Tuesday, April 18, 2006

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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