, but people have enough respect for the man that they won't want to seem ungrateful for everything he's meant to this state over the last four decades.

I could be wrong, but I wouldn't underestimate Osborne's ability to tug on the old heartstrings. The moment Heineman seems to have pulled ahead will be the moment he becomes most susceptible to voter sentiment. Needless to say, this poll is good news for Heineman, but I wouldn't expect him to be bragging up the results. Heineman has, until now, been able to thrive BECAUSE he was the underdog. Take that away - add on a bunch of Heineman endorsements from labor unions and special interests looking to follow the turning of the tide - and it's a whole new that isn't necessarily in his favor.

Heineman might just prove a victim of his own success.

Think about it: Osborne down in a close game. The last seconds ticking off the clock. He's got a chance, but he needs Nebraska's voters to come off the bench and put his team over the top.

Feel that, Nebraska? That's 30 years of Husker tradition on the line.

Will voters answer the call? Should they? I don't know. But, I wouldn't bet against it. We're all suckers for a happy ending. The only thing people like to see more than a titan's fall is a good comeback story.

On May 9th, we'll get one or the other. Choose your own adventure.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Maxine Moul's "Moolah"

by Kyle Michaelis
moolah - def: informal term for money; syn: bread, cabbage, clams, dinero, dough, gelt, lettuce, lucre, loot, shekels

In my previous post, I failed to mention that the discussion about Scott Kleeb's campaign at Swing State Project began with the site's inclusion of First District candidate Maxine Moul on an exclusive list of Democratic challengers who had managed to raise more campaign funds in the first quarter of 2006 than the incumbent Republican they face.
Maxine Moul (D)
1Q Raised/Cash-on-Hand: $210K/$179K

Jeff Fortenberry (R)
1Q Raised/Cash-on-Hand: $85K/$416K
Moul raised 2 1/2 times what Fortenberry was able to pull together. That's quite the distinction, demonstrating not only Moul's legitimacy but also just how much dissatisfaction there is with Fortenberry.

Looks like the shutdown of Tom DeLay's pipeline of corrupt campaign cash might be taking its toll after being forced to resign from Congress.

There's no way these fundraising totals are anything but good news. Still, even with a candidate of Moul's impressive credentials and overwhelming experience, a victory in this race is going to take every ounce of passion and, yes, every dollar that Nebraska's common sense voters can give. Fortenberry has a solid and resilient base of support, even if his blind partisanship has alienated anyone with an independent thought in his or her head.

If more people actually take a look at Fortenberry's voting record, he's clearly going to be vulnerable. But, first, they need a reminder of who Maxine Moul is and why she's such a great candidate.

In her life story, her expertise in rural economics, even her stances on the issues, Moul has Fortenberry beat hands down for her connection with the interests and values of First District voters - the voters Fortenberry has so failed to represent by taking orders from Washington D.C. party bosses rather than the people back at home.

So, congratulations to Moul for this impressive show of early strength. She and Kleeb deserve their success. And, all of Nebraska will surely benefit from their campaigns to restore decency, independence, and an actual voice to our Congressional delegation.

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Some Much-Needed Female (and Western Nebraska) Perspective

by Kyle Michaelis
I happened across a recent post at the Swing State Project by one anonymous Nebraska gal who seems quite enamored with 3rd District Congressional candidate Scott Kleeb.

Miss "HistoryChickInNebraska" writes:
Don't count us Nebraskans out! Scott Kleeb in NE-03 (the western 7/8 of the entire state!) is coming on VERY strong. Scott out-raised Jay Vavricek, mayor of Grand Island (NE’s 3rd largest city) and a leading contender for the Republican nomination, by a 2-to-1 ratio in the first-quarter of 2006! He also out-raised Republican candidate John Hanson by a considerable margin. The only Republican candidate (there are 5+) he did not out-raise is Adrian Smith, a Rolex-wearing, Hummer-driving, ultra-arch-conservative with support from the wacko Club for Growth special interest group.

This is an unprecedented sign of strength for a non-Republican candidate in our District. Though we are pretty independent-minded out here (last viable Dem lost by less than a per cent!) and Scott is a completely new and exciting and different type of candidate for us - he’s young and just out of Yale with a PhD in history (dissertation on Western Cattle Ranching). I mean, how can all these stodgy NE businessmen compete with a bull-riding, cattle-branding, internationally-raised PhD who can hang with the rancher, entreprenuer, educator, student, and all in-between? Plus, he’s easy-on-the-eye if you know what I mean!

Whichever of the Republican candidates who ultimately wins will have a VERY hard time in head-to-head competition based on sheer intelligence and personability. This Congressional race will be one to watch and probably one of the most hotly contested races of the 2006 election season.

Like I said, don’t count us out! We’re all red now, but come this December I see a huge chunk of blue out here in the middle of a sea of red!

Well, that's rather refreshing for a change of pace. I hope the mysterious "HistoryChick" does not mind the New Nebraska Network's lifting her report to share with the rest of the state. Indeed, Kleeb has definitely impressed a lot of people with his early performance. I just regret that my own attentions have necessarily been elsewhere because the sheer expansiveness of the 3rd District makes keeping track of its political scene a difficult proposition for this one man show.

I did,however, catch this Omaha World-Herald profile of Kleeb this last weekend that is sure to have garnered the candidate even more attention and support across the state:
Scott Kleeb says his heart is in Nebraska's Sand Hills and in making the Democratic Party relevant again in middle America.

So instead of searching for a teaching job after receiving his doctorate in history at Yale last year, Kleeb, 30, is touring the 3rd Congressional District in his white Chevy pickup, trying to round up votes as the lone Democrat in the race.

Don't doubt the sincerity of this former bull rider whose dissertation was on cattle ranching, say relatives on whose ranch Kleeb works.

Even opponents give Kleeb credit.

"He's a bright guy with a charismatic personality, but I think the 3rd District deserves a little bit more than that," said Jessica Moenning, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party. "He's kind of your classic carpetbagger."

Kleeb has enlisted the help of former Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, who is advising him and serving as his honorary finance chairman. It appears to have helped. As of March 31, Kleeb had raised $181,862 this year.

A bachelor who was a soccer player, wrestler and valedictorian in high school, Kleeb was named one of the 50 most beautiful people at Yale by an underground paper there.

Kleeb (pronounced klebb) blushed when asked about the most-beautiful list, saying it was more about the black cowboy hat, boots and jeans he wore around campus.

He said he cherishes the values and lifestyle of rural Nebraska....Kleeb calls himself the most optimistic candidate in the race, one who can bring change to a district that has some of the lowest per capita income levels in the country.

He criticizes as "cruel" current federal policy for sending 70 percent of farm subsidies to 10 percent of the largest farmers. "It subsidizes (farm and ranch) consolidation," he said, and pays only lip service to economic development....

The thought of running for Congress emerged while driving across 22 Western states to research his doctoral dissertation. Neither major political party, Kleeb said, was discussing the problems he saw.

"He's disappointed that the Democrats haven't done better, particularly in middle America," said Yale history professor John Gaddis. "He's trying to revive the party"....

Kleeb's campaign so far has focused on meeting with small groups of voters, speaking before civic groups and touring successful businesses.

A practicing Catholic, Kleeb said he opposes "criminalizing" abortion.

He supports sending more troops to Iraq. He declined to comment directly when asked twice if it was a mistake to invade Iraq. "It's about where do we go from here," Kleeb said.

He then told two stories, one about a friend who had opened a school for girls in Iraq, and another about an aging farmer he'd met in Italy who spoke with reverence about being liberated by American forces in World War II. "That's the America I believe in," he said.

He said the greatest issue facing the country is health care, saying it is wrong to provide billions in tax breaks to the pharmaceutical industry when many citizens don't have health insurance coverage.

Bill Berryman, a Kearney stockbroker and Democrat, said Kleeb can win because there's a strong populist streak in the heavily Republican 3rd District, and plenty of dissatisfaction with the GOP.

Kleeb believes he can connect with voters. "This is the only place that feels like home to me. It is home," he said.

Damn! With a profile like that, Kleeb could damn near make a believer of just about anyone.

When the worst Jessica Moenning, the Nebraska Republican Party's answer to Karl Rove, can say about Kleeb is that he's a carpet-bagger, you know they're in trouble....especially when her boy in the First District, Jeff Fortenberry, has far fewer roots and less connection to the state.

And, needless to say, Fortenberry sure as hell won't be bull-riding any time soon!

So, I say go ahead and get a little bit excited about this Kleeb fellow. Heck, be like HistoryChick and get REAL EXCITED.

There's nothing wrong with hope, even for a Democrat in Nebraska. The key is to remember that you still have to work for it - and, whether that election ends in hoped-for victory or heart-breaking defeat - the true work of making people's lives better and fulfilling this nation's promise is never going to be finished.

Such is the beauty of democracy. If there's no rest for the wicked, there's even less for the true believer.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

We MUST Challenge Mike Foley

by Kyle Michaelis
WANTED: Anyone who believes passionately in good, honest government, willing to campaign on that theme through November, to run as a Democrat for Nebraska's State Auditor. A progressive, well-spoken Certified Public Accountant with management skills preferred (if such person exists). Must take immediate action and have limited personal resources to contribute to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stand for what one truly believes before every voter in Nebraska.

Sorry. I just can't let this go - the Nebraska Democratic Party CANNOT allow a proven liar such as State Sen. Mike Foley to become State Auditor without challenge in the general election this November. After his completely unforgiveable and deceitful conduct in this last legislative session, allowing Foley to "ascend to the throne" in this manner would be a total dereliction of duty to the people of Nebraska.

Yet, unless someone - anyone - steps forward to fulfill the above job description, that's exactly what's going to happen. In a year when Democrats are campaigning nationwide against the Republican "culture of corruption," it is plainly foolish and destructive not to answer that same call and take up that same cry when one such as Foley now stands at the gates of taking a powerful position from which he could do untold, perhaps unimaginable damage.

Foley is unchallenged in the Republican primary to replace two-term Auditor Kate Witek. As with the constitutional offices of State Treasurer and Attorney General, the Democrats are - themselves - not fielding any candidates on the primary ballot. That doesn't mean it's too late to give voters a choice in the general election. In fact, the Democratic Party is obligated to do the very least - out of true necessity - in Foley's "race" to become State Auditor.

Foley has proven that his single-minded allegiance to the anti-abortion movement trumps any standard of decency and ethical conduct. For 6 years in the state senate, he has said anything and done anything to serve the anti-abortion agenda - reaching a new low this year that makes him not only unfit for the office in which he serves but also a terrible threat and a liability to the state government in which he now seeks an entrenched position.

Note that it is not Foley's political opinions - and it certainly isn't his religion - that disqualifies him for office. It is, instead, his dangerous record of twisting the facts and hiding his true intentions - two qualities that violate every expectation of the state auditor's essential oversight function.

This is not about the morality or the legality of abortion. It's not about abortion at all. It's about the immorality of Mike Foley - plain and simple.

This man can not be trusted. How ironic and disgusting, then, that Foley is now seeking the one position in state government that is all about assuring its trustworthiness to Nebraska citizens and taxpayers. His presence on the ballot is a slap in the face to anyone who cares about honesty and accountability. Needless to say, his election to office would be a truly shameful moment for the entire state.

I don't know if that shame can be prevented, but those who recognize this and do nothing certainly will share in the blame for it.

Although I am no election law expert, I believe there are at least two avenues by which Foley can be challenged. The first one - the easiest - I only realized just now when it is almost too late. This plan entails a single candidate paying the filing fee (1% of the Auditor's annual salary - either $650 or $850) and registering with the Secretary of State as a "write-in candidate" at least 10 days before the primary (Friday, I believe).

From there, all it would take is an e-mail to Nebraska Democrats asking them to write-in this single, qualified candidate, and he or she would almost certainly get enough votes to beat Mickey Mouse and take the Democratic Party's spot on the ballot. With our new communications technology, there is absolutely NO REASON this couldn't be done right now - even with the registration deadline nearing this Friday. The media attention alone you could generate by emphasizing how important it is to challenge Foley might well be worth such meager investment, especially because it would further assure the named write-in candidate's primary victory.

If we fail to follow that very simple strategy, a "by-petition" candidacy also remains a possibility through the that I will not shut up about until some proud Democrat has finally risen to the occasion and decided Nebraska deserves better than Mike Foley. The "write-in" candidate in the primary, however, remains an infinitely superior opportunity because - as a non-incumbent - Foley would almost have to meet the Democrats' chosen nominee in a real debate. There, he would have to explain his deceitful conduct on the floor of the state legislature and why voters should trust him when his fellow state senators cannot.

I know I'm just some guy writing on a blog - it's easy to spout off opinions about what others should be doing. But, here, I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is. If the Nebraska Democratic Party is able to find a suitable write-in candidate in this short window, I pledge right here and right now $125 to help cover the filing fee. And, if I had more to give, I would pay the whole damn thing.

That's how important I think this effort is. We have an opportunity to emphasize everything wrong with the extreme Right-wing mentality that holds our state in its thrall.

Open and honest government. Integrity. Common sense - not ideological zealotry. Public service - not hidden agendas. Those are Democratic values. Here, we can draw these distinctions - we can show where we stand and speak proudly to principles all citizens hold dear.

Frankly, if we fail to capitalize on that opportunity - if we don't even try - then we are fools who deserve our defeat.

And, we will continue to lose....for a very, very long time.

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Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Profile Dave Heineman Doesn't Want You to Read

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has probably been feeling pretty good lately. Though still facing tough odds in the Republican primary to hold onto the office handed to him by Mike Johanns, a lot of things have broken his way to not only keep Heineman in the race against legendary coach-turned-Congressmen Tom Osborne but to even give him some outside shot at victory.

It's been a good couple of days for Heineman. First came word of some suspicious but encouraging polling on the governors' race, paid for by the far-from-disinterested Pete Ricketts, putting Heineman at 43% to Osborne's 44% as the May 9th election approaches.

Then, it was announced that Heineman received the Nebraska Farm Bureau's endorsement, securing his place with three of the Nebraska Republican Party's key constituencies. The Farm Bureau added agribusiness to Heineman's backers from Nebraska Right to Life (single-issue abortion voters) and the National Rifle Association (the "2nd Amendment crowd", many of whom would like nothing better than to exercise that supposed freedom by putting a bullet in anyone caught burning an American flag).

So, basically, everything's been looking up for least until today's Omaha World-Herald profile - which was otherwise a puff piece - reminded and informed readers of some things in Heineman's background that are far from becoming of a Governor and have, until now, kept largely below the public's RADAR.
Though easygoing in public, Heineman has a prickly side. Earlier this year, he issued an order - quickly withdrawn - barring state agency heads and other officials from meeting alone with Osborne.

And several years ago, then-Treasurer Heineman and his chief deputy, Lorelee Byrd, stormed into State Auditor Kate Witek's office and began turning over furniture in a reception area. At the time, Witek's auditors had cited Heineman's office for failure to properly tag state property.

Bryd and Heineman apparently wanted to see whether the auditor's office was following its own rules.

Jeanne Herbers, a project manager in the office, remembered the pair as "agitated" but emphasized they were not destructive. "It was just an odd, weird thing," she said.

To some, Heineman's decision to hire Byrd - whom he worked with in former Rep. Doug Bereuter's office - was one of his biggest mistakes.

Byrd was an abrasive personality who made enemies. Former employees accused her of having screaming tirades and monitoring their bathroom breaks.

Byrd, who succeeded Heineman as treasurer, was forced to resign after admitting to misdemeanor charges that she wrote checks without invoices and stored them in her vault - an apparent attempt to beef up her budget while lawmakers looked for spending to cut....

Asked if he regretted hiring Byrd, Heineman declined to answer: "You can't go back and change what's occurred."

It's hard to say how much damage such a clear record of Heineman's disturbing "prickly side" will do. Still, the profile is nowhere near as harsh as it could be, largely letting Heineman off the hook for his petty and childish demand that agency heads not talk with Osborne unless he was present. That order actually stood for several weeks - far from "quickly withdrawn" in my book.

Report of Heineman's until-now neglected relationship with the despised and disgraced Loralee Byrd, though, certainly isn't going to help. And, this story about Heineman and Byrd flipping out and flipping over furniture in the State Auditor's office has to be one of the most damned fool things I've ever heard in Nebraska politics. It's downright cartoonish, with Heineman and Byrd sounding like a villianous tag-team, particularly in light of Byrd's eventual crime.

Add in the fact that Auditor Witek is now running for Lt. Governor with Osborne against Heineman (her old nemesis?), and things start looking really damn fishy. I mean, seriously, how could our state's economy not have gone down the tubes with these jackasses at the wheel, busy grinding their axes and stroking their egos as the whole damn system falls apart around them?


So, anyway, that one profile isn't going to be winning Heineman any admirers. It's likely to counterbalance some of the positive vibes his campaign has been trying to build around his chances. The net effect over the last couple of months, though, is still going to be largely in Heineman's favor.

In essence, lifting some analogies from Osborne's coaching days, Heineman is no longer Pacific facing off against the Huskers. He's looking more like an Iowa State, a team that could actually pull off a surprise upset once every decade or so.

Keeping with the football metaphors because they seem strangely adept and even somewhat relevant, with only 2 weeks left to go, this game is clearly in the 4th Quarter. Osborne has been leading all the way but has played sloppy - failing to capitalize when necessary - and hasn't been able to put this one away. In fact, he's been playing on cruise control for most of the game, with no major screw-ups but leaving plenty of opportunities for his opponent.

And, to his credit as a politician (I give him very little as an actual leader), Heineman hasn't just sat back and waited for Osborne to make a mistake. He's been out there with an idea of the things he needed to do, and he has done them...largely sticking to a gameplan that has been in effect since the day he took office.

He knew better than to assert non-existent authority before the legislature in seeking passage of tax incentives for businesses and tax cuts for individuals in consecutive years. Instead, he kept his goals and his message broad so he'd be able to put his name on and take the credit for whatever the legislature passed. On school issues, Heineman sided with the pissed-off parents who don't like being bullied by the state or by a larger school district, knowing full well that their anger - whether just or not - could serve the purposes of his campaign.

Meanwhile, Heineman has proved happy to use his veto power whenever public opinion suggested it might be beneficial to his cause - having learned from Johanns that, if passage is really important, the legislature will override and take the heat for him.

After all, deserve's got nothing to do with it. This is about politics - not principles.

And, truth be told, I'm not so sure that voters are going to mind least, not in this Republican primary where any pretense of principle went out the window long ago (i.e. Don Stenberg's campaign pledge, Pete Ricketts' mommy, the OPS debacle, Heineman's gag order, Dave Nabity's adoration for Lee Atwater).

Ideally, those would be a lot of good reasons not to vote Republican. As is, they might just be a lot of good reasons not to read the newspaper.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Jeff Fortenberry Abandons His Faith

by Kyle Michaelis
"'I was a stranger and you welcomed me' (Matthew 25:35). Today the illegal migrant comes before us like that 'stranger' in whom Jesus asks to be recognized. To welcome him and to show him solidarity is a duty of hospitality and fidelity to Christian identity itself."
---Pope John Paul II, Annual Message for World Migration Day (1996).

"The U.S. Catholic Bishops support a comprehensive approach to immigration reform that would improve the U.S. immigration system so that it is humane, secure, and reflects the values upon which our nation - a nation of immigrants - was built."
---Bishop Gerald Barnes, Chairman - U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Migration (Apri 4, 2006)

"The U.S. bishops strongly oppose H.R. 4437, the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Protection Act of 2005...The legislation includes many harsh provisions which would bring undue harm to immigrants and their families. Among its many provisions, it would make unlawful presence a felony; subject anyone who assists an undocumented alien to criminal penalties; require mandatory detention of all aliens apprehended along the U.S. border, including children and families; and limit relief to asylum-seekers through an expansion of expedited removal."
---website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (April 21, 2006)

I normally would never question an elected official's balancing of his political decisions with his religious faith, but 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has worn his religion on his sleeves to such a disturbing degree that when his votes violate the teachings of his church, they both warrant mention and invite condemnation.

In 2004, Fortenberry used Eastern Nebraska's heavy Roman Catholic population as the base of his support - networking and recruiting volunteers through Church functions, using his pledges of extremist fervor against abortion as a wedge issue between himself and the more moderately "pro-life" candidate Matt Connealy, a Catholic Democrat.

Fortenberry sold himself as the true Catholic in the race - the one whose votes would truly reflect church doctrine and Catholic principles of morality.

Well, I'm not calling for any politician to take his cues from the Pope - even if that is the standard to which some mistakenly believe Catholics must adhere - but I do ask that politicians be true to their rhetoric and on the level with voters to avoid hypocrisy.

Frankly, on immigration - as well as most "Culture of Life" issues that don't seek to dictate women's medical decisions - Rep. Fortenberry has proven that his votes are guided not by his Catholic faith but by his allegiance to the extremist Right-wing agenda that controls our Republican Congress. This was made abundantly clear by a pair of articles in Thursday's Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal-Star.

Some excerpts from these articles include:
Border security should be the first priority of immigration reform, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry said Wednesday as he appeared to reject proposals to provide a pathway to legal status for illegal immigrants already living here.


Fortenberry, R-Neb., said his 24-hour trip to Laredo, Texas, with other House members reinforced his support for a bill the House passed in December. That legislation calls for erecting a fence along the border, more high-tech surveillance equipment, new penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers and treating illegal immigrants as criminals who should be deported.

"Many senators, including Nebraska Democrat Ben Nelson, support toughening border security first. But the Senate has hung up over also what to do about the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country.

The vote in support of H.R. 4437 that Fortenberry is here defending is not only fundamentally out-of-touch with American tradition but also completely irreconciable with the principles of charity and compassion espoused by the Roman Catholic Church.

This bill is so severe that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have had no choice but to speak loudly and even take the lead in the movement protesting its passage this December on a 239-182 vote with the overwhelming partisan support of Congressional Republicans. Those supporters included Fortenberry, as well as Nebraska's other two Republican rubber stamps, Lee Terry and Tom Osborne.

H.R. 4437 not only designates those undocumented families already in the country as felons - with no opportunity to remain in the United States, not even for their innocent children - but even goes so far as to make those who provide humanitarian assistance to such families guilty of a crime. How utterly reprehensible!

Of course, I can't help noticing that Fortenberry has lifted a page from the World-Herald's playbook by trying to equivocate Ben Nelson's border security proposal in the Senate with this far broader and infinitely more disturbing bill already passed by the House. Nice try, but that sort of deceitful misdirection isn't going to cut it. There is no innocence by association for the likes of Fortenberry. Dragging Nelson's name into this mess will do nothing to absolve this sinful vote nor Fortenberry's weak attempts to provide it some moral justification.

House Republicans have targeted the most down-trodden population in America for punishment, including its women and children. They have manipulated the very real problems with America's broken immigration laws - problems that deserve reasonable and humane solutions - to create a class of scapegoats for every economic failure of the Bush Administration and the Republican Congress.

These are not the actions of Christians. Fortenberry's vote and his subsequent statements are not those of a man guided by the teachings of the Catholic Church. Now, his priest may be able to offer him penance and reconciliation, but voters of faith - and anyone who believes a candidate has a duty to say what he means, serve with integrty, and take responsibility when he fails to uphold the principles to which he swears himself - should not be so forgiving with their vote this November.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pete Ricketts Biggest Spender in the Country

by Kyle Michaelis
National Journal's campaign spending figures for the first quarter of 2006 show Nebraska Republican Pete Ricketts as the biggest spending Senate challenger in the entire country - reporting $1.59 million in spending as of March 31st, almost all of it his own money. And, that was almost three weeks ago, so who knows how much he's spent since then?

In Nebraska, a small (by population) and cheap media market, this insane level of spending basically boggles the mind. Ricketts spent more than a quarter of a million dollars more than the next highest challenger: another super-wealthy Republican, Rich Tarrant of Vermont.

In fact, only two incumbents spent more than Ricketts, the mighty Hillary Clinton of New York and the desperate Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania - both in markets much larger and more expensive than our own.

Nebraska, I've never thought your vote was for sale, but Ricketts' is certainly putting that to the test. This is a man who's obviously used to getting what he wants, no matter the cost. If he comes out of that Republican primary, voters may as well just name their price and Ricketts will have the check in the mail.

Who does this guy think he is? Even more troubling, who exactly does he think we are? Is selling our democracy to the highest bidder really one of these "Nebraska values" Ricketts has been talking about on TV for the last 6 months?

Maybe I should ask his mother.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Unicam 2006: Closing Thoughts #2

by Kyle Michaelis
Here's the rest of my rundown of the actions during the 2006 session of the Nebraska state senate, continuing, as promised, from this post last week.

Prohibiting Funeral Protests
The state should always be wary of restricting peoples' right to free speech, though it's hard to defend those who would turn families' pain and loss into public spectacle. Of course, when these protests were only being staged at the funerals of homosexuals, the public turned a blind eye. Only when the miserable and pathetic "God Hates Fags"-crowd started targeting fallen soldiers did state senators decide to do something about them.

Ultimately, I have very mixed feelings - mostly because we've already lost the moral high ground by standing up for our neighbors and fellow citizens in uniform but not for those who love others of the same sex.

Campaign Finance Reform
Nebraska's already progressive campaign finance laws received a much-needed upgrade closing many of the loopholes exploited by several Republican officeholders in recent years. Their actions threatened the integrity of our entire system of public financing, making mockery of the rule of law. Thanks to the vigilance of Sen. Chris Beutler and the especially shameful conduct of Regent David Hergert, future candidates will have to think twice before attemping to cheat their way into state office.

Pay Raises for Elected Officials
A $20,000/year pay raise for Nebraska's governor - to an annual salary of $105,000 - is certainly nothing to sneeze at. The Attorney General and Secretary of State will also be seeing a $20K annual raise, with the State Treasurer and State Auditor seeing a whopping $25K bump. The poor, unappreciated Lt. Governor will see only $15K more in 2007, earning a lowly $75,000. Not that many Nebraskans would complain at being unappreciated like that.

These pay raises are probably a good idea in the long-term, though I hate the idea of all these Republican incumbents getting handed fatter pay checks without having to face a Democrat on the November ballot. Only the Sec. of State is going to have to earn it. Elected office is about power - not money - for most candidates, but hopefully this change will make the possibility of public service seem a little more inviting to a more diverse population.

In-State Tuition for "Undocumented" Grads of NE High Schools
After years of work by Sen. DiAnna Schimek, the passage of her plan to make higher education more accessible and affordable for the innocent but still undocumented children of illegal immigrants was the most inspiring moment of the 2006 session. That this bill passed over Gov. Heineman's unprincipled and politically-motivated veto - as the larger immigration debate reached a fever pitch nation-wide - may have also made for the most shocking development, though it was great to see that Nebraska still has room for compassion and common sense in its public policy.

Most of the young people affected by this bill are indistinguishable from their classmates. They speak the same language, listen to the same music, take the same tests. It's time for them to have the same opportunities for higher education as well. No matter what immigration reforms are coming, we can't turn our backs on these young people who live as Americans and are Americans but for their lack of a piece of paper. I am proud that Nebraska should prove so enlightened.

Hergert Impeached
The support of 25 Senators was needed to impeach the degenerate Regent and that's exactly how many stood up for decency and the rule of law. Other senators had their reasons for voting against impeachment - many supposedly worried about whether the impeachment would be sustained by the Nebraska Supreme Court. Such worries were misguided and were clearly manipulated by those who supported Hergert for more political reasons.

Frankly, the law is not clear, and - as such - the legislature was right to exercise its fullest form of condemnation for Hergert's unforgiveable conduct. There's no shame in asking the Supreme Court to interpret the state's Consitution. Regardless of whether they find Hergert's crimes impeachable or not, putting the question to them was the principled and responsible thing to do. The people of Nebraska have a right to know where the line is drawn on the criminality and misconduct of their elected officials.

No one has asked for Hergert to be singled out for punishment. Hergert chose to make an example of himself by the extent of his crimes and his shamelessness in avoiding accountability for them. He may imagine some sort of vindication by the Supreme Court, but Nebraskans know better. Hergert's entire defense is one of technicalities. On principle, he doesn't have a leg to stand on. Even if Hergert can escape being removed from office, he is and shall forever remain an emabarrassment to the voters of Western Nebraska whose trust he so abused.

.........Well, that's most of the major legislative action in the very busy and productive 2006 session. Obviously, I don't support every decision that was made, but - on the whole - I tend to think more good was probably done than ill. That's probably the best that can ever be asked of any legislative body.

Of course, some huge question marks still remain, especially with the fate of Omaha's public schools still hanging in the balance. It could well be years before that one can be called one way or another.

With the state now saying goodbye to more than 40% of the legislature as term limits take effect, the very future of this state could also be hanging in the balance with these November elections. It's more important than ever that progressive voters start paying attention and even go to battle for worthy candidates who will be able to take the place of departing champions of the working class such as Chris Beutler, David Landis, Nancy Thompson, and Matt Connealy.

They served well. They served with honor and distinction. But, there is so much left to do. Now is not the time to let up. Now is the time to fight.

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World-Herald "Attempts" Balance UPDATE

by Kyle Michaelis
Woops! Even in my post below I gave the World-Herald too much credit, assuming the latest report on its website was the final version that went to print this morning. I assumed wrong.

Having now taken a look at today's print edition, I'm sad to see that it not only includes Heineman, Osborne, and Nabity's positions in the sub-headline ("Heineman signed LB1024; Osborne opposes it; Nabity seeks middle ground"), but it also lacks the online version's early and entirely necessary statement that Osborne AND Hahn would have vetoed. Below, you'll see both mentioned in the same sentence, but the print edition actually reads:
Republican candidate Tom Osborne say he would have veteoed Legislative Bill 1024.....

Why the change in the online version? Is this an admission of the journalists' negligent and selective reporting? When can readers, not to mention the Hahn campaign, expect their apology?

To make matters worse, when Hahn finally does get a mention in the print edition, it reads simply (and insultingly):
Heineman, Osborne and Omaha businesman Dave Nabity face off May 9 in the Republican primary. The winner will run against Lincoln businessman David Hahn, a Democrat who some people in his own party have doubted can defeate whoever emerges on the GOP ticket.

Can you believe this crap? For no reason, they dismiss Hahn's candidacy...while, at the same time, treating underdog Nabity like he is remotely legitimate just because he's a Republican.

Who are they kidding? If every Heineman and Osborne supporter were struck by the mumps and unable to vote on May 9th - which is what it would take for the extremist Nabity to even have a shot - it's just plain ludicrous to suggest that he would in any way have an advantage over the more even-tempered and thoughtful Hahn. Yet, the World-Herald has the audacity to suggest just that.

I'm pissed. And any World-Herald reader, regardless of party, should be as well. We pay for the news - not for spin and certainly not for political indoctrination. The writers of this article, Veronica Stickney and Michael Saunders, not to mention any supposed "journalist" in the World-Herald's employ, should all be hanging their heads in shame.

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3rd Drafts A Charm - World-Herald Attempts Balance

by Kyle Michaelis
After numerous articles covering Republican gubernatorial candidates' responses to LB 1024 without making any mention of Democrat David Hahn's position, I should probably be content that he finally got a sentence in today's Omaha World-Herald.

Of course, it's important to note that two previous drafts of this same article ran on the World-Herald's website yesterday continuing to leave Hahn silenced on this issue. And, even now, the article makes no mention that Hahn announced he would have vetoed this legislation days before Osborne did.

Here's the generous mention Hahn did finally receive today:
Two candidates, Republican Tom Osborne and Democrat David Hahn, said they would have vetoed Legislative Bill 1024, which includes a provision to replace the Omaha Public Schools with three districts that would contain areas that are racially identifiable.....

Hahn, the Democratic candidate, said LB 1024 is unconstitutional and should have been vetoed. He promised to issue a plan of his own after next month's primary election.

For whatever reason, fringe candidate Dave Nabity continued to be more prominently featured than Hahn. Still, beggars can't be choosers, and Nebraska Democrats are most certainly beggars wherever the World-Herald is concerned.

Take what we can get? For now. Shut my mouth and be thankful for the table scraps of coverage they give us? Not bloody likely - not so long as Nebraska voters continue to get only half the story, and we have to fight so hard even just for that.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Benzilla vs. Pete Ricketts' Mom

by Kyle Michaelis
View the latest television ads by incumbent Senator Ben Nelson and by would-be Republican challenger Pete Ricketts. I'd love to hear what other people think about them - commenting would be greatly appreciated just to feed my curiosity about how these play with other people.

My reaction: the Ben Nelson ad may be downright brilliant politically. Nothing screams election year like stirring up popular sentiment and running against some foreign devils. As the rest of the country focuses on illegal immigrants from the south, Nelson has cornered the Japanese all to himself, ready to crush Tokyo at a moment's notice (BENZILLA ATTACKS!!!) if they don't play ball and open their markets to our Nebraska-bred beef.

Still, when Nelson says "what's good for the goose is good for the gander"....that's just too folksy even for me. I understand that Nebraskans are common people - God bless'em - but that doesn't mean you have to talk to them in trite maxims likening complicated issues of foreign trade to one of "Aesop's Fables."

If I'm going to fault Nelson's ad for being trite, though, I don't even know where to begin with Pete Ricketts' latest. First of all, who exactly is the candidate here - Pete or his mom? Sure, she seems like a real nice lady. Sure, she's provided the one real touch of charm for which Ricketts has any hope of being remembered - after TV viewers watched her put that stocking cap on his head for the 50th time. But, my God, a candidate has to stand on his own two feet. If Mrs. Ricketts wants to run for office, she should go ahead, but, otherwise, Pete should come out from behind her apron and run a campaign on some actual issues.

Seriously, what does Mrs. Ricketts being a "Nebraska City Farm Girl" and vaguely remembering having to stick to a budget before her husband was a billionaire have to do with ANYTHING? Is Pete really so desperate to establish a personal connection with voters - is he really so lacking in his own charisma (against "Tin Man" Don Stenberg, no less) - that his mommy has to do it for him.

I don't want to insult anyone's family. I'm not going to insult anyone's family - even if Ricketts does invite it by spending all those millions of dollars on this vacuous nonsense.

Finally, whereas the red stocking cap was once sort of cute, the Ricketts campaign's attempt to here make it some sort of personal trademark just reeks of desperation. Ricketts' inability to gain traction on issues hardly justifies the buying of votes with lame humor and shallow cuteness. Voters - no matter how old, living no matter how far out in the boonies - simply aren't going to fall for it.

Am I way off base here? Maybe I am becoming too cynical for my own good. Tell me what you think, as I ponder taking a temporary vacation from this incessant ranting.

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OWH Picks & Chooses as Osborne Piggybacks on OPS

by Kyle Michaelis
Update from previous post:

While I appreciate that Tom Osborne has decided to follow David Hahn's lead in denouncing Governor Heineman's handling of the Omaha Public Schools redistricting and resource-pooling plan (LB 1024), his capturing an immediate Omaha World-Herald headline after the same newspaper had already printed Osborne's earlier remarks on the issue reeks of political bias.

Although Osborne had the opportunity to make all of these remarks last week when the issue was most salient, the World-Herald reports (oh, so selectively):
Governor candidate Tom Osborne said Monday that he would have vetoed a bill to replace the Omaha Public Schools with three racially identifiable districts.

He said in an interview Monday night that the bill didn't have adequate legislative hearings, moves the city's school systems toward litigation and "is not in the best interest of the whole city, including the suburban schools"....

Three men - Osborne, Heineman and Omaha businessman Dave Nabity - are running for governor on the Republican ticket. Lincoln businessman David Hahn is the only candidate on the Democratic ballot.

Heineman has been a strong supporter of the suburban districts since last June, when OPS announced its "one city, one school district" plan. Nabity has proposed giving responsibility for predominantly low-income schools in OPS to the suburban districts.

Osborne said in the telephone interview that LB 1024 needed more time for public comment because the bill "changed rather drastically" after it left committee.

"I have a great deal of respect for Senator (Ron) Raikes . . . but it became a very rushed process," Osborne said of the Legislature's Education Committee chairman, who authored the bill. "The No. 1 issue with me is to avoid litigation."

Osborne stressed that he is not siding with one side or the other but that the "best thing for suburban schools also is to arrive at a solution other than what we have now" and to avoid litigation.

The full article linked above also demonstrates how Osborne is attempting to use this controversy to fire-up his campaign, as last night's OPS school board meeting basically became an "Osborne for Governor" rally - complete with campaign literature, voter registrations, and elected officials making promises of revenge at the ballot box against Heineman.

Now, to be honest, Osborne's reaction to this situation more perfectly matches what I have been saying over the course of the last week-and-a-half than does Hahn's. I am more troubled by the process by which this legislation came to pass than by its constitutionality.

Still, unlike the World-Herald, I will give credit where it is due. And, clearly, it was Hahn who first announced he would have vetoed this legislation - by days - showing the marks of a true leader who doesn't wait to see that the political winds are in his favor before speaking his mind.

It's also important to note that the true interests at the heart of Hahn's argument remains, like my own, with the students of Omaha and creating a more equitable system of public education. In Osborne's stated desire to avoid litigation at all costs lies a total lack of principle and unconcern for the racial stratification that was and remains such a problem in Omaha's schools.

Hahn took the lead, yet the World-Herald has turned a blind eye to him while turning its back on responsible journalism. My God, in the above article, they name him as the Democratic nominee for Governor but otherwise make no mention of his bold and straight-forward approach to the OPS situation, even while repeating the already reported stances of Republican candidates Heineman and Nabity that haven't changed one iota.

This stinks. It's wrong. Frankly, it makes me mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore. Neither should you.

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World-Herald Wants Everyone's Opinion on OPS Except David Hahn's

by Kyle Michaelis
Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Hahn is trying to win people over the old-fashioned way - by actually standing up on issues and speaking his mind. It's a welcome change of pace demonstrating true thoughtfulness and political courage that offers a rather marked contrast from the Republican candidates' duking it out with the same garbled catch-phrases and pre-manufactured talking points.

Still, there's a problem. A candidate has a hard time getting his message out - no matter how effective or thoughtful - when the state's largest newspaper won't report on his statements. Such has been the case the last several days since Hahn publicly responded to LB 1024, the bill establishing a common tax pool for Omaha area schools while controversially dividing Omaha Public Schools into three separate, racially-distinctive school districts.

The ensuing furor has grabbed national headlines. As such, the Omaha World-Herald has written about it from almost every angle imaginable and published comment from across the racial spectrum and up and down the decision-making hierarchy.

The World-Herald gave special attention to Gov. Dave Heineman's hopes for the bill, which is understandable since he signed the thing. But, they also let Republican challengers Dave Nabity and Tom Osborne put in more than their two cents on the controversy - the persistent Nabity touting his own simplistic plan as a cure-all while Osborne mourned the perception "that Omaha has moved back in time 40 or 50 years."
Osborne said he hopes an amendment approved last week to split OPS into three separate districts will get both sides together "if we can tone down the rhetoric."

"Maybe this bill will come down so hard it will force people to communicate, because I don't think this is what we want long term and long haul," Osborne said.

Well, that's all well and good. Since David Hahn, however, has come forward with criticisms both farther reaching, more fully developed, and directly questioning Heineman's political manipulation of this issue, it is impossible to justify that his own views have not received similar coverage in the pages of the World-Herald.

Here, of course, is what Hahn has actually said:
“It is obvious to me that LB1024 is unconstitutional, and that it obstructs rather than encourages useful discussion of the questions that confront Omaha and the entire state.

“Governor Heineman should have vetoed the bill. His signing of it is an example of pandering for votes, rather than offering leadership on an important, emotionally charged issue,...I would have opposed the bill while it was under consideration by the Legislature. Had it come to my desk, it would have been vetoed.”

“If LB1024 is not repealed, or wholly rewritten, it will lead to protracted litigation. This is a law that reflects poorly on Nebraskans and the state’s commitment to equal education...It will damage efforts to bring to Nebraska the sort of business enterprises that we need.”

“Following the primary election, I will offer a plan for improving the educational system in the Omaha metropolitan area. That is a promise.

“Senator Chambers and other supporters of the bill voiced honest and legitimate criticism of OPS policy, and the resulting unfairness that has resulted for poor and minority students.

“It is not, however, appropriate to enact an unconstitutional law to overcome a school board which Governor Heineman has accused of acting in bad faith.

“I understand the hope expressed by some, that LB1024 will only be a tool to force a compromise between OPS and suburban school districts. [But] education policy should not be approached under a banner of ‘let the end justify the means.’

I don't necessarily agree with Hahn's complete assessment, but I am impressed by a candidate willing to come out and speak so passionately while making a very legitimate argument for why this was the wrong course of action. Oddly enough, the Lincoln Journal-Star seems to agree, already twice reporting on Hahn's substantive and highly reasonable critique.

Yet, the hometown newspaper of the city actually affected, the place where voters are most hungry for a balanced perspective and some true leadership, has decided to black-out and disregard what the Democratic nominee for governor has brought to the table. That's unfortunate for the people of Omaha and indicative that the World-Herald's true interests do not lie in reporting the debate in a fair and complete manner but, rather, in controlling it.

Hopefully, they will prove me wrong in the coming days because, no matter the odds of Hahn's being this state's next governor, he has distinguished himself on this incredibly important issue, speaking out as no other candidate has or is capable. For that, he should be commended, not given a cold shoulder that needlessly keeps Nebraska voters in the dark.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Pete Ricketts' Easter Present to Himself

by Kyle Michaelis
Pete Ricketts continues to inch closer to the magical $20 per voter mark before the May 9th Republican primary - adding another 500 thousand dollars of the Ricketts family fortune to his Senate campaign. That brings Ricketts' running total to approximately $3.5 million ($2.5 million + 500 K + this latest drop in the bucket).

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
Pete Ricketts poured another $500,000 of his own money into his Senate campaign this week....

And David Kramer said Friday he’s outraised Ricketts and Don Stenberg this year in their struggle for the Republican nomination for Nelson’s Senate seat.

Ricketts entered the final stage of the GOP primary battle with the most resources on hand. By far.

As of March 31, the end of the latest three-month campaign finance reporting period, Ricketts had $729,000 on hand, according to documents filed with the Federal Election Commission.

That does not include the $500,000 of personal funds he plowed into his campaign on Wednesday. That loan brought his personal commitment to nearly $3.5 million.

Ricketts, who stepped aside as chief operating officer of Ameritrade to enter the Senate race, long ago smashed Nebraska records for personal financing by a candidate.

Kramer, former Republican state chairman, entered April with $163,000 in the bank. Stenberg, the former three-term attorney general, had $34,000....

All told, from the beginning of the campaign, Ricketts has raised $577,000, the most of any of the Republican candidates. Add nearly $3.5 million in personal funding and he’s on course to spend more than $4 million before the May 9 primary vote.

Ricketts launched an expensive statewide TV advertising campaign months ago. Husbanding their resources, Kramer and Stenberg won’t be on television until the final week or two of the campaign.

The fact that Ricketts continues to pour his own money into his campaign this late in the game is hardly a show of strength. That Kramer has managed to actually take a lead in month-to-month fundraising demonstrates that Ricketts, despite his constant bombardment of voters with paid advertising, isn't clicking the way he should after all those millions spent. He's not clearing the field. Ricketts may, in fact, be losing traction, when he was already on questionable footing in the first place.

An estimated 200,000 votes for which Ricketts is spending $4 million-plus. Wow! I'd say he's going for broke, except Ricketts may well have found this latest $500,000 under the cushions of his billionaire daddy's couch.

Of course, it's important to note that Sen. Ben Nelson is holding his own in the fund-raising department, having raised $4.7 million of which he had 3.2 million on hand at the beginning of April. That positions Nelson well no matter who comes out of the Republican primary, meaning even Ricketts' fortune won't be able to drown out his campaign.

The fact that Nelson's money is actually coming from Nebraska voters investing in his campaign certainly speaks in his favor as well. Ricketts may be able to match, double, or triple Nelson dollar for dollar but it won't be anything but the candidate's wealth and pride on display. Real Nebraskans, on the other hand, are making a real investment in the Nelson campaign because they know and trust the man.

The one thing Ricketts can't buy is the people's trust. You have to earn it. And, from this report, it's clear that Ben Nelson is the only candidate who has done so. In fact, he's the only one to have even come close.

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Friday, April 14, 2006

OPS Aftermath: Ernie Chambers on CNN

by Kyle Michaelis
The division of Omaha Public Schools into 3 separate and racially-distinguishable school districts has caught the eye of the national media, turning what has - up to this point - been a very local issue into a commentary on race and education in the United States. The issue has been a headline at the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report all day, with a feature story supposedly on its way in the Sunday New York Times.

Most spectacularly, CNNs Lou Dobbs Tonight ran two segments on the Omaha school districts battle, including a very thoughtful and impassioned interview with Sen. Ernie Chambers, the instigator and architect of those aspects of this controversial proposal that have garnered so much attention.

Although Chambers has gone out of his way to dispute that the OPS break-up is about race and segregation, the true heart of his argument tells a different story that is both compelling and persuasive. Chambers was both articulate and impressive in his interview with Dobbs, earning praise despite his brash explanations that this division is necessary because:
"Every proposal made by the white people has failed," and this action will "give us [minorities] the rights that white people have always had."

Chambers also made a very human statement about the discrimination he faced in OPS as a child, speaking of how it has scarred him and made him the man he is today (for better and worse, undoubtedly). As for claims that this is an act of state-sponsored segregation, Chambers forcefully noted that OPS already is segregated "and it always has been."

For anyone interested, Lou Dobbs Tonight reairs at 3 am CST on Saturday morning. The Chambers interview begins about half-way through the hour-long program.

That this debate has erupted and taken on the dimensions that it has may ultimately prove very healthy and productive, but - in the meantime - it runs the risk of portraying the city of Omaha and the people of Nebraska as the George Wallace-style segregationists of the 21st Century. With the national media failing to report the full story, the school boundary and funding issues establishing its context are largely being obscured by race-baiting headlines.

Though - as I have repeated over and over again - I disagree with how the legislature came to pass this sweeping legislation, it's important that Nebraska unite and demonstrate to the rest of the nation that this is just one step in addressing the economic disparity that plagues our inner-city schools.

It is a drastic measure to address a severe problem. Cities and states should not be scared away by the spotlight from taking such risks. I just hope the debate continues and the long-term interests of Omaha's students always remain front and center.

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Unicam 2006: Closing Thoughts #1

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald provides a nice rundown of the major accomplishments of the 2006 Nebraska legislative session. Meanwhile, in the Lincoln Journal-Star, three local lobbyists gush over how much was accomplished:
Lobbyist Rich Lombardi: “Public education, tax cuts, Medicaid reform, guns, sex offenders, water, taxes....And buildings – they took care of buildings for the university and state colleges.”

Lobbyist Larry Ruth: “They didn’t waiver. They wrestled with almost all the major issues....It’s one of the more extraordinary sessions.”

Lobbyist Walt Radcliffe: “This was a mature Legislature that wasn’t afraid to deal with things....It was the antithesis of inaction.”

Whenever paid lobbyists are that optimistic about the work of the legislature, you have to be a little suspicious. I'm certainly no budget hawk, but lobbyists tend to be happiest when their clients have seen a big payday. For true fiscal conservatives, I suspect there's nothing more distressing than a bunch of lobbyists singing the praises of a legislative body.

Still, for a 60-day session, there's no doubt that much was accomplished. I think that had A LOT to do with term limits forcing some of this state's most experienced senators to use this last opportunity to show the people of Nebraska how it's done.

Of course, there's nothing that guarantees more action will result in better action. The following are my impressions on many of the major bills to have become law:

OPS "reforms"
Considering that these were meant to keep Omaha Public Schools and the suburban school districts out of court, it's ironic that LB 1024 is almost certain to force even more lawsuits. Only now, this battle is going to be about one thing: race. And, Omaha may well suffer for it.

Ultimately, though, I'm more bothered by how this bill became law than by its actual provisions. I do not believe the legislature considered the consequences of its action. I do not believe citizens had opportunity enough to comment and be heard - particularly on the forced division of OPS into three separate (racially-distinguishable) school districts. I do not believe that the many rural senators who voted for this bill were doing so with the interests of Omaha area school children in mind. This was GOT'CHA politics, pure and simple - a chance to stick it to OPS in the name of small schools everywhere.

Still, it's a bold action, and that alone should not provoke fear. The idea of a learning community with a shared tax base will likely prove a radical improvement over the status quo. And, we shouldn't fear a true discussion of race and economics. Nor should we fear school boards more representative of the communities they actually serve. Again, I don't like how it came about. I don't like the hidden motives. But, only time will tell whether this overreaching plan might work to the benefit of Omaha students.

Tax cuts
A hodgepodge of tax cuts that will buy most families a large pizza at Pizza Hut three or four times a long as they don't own property because rising property taxes are likely to eat up all that pizza and more. But, Gov. Dave Heineman demanded something he could use in his campaign commercials, and he got what he wanted.

Conceal & Carry Permits
Foolish more as a matter of misplaced priorities than as actual policy. When the bill's sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Combs, started to cry tears of joy on behalf of paranoid gun-enthusiasts everywhere, it was one of the more pathetic moments in recent political history. I'm all for uncontrolled displays of emotion but generally prefer they not be accompanied by a loaded weapon. Alas, tears of grief and rage are far more common than Combs' tears of childish delight.

Sexual predators
A vast improvement over the Iowa laws that forced Nebraska to deal with this always controversial and panic-inducing issue. The fact that Nebraska was able to break free from the easy reliance on residency restrictions was the clearest display of common sense and political cooperation this session.

Combating prostitution
I'm not defending prostitution, but making hiring a prostitute a felony (on the second offense) is just plain ridiculous. Prostitution is not a good thing, but it does not rise up to the level of social ill that the sad and pathetic individuals on either end of the "transaction" should be considered felons. Shameful and stupid - most shameful of all was that Heineman signed the felony provision into law but vetoed the spending ($1.5 million) to actually help prostitutes get off drugs and off the streets. What a moron.

Fetal assault
Keep an eye on this one. Sen. Mike Foley's methods of lies and deceit to further his anti-abortion agenda were laid bare this session in his near-successful attempt to manipulate funding of women's health clinics. Though many Senators voted for this bill for the right reasons, Foley's dirty hands are all over it. Making fetal assault a crime sounds like a great idea but there can be no doubt that this bill is a hidden assault on a woman's rights over her own body and her own medical decisions.

.........that's all for now. Comment away. There will be more to come, especially on those actions the 2006 legislature failed to take.

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