Friday, June 30, 2006

Senate Race Gets Stupid in a Hurry

by Kyle Michaelis
There are still more than four months until election day, and all signs are pointing to this year's race for the U.S. Senate being one of the most obnoxious in the country, not to mention perhaps the stupidest and most expensive in Nebraska history. Thanks for that - so far - belong over-whelmingly to Pete Ricketts.

It was bad enough that Ricketts kicked off his general election campaign by trying to scare voters into worrying that Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton are coming to eat their children, but it didn't take much time at all for that strategy to degrade into an all-out assault on Sen. Ben Nelson's character, accusing him of negative attacks and politics as usual in a perfectly choreographed act of pure hypocrisy.

Now, it was a rare moment of political beauty when Nelson's "Putting Nebraska First": No Matter What campaign ad was released directly on the heels of Ricketts' original cynical and sickening alternative. One could not have asked for the stakes to have been laid out more clearly or the campaigns to have been better defined. I hope you enjoyed that moment - treasured it - because it's rare that people truly see the political picture painted in such bold and contrasting colors.

When Nelson subsequently released an ad responding directly to Ricketts, calling him out for his fear-mongering tactics and quoting the Omaha World-Herald's declaring that he "insult[s] the intelligence of Nebraska voters," it struck me as sad that Nelson's campaign did not have more faith in the people to see through Ricketts' pathetic rhetoric for themselves. Still, when you are facing a candidate with infinite resources who can afford to bombard people with endless negativity, I understand how important it is to fight back, head-on, rather than letting the spin overtake the facts in the public's imagination.

So, Nelson fired back - using attributed sources to say what the people of Nebraska are quckly learning about Ricketts, while letting none other than President George W. Bush say what the people of Nebraska already know about Ben Nelson.

To illustrate, Ricketts was basically spraying bullets all over the place, trying to create a deathly cloud of partisan rancor that would poke just enough holes in Nelson's popularity to give him a fighting chance. Like a sniper, Nelson fired back with a single shot aimed directly at the empty heart of the Ricketts campaign. To that, seeing the opportunity to escalate, Ricketts pulled out the attack ad cannon, turning this contest into a full-blown battle of blow-hard BS.

There is no excusing the dishonesty underlying Ricketts' latest ad. Ricketts makes a flurry of charges against Nelson using fabricated headlines and, so far as I can tell, imaginary quotes by "the press" that, if anything, can only be attributed to Republican operatives and politicians bearing a grudge against Nelson for the continued goodwill he holds in Nebraska politics.

My God, if Ricketts was insulting our intelligence previously, he's trying to perform a lobotomy this time around.

Let's face it - the second Ricketts made this race about liberal boogeymen hiding in closets and under beds, he lost any claim whatsoever to the moral high ground, breaking the seal on "going negative" right then and there. Nelson's campaign, though, was the first to reference the opposition by name - some would say that is crossing another threshold that made Ricketts' current attack inevitable.

Whether or not Nelson opened the door a crack further, it's sad to see - again - the total disdain Ricketts must have for Nebraska voters who clearly deserve better of their politicians, no matter who their daddy is or how much money they can afford to throw away on a say anything, all guns a-blazing campaign of unprincipled desperation.

No doubt about it, Ricketts campaign has so far exhibited little but desperation, and you can't really blame them for that. Nelson remains one of the most popular U.S. Senators in the country - substantially more popular than Sen. Chuck Hagel even with Nebraska Republicans and Independents.

And, don't think it doesn't say a lot that both President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney have given major speeches in Nebraska in the last month without a single public mention of Ricketts. Cheney was even here campaigning on behalf of Republican Third District Congressional candidate Adrian Smith - to a room full of Republican donors, no less - and still there was no mention of this up-ballot race. That clearly stands as a testament to it taking more than a mountain of money to beat a man with Nelson's trusted experience and proven record, even in the eyes of the most partisan Republican White House in history.

But don't expect anyone to tell Pete Ricketts that. The media and his army of advisors stand to make small fortunes of their own off Ricketts' desperation. And the only ones who will really pay any price are the voters of Nebraska, who stand to see their democracy degrade into something hardly even recognizeable as such in the coming months.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

All that matters....

by Kyle Michaelis
For the second time this month, Nebraska lost two of its own on the same day to the chaos and bloodshed of Iraq. That's four young men whose lives have been sacrificed in the name of freedom. Marine Lance Cpl. Brent Zoucha of Clarks and Army Reserves Spc. Benjamin Slaven of Plymouth were killed in separate roadside bombings on June 9th. Both men were younger than myself by a number of years.

This Tuesday, Army Sergeant 1st Class Terry Wallace of Bellevue and Army Spc. Jeremy Jones of Omaha were killed by roadside bombings as well. Between Wallace and Jones, seven Nebraska children are now without their fathers.

I won't comment further. Let your own heart decide what these families' grief and, yes, pride mean to you. But, please, keep these young men, their families, and especially those seven children in your thoughts and prayers.

The moment politics starts to overshadow real people with real lives who face real concerns and - all too often - real tragedies, we have lost our way. I am sorry that it takes so much loss - and a moment of pure sorrow for the plight of those seven children - to force a much-needed reminder of that fact.

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David Hahn: In His Own Words

by Kyle Michaelis
An Exclusive Club: Hahn Shakes Hands With Sen. Barack Obama, the only other subject of his very own NNN Interview
Nebraska's 2006 Democratic candidate for Governor, David Hahn, graciously gave the New Nebraska Network an hour of his time on Wednesday, June 14th. This humble blogger apologizes for the delay in presenting the following material, all of which should still be timely and relevant in this important election year.

Less an interview than an opportunity for Hahn to expand on many of the themes on which he's campaigned, I nevertheless hope you find this four-part glimpse into Hahn's mind at this critical juncture in Nebraska history at least somewhat as intriguing and entertaining as I did in its recording.


Part 1: An Affable Fella'

Part 2: 'Fear and Trembling' on the Campaign Trail
Part 3: "Give'em Hell" Hahn?
Part 4: Reality Bites

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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Part 1: An Affable Fella'

by Kyle Michaelis

Starting off with something light and fluffy, what have you learned about yourself on the campaign trail? Has this experience been harder than you expected, more fun, maybe more expensive?

Most of all the above….I feel real comfortable. I’ve found that I’m using a few new muscles in a sense. Not necessarily physical muscles but intellectual muscles. Adapting to the political way of life is something, especially since the last 10 years I’ve been working in a technical field, which is a lot more black and white, There’s a lot more shades…in politics. Let me tell you.

The other thing I’ve learned is to take time to listen to myself and listen to what my instincts are telling me because in this game there are so many advisers - paid and free - who will offer all kinds of advice, and they just come from so many perspectives.

One of the most difficult challenges I’ve had is listening to my own voice while receiving all this new information…. The idea is that since I’m a neophyte I might not know much, and I should listen to the professionals. But, what I’m learning is there’s a lot I knew about this. This is about speaking clearly and having clear ideas.

The most important thing is just kind of knowing the people of Nebraska? Is that kind of what it comes down to?

I think so. And, I feel comfortable doing that. You know before this, it’s not like I’ve been sitting in Lincoln the last 30 years. I have a real good sense of all Nebraska – having worked in, traveled in, and practiced law in all parts of the state. I’m feeling comfortable… With my knowledge of NebraskaNebraska issues…Nebraska sensibilities…principles and history - all of that seems to be fitting pretty well with what I’m finding as I go out there and talk to people.

With limited polling data available, your opponent, Governor. Heineman, appears to have an approval rating of approximately 70%. When you travel the state, when you talk to voters, have you gotten much of a sense of what that 70% approves of?

I think they approve of him being an affable fella’. In other words, he appears to be a nice guy. He smiles a lot…he’s nice and he’s sincere about the things that he engages in, so they give him high approval on that. And I think in the Republican primary you had two opponents who were both good Nebraskans in the sense of their approach and their likeability factor.

Now, when I start hitting on issues like taxes and leadership, or health care…my own experience is that approval rating falls off pretty quickly….

I’ve met him a few times – he seems likeable. And, I imagine as we get into this I won’t change my mind about that unless he starts hitting below the belt. But, that’s not what this is about. This isn’t junior high. This is about very serious issues facing Nebraska. My experience is that Nebraskans know that. They have an innate sense – a discomfort, maybe, is the best word – about the way things are going. And, they respond to somebody who sets forth positions clearly.

In the last few weeks…that’s what I’m hearing back. People like my style – that I’m forthright and don’t need to sit around and wait for task forces and study groups to find out which way the weather vane is blowing.

Now, you mentioned that there is a level of discomfort you feel on the part of Nebraska voters, and I think that's probably understandable. Last year, as you know, Nebraska ranked right alongside Michigan as the worst performing state in the nation in terms of economic growth. This year, in Michigan, those sorts of numbers have resulted in Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic Governor, facing a very, very tough fight for reelection. Yet, here it hasn’t really registered with the people of Nebraska. Why is that?

Well, I just don’t think there’s been a challenge. That’s why. The Republican primary – they ran their primary, they ran their races but, in my view, nobody put the sitting Governor, Governor Heineman, to the test… And, I’ll be speaking very, very clearly on that.

A lot of it comes down to economic growth. We can talk about a lot of different things but unless we keep growing we’ll just be rearranging the furniture, so to speak –

Deck chairs on the Titanic?

Well, it could be. Look, the new numbers just came out. Nebraska, in the preliminary numbers for 2005, we’re near the bottom again. We’re lower than every state that touches around us….I think we’re 40th maybe, but…there’s a very tight grouping at the bottom. We’re in that again.

So, two years running, we’re bumping up to the bottom…so, I think that will register. It’s registering to the people I’m talking to, and as we get into our media campaign and more of that I think it will register with Nebraskans.

They know it. What I’m finding is that people have a deep sense – it’s in their bones – maybe they can’t put their finger on it, but as I start to explain why we’re there I get a lot of people shaking their heads. And they understand.

So, I think the challenge for us is to keep the message clear. The challenge for me is to keep the message clear. And, I anticipate that the other side will try to muddle that message and just keep talking the happy talk. “It’s the good life – Nebraska – let’s just keep it going that way.”

Well, quite frankly, that will be the decision when we get to November. Do we just want more of the same, or do we want to change course?

That kind of leads into my next question. In 2002, then Gov. Johanns was able to basically cruise to victory by largely not even acknowledging that he had an opponent, that there was an election…What’s your plan to make sure Heineman isn’t able to win on the same strategy?

Well…it’s hard for me to comment on the 2002 election. I’ve talked to Stormy [Dean, 2002 Democratic nominee] a little bit about that…. We’ve already been very aggressive. We’re getting a lot of good press. And, we’re drawing the distinctions early.

This isn’t about shades of meaning, and I think perhaps the 2002 election was like that. This is about very easily identifiable differences of where Nebraska will go.

Now, one of the things I’ve talked about is that’s why we call it a ticket – like you have a ticket. That’s a good metaphor for what this is about. Heineman may go out and campaign – smile… go around and, you know, he’s a good fellow… I could do the same thing. But the issue is what ticket are you buying?

Because, if you think about [it], if you buy a ticket to Philadelphia, what that means by definition is you’re not going to end up in Chicago. Okay? So, you may fly over, look down on the flight … and it will look somewhat the same: the green trees, the valleys, maybe some rivers or whatnot. But, at the end of it, if you buy a ticket to Philadelphia, you’re going to be in Philadelphia. You’re not going to be in Chicago.

Now, I say that because I think that’s a perfect metaphor for where we’re going. If you buy the Heineman ticket, you’ll end up with more of the same, which is, in my view, growing corporate control of the Nebraska economy, continuing migration of young people from the state, continuing fighting over meaningless tax “relief” – note how I say that – and a more divisive Nebraska.

Whether it’s education, whether it’s the poor versus the rich, whether it’s those who can fend for themselves versus those who can’t - for example, foster care - then, you’ll have more of that. He’s already been sued for a couple of things. He’s invited suit on another issue, which is the South Dakota-type abortion ban. He’s basically said “Yeah, I’ll sign the law”…kind of a Bush-“bring it on” approach. So, that’s where you’ll end up.

If Nebraskans understand what ticket they’re buying and what place they’re going to land at, then distinguish that with where they’re going to land if they buy my ticket: which is more focused on small and medium-sized businesses rather than large corporations, a commitment to energy independence and net energy export status by the year 2020, a commitment to property tax reform because I strongly feel we’re running 21st century government on a 19th century tax structure, and a realization that we must make it easier for young people to stay in this state.

So, the focuses are entirely different. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a nice guy when you get to Philadelphia, but you won’t be in Chicago. And, that’s what people need to understand….

That message is resonating. And, man, I’m telling you, everywhere we go we’re getting a great response - not just from Democrats. I’ve had the experience multiple times now with Republicans coming to hear me speak and telling me afterwards they’re going to vote for me. And, they don’t feel so much that they’re leaving the party. They feel their party’s left them….It doesn’t represent them. And that’s mostly working Nebraskans, working families…

So, that’s the difference. And, I won’t be shy about it….

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Part 2: 'Fear and Trembling' on the Campaign Trail

by Kyle Michaelis

In the primary – actually before the primary – I heard you talk about being the most conservative candidate in the race in many regards…What are your conservative credentials?

Well, it’s pretty straight-forward… I don’t want to say academic, but it’s a credentialed conservatism. In other words, it’s not this neo-conservative ready Republicanism that’s going on in Washington. It’s conservative in terms of more traditional community values.

I think conservatives by nature…at least, historically, have always been concerned about community values…. Whether that’s church, families, schools, local businesses – that’s been a stalwart of conservatism. Change - I don’t like change for change’s sake. And, I think that’s a fairly conservative principle….

We are changing very rapidly. With the transformation from a family, working-day small business-based kind of Nebraska to a more corporate organized [structure], conservatives would cast a long glance at that….

Let’s look at agriculture…I’m very committed to family farms and ranchers, and I don’t think the Republican Party is. I think there’s a lot of lip service. Governor Heineman is going to milk a cow because this month is Dairy Month, and it’s so hypocritical because under the Johanns/Heineman Administration we’ve lost nearly 1,100 family dairies in the state of Nebraska. We’re down to less than 400. When Johanns got in, we had about fourteen or fifteen hundred – I’ve got the exact numbers – and now we’re down to 378 or something the last time I looked.

That’s not conservative. All right?

The other thing about conservatives is that they tend to regard government – at least, their initial impulse is- that government is neither evil nor good, but you need to look at the size of government and its shadow cast over the individuals’ life. So, for me, when you talk about issues, for example, like abortion, it’s a conservative issue to say I don’t think the United States government should be involved in making that most personal decision for a woman.

Yes, it’s a moral decision, but that’s not the point. The point is, as a conservative, how far do you want the United States government involved in those moral decisions. We all have to make a lot of moral decisions – whether to get married or not, once you’re married, whether to stay married or not – those are all moral decisions and I don’t think that every step along the way we want government involved.

So, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about being a conservative. And, conservatives also have a tendency to value heritage and ancestry a lot, and I do. If you’ve heard me speak you know that I look back a lot to what principles were guiding my great-great grandfather…my grandmother and so forth. That’s not a flippant statement.

We’re so topsy-turvy. Especially at the federal level, we have quote-unquote “Republicans” in charge who are not conserving anything. So, where does that get you?

For those voters for whom their conservatism has become so tied-in with these hot button issues like abortion, can you break that kind of single-issue hold on voters?

I think I’ve been successful when I’ve had the time to speak with people. You know, it’s very interesting, the very first time the World-Herald interviewed me the first question – even before they asked how to spell my name right – the very first question was “are you pro-choice or pro-life”.

That indicates to me there are certain media in this country that are more interested in portraying candidates in these fighting modes than they are serious dialogue. And, that’s unfortunate. So, my approach with these social issues has not been to…narrow the debate and try to get away from it as soon as possible. I take them head-on, and I explain to people where I’m coming from in terms of my own belief and faith….

And, I’ve got to tell you that many times, more often than not people come around and see that I’m more a moderate on that than the ideological extremism…of where Gov. Heineman has positioned himself. I mean, think about what he said. I love philosophy but, as much as possible, I hate abstraction. I like to boil things down to real life. So, abortion, that issue tends to become more abstract than almost anything we talk about – which is not a conservative principle. Conservatives like to think about things in real terms – as do Nebraskans, by the way. We’re very practical people….

Instead of talking about the will of God…what you really have to do is boil it down. And, as I’ve said before, as Governor, you have to say, “all right, would I be able to tell a woman that she and her doctor are going to jail if she has an abortion.” That’s the question, the real-life decisions. It’s not… roll your eyes back in your head, glaze over, and repeat the mantra of any particular religious group. My view is God wants us to decide with fear and trembling so many issues. And, he or she wants us to make those decisions.

In my view, a woman should make that decision with fear and trembling with her God – not by being imposed on.

I also have tremendous concern in today’s life with the trampling, the diminishing of the line between church and state. Not only is it not good for the state; it ain’t very good for the church either. And, I’m very committed to the role of the church in society….

I was reading a book the other day by Huston Smith, “The Soul of Christianity” – and he talks about what did Jesus mean when he said, “My Kingdom is not of this world.” You either believe that or you don’t. So, if you’re a Christian and you’re involved in politics, you have to make a clear distinction about what civil society is and what it is not…. It’s not going to bring about the Kingdom of God. It disturbs me that in today’s world we don’t see that because so much of our political history, in the founding of this country… thinking Christians understood that.

We’re crossing a line. Unfortunately, I think peoples’ religion is being used for unsavory political ends….

You have quite a background in theology. Does that really inform who you are as a person?

Yes, it does. It really does. I was having dinner the other night with some friends and…we got into that discussion. And I said I understand a lot of the evangelical fervor because I’ve been through that in my life. I went to a small evangelical Christian college…. I was President of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. I was in a group called Young Light. I’ve been to Billy Graham’s Evangelical meetings. That was all a part of my being and I don’t disavow it at all. It’s not a negative, certainly. In fact, it gives me…insight….

I feel very comfortable, for example, going to churches and talking to people. The tragedy is that certain powers, certain political powers, have realized they can manipulate church participation for very cynical, political ends. That disturbs me greatly…..

Let’s look at another issue – the ban on gay marriage. The reason I would have voted against it? Because it’s the ultimate in hypocrisy…..There is no question this has been used as a wedge issue. There’s no evidence whatsoever that people who are homosexual and want to have a relationship or marry has an impact on heterosexual relationships. There’s no evidence of it….

Does that mean I would try to change Nebraska’s constitution? No. Nebraska’s Constitution has been passed – it’s a state’s right issue. But, on the other hand, those who are so concerned about preserving the family ought not be hypocrites if they want to carry that through, and they ought to tack onto that amendment a ban on divorce.

Right? Because the Bible teaches against that. It says “whatever God puts together, no man shall tear asunder”…..It’s very clear that God and Christ teach against divorce, but I don’t see any Senator standing up and saying “We want to preserve the family. What’s the biggest threat against the family?......It’s not gay marriage; it’s divorce.”

We have a divorce rate in this country of over 50%, so if we want to fix it let’s ban divorce. But, of course, they won’t do that…. They’re not going to do that. It’s obvious to me that unless someone has the moral courage to stand up and say that, then I won’t even listen to them. And guys like Rush Limbaugh – I think between he and his wife… they have 4 or 5 divorces between them. Does that mean he’s a bad person? No. It means he’s a hypocrite when he calls for a ban on gay marriage. And, as Democrats, I think it’s time we all stood up and start saying that. So, here I am saying it – Rush Limbaugh is a hypocrite when he calls for a ban on gay marriage.

Not that I’m promoting it. I don’t want it twisted that this is my keystone issue because it’s not, but as a Christian I am offended by the amount of hypocrisy towards gay marriage. That’s probably the core of why I get so upset about it.

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Part 3: "Give'em Hell" Hahn?

by Kyle Michaelis

On another one of those basic principles of who you are and how you’re running your campaign, I’ve liked your promise throughout the campaign of proper use of the English language, but I’m not sure everyone who hears that is going to understand exactly what you mean. Would you care to explain a little bit?

Yeah. Euphemism is another thing I dislike. In other words, you look that up in the dictionary…it means….double-speak, and it’s all around us. It’s things like the PATRIOT ACT being used to limit our civil rights…. All anyone has to do is understand what euphemism is, look it up in the dictionary… and see how much of it is around us.

For instance, let’s look at this at the state level. Gov. Heineman runs around the state says [he’s provided] great tax “relief”… Let’s look at the phrase “tax relief.” Relief is a verb that implies you have some sort of infection or there’s oppression. And that’s the furthest thing from the truth.

We live in a democracy and we are taxed by our representatives, whom we can change. So, the notion that we need to be relieved of our taxes is a euphemism right out of the gate. It’s double-speak. We don’t need a governor to relieve us from taxes….no one is being assaulted. This isn’t Russia – some royal society where the king taxes his underlings. That’s not the case. We’re a democracy, and Nebraska’s a pretty direct democracy because we don’t even have two houses. If we don’t like it, we should change it.

That’s what I don’t like. Yesterday, we were in this debate with Mike Groene or whoever the fellow is from North Platte of this Americans for Limited Government. And, I had said the people of Colorado had suspended the provisions of the law. And, he came back and said, “no, the voters gave the state permission to keep a portion of the money that otherwise would be required to be distributed to the people.” That’s what I mean – that’s double-speak of the highest order.

The people gave the state the permission not to follow the law. That sounds like the people suspended the law to me….

Here’s the other thing. There’s no doubt that proper use of the English language also exhibits clear thinking, and I’m all in favor of clear and concise thinking…..That’s why we have logic, why we have notions of argumentation and debate. You listen to so many arguments and they violate the most basic rules of logical thinking. I think that’s why we’re in so much trouble.

It’s like saying: all cats are white. All dogs are white. Therefore, all dogs are cats. Right? We hear that all the time, that kind of argument all the time…..That’s the kind of stuff that gets covered up by this weird talk. It’s why one of my great heroes – I don’t agree with all his decisions – but one of my political models is Harry Truman because he was regarded as plain-spoken Harry. People like that. And that’s why I’ve used the phrase people would say of Harry, they called him “Give’em Hell” Harry and he’d say, “I don’t give them hell, I just tell the truth and people think it’s hell.”

I intend to follow that advice. I don’t have any reason to try and mush things together. I see things as I see them. I understand clearly. And, if I change my mind, I’ll let people know.

More than just how things are said, it also seems like there is a huge gap in things that go unsaid. When President Bush was in Omaha last week, Gov. Heineman went out of his way not to take a stance on the immigration issue. What does that say about Heineman’s style of leadership?

To me that says he doesn’t have a style of leadership. He has a style that’s designed to retain him as governor. My view after listening him speak – “this is the best job,” “he loves being governor,” “he grew up wanting to be governor.” I think people should listen to him and take him at his word. This is all about him being Governor.

I didn’t grow up wanting to be Governor of the state of Nebraska. It’s not self-aggrandizement for me. I want to be a governor who leads and sets forth projects we need to work on. I think… in a largely Republican state, his approach will be to just run out the clock…..He doesn’t want to engage on the issues. I think that’s unfortunate for Nebraska – unfortunate for the voters of Nebraska. I don’t intend to let him do that by any stretch of the imagination.

Changing gears but along the same lines, if you, as Governor, had the opportunity to speak to Mr. Bush up close and personal like that, what concerns would you have focused on? What would you have wanted to talk with him about?

Well, let’s go to immigration. He was here to talk about immigration. That’s what makes the Governor’s statement so silly….He wasn’t here for a wedding. If he were here for a wedding, I could have seen somebody saying “you’re here for your niece’s wedding, don’t want to talk about politics.” He was here to talk about immigration.

I think had I been governor, I would have said to him – look, the people of the state Nebraska pretty much reject your proposal and the proposal of Senator Hagel. The people of the state of Nebraska are not against solving this problem, but their view is they want to solve the continuing flow of immigrants first. Then, tackle the other issues. And, I frankly think that is correct.

We have to deal with that issue before anything. Because there won’t be a solution. We’ve already learned that. We tried simple reform in 1986, allowed 3 million to become citizens. Now, we have another 12 million to deal with. In my view, that’s not good for anybody. That’s not good for America. That’s not good for the immigrants.

The difficultly that Democrats have is we’re always for the underdog and, certainly, these poor people coming across the border are the underdog. So, our natural Democratic sensibility is let’s provide aid, comfort, and support for these people. But, like raising children, giving them everything – just always being the fix-it person isn’t the best medicine….

I would have also said to President Bush that they need to be realistic about what’s happening. We have way too many employers in this state who are winking and nodding at the law. It’s not one-sided. It’s not all focused on immigrants. It needs to be focused on the business people who are breaking the law, winking and nodding….that’s pretty hugely critical. And, as governor, I would want help for the state picking up a portion of that.

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Part 4: Reality Bites

by Kyle Michaelis

Did you support last year’s expansion of the state’s tax incentives for businesses – the Nebraska Advantage legislation?

I did not. I didn’t really weigh-in on that one way or another. I did talk to my Senator about that and a couple of other Senators. I don’t know if it was “an expansion.” That was the progeny of LB775, and overall I’m not in favor of these kind of continuing business incentives that continue to be aimed primarily at large businesses.

Now, here’s what’s interesting, and it’s a good distinction – Gov. Heineman has and will be flying around the state saying “Nebraska Advantage Act works. Look at all these applications we have in.” Let’s think about that. I’m a business person, and I know that when you launch any new enterprise…it’s a process. If it were the Nebraska Advantage Act that had generated these applications, we wouldn’t be seeing these sorts of applications coming in for another business cycle or two….

Here’s another thing. I don’t have the final reports done… but it appears to me that Nebraska - over the course of the last 20 years - is significantly in the hole with regards to these business tax incentives. What I mean by that is the net benefit of what we got versus what we gave. I think it reaches upwards of beyond a billion dollars, and – when I get those final numbers – we’ll be talking about those pretty significantly.

And, here’s the final thing – Nebraska, and all the states in my view, we are in an Economic Civil War right now…You can go on Google and look at it. There are companies that all they do is….site location where they’ll get the best deal, the state that will give them the most money.

Nebraska is at a significant disadvantage in that race because we are not North Carolina – we don’t have the population base. We’re not Florida – we don’t have the tourism dollars. We’re not Texas or Oklahoma with natural gas excise tax. We’re not Wyoming with mountains and mountains of coal. We’re not even South Dakota, which has significant federal dollars coming in with tourism to places like the Black Hills and Mt. Rushmore. We don’t have any of that….

We have to face facts. With that kind of setting, we’re not going to attract a Micron factory or a BMW plant – we’re not going to do that, so we have to look at what we can do.

The first thing we need to do is chart a new course in terms of tax incentives. That’s why I’ve been talking about “Earn, Learn, and Return.” I want to use these same kinds of incentives for small and medium-sized businesses, then [include] credits in the form of education credits so we get to double-up. One, we help businesses hire and retain new employees because their employees or children of employees can get education credits to help off-set the costs of sending their kids to school. Two, we get kids to go to school in the state, to state institutions. And, three – with the return part of it – we induce people to stay here….

That’s investing in people, and that’s what Nebraska needs to do.

The other thing that is quite significant is… appears that of all the jobs that have been created under these tax incentives over the last 20 years or so, the average wage is less than…9 dollars. Those aren’t family friendly wages. Those aren’t even student-friendly wages because of the cost of education.

So, all I talk about is reality. As Frank Zappa said, “reality is what it is”…..and “what it is” is just that – we didn’t get a good return, and any rancher or farmer knows that. And, we’ll be talking about that….I’m not going to let Gov. Heineman rush around, smile – he can do that at his barbeques…But, this state is in trouble. We either need to deal with it or not. That’s why I’m in the race…..

In general, you take a very proactive approach – say you’re not going to wait for studies. Yet, on this one issue [Consolidation of rural Class I schools], you have called, I believe, for a 2 year-moratorium -

4 year.

A 4 year moratorium on the consolidations. What is it about that issue in particular that demands we take a closer look at it?

Well, a couple of things. It’s one of those issues where it’s hard to retrace your steps. You run out of bread crumbs basically. Once you close those schools, it has a dramatic impact on the geography surrounding it. I’m all for efficiency, but efficiency isn’t the only value in life. Let’s face it; I think community trumps efficiency in the range of values. Once you start closing community centers like schools, then it’s difficult to reignite development….that’s why I don’t think we should be in a rush to close those schools.

The other thing is we haven’t looked at all the options, the creative options, to keep them open…including technology. Even this learning community idea that’s come out, that’s all physical-based instead of technological…

With almost 50 million Americans without health insurance, the Federal Government obviously does not seem ready or willing to really tackle the issue in any large-scale way. Instead, they seem to be leaving it to the states to perform as independent laboratories to find their own way to resolve it. Yet, in the majority of states…they’re pretty much doing nothing. In Nebraska, we’re pretty much doing nothing – it’s not a problem at all; it doesn’t exist. As Governor, would you allow Nebraska to do nothing on an issue of that much importance?

No, if you want to talk about moral issues, that, to me, is a moral issue….I would probably be more inclined to take the approach of what the Gov. of Arkansas has done, who’s a Republican by the way. I think he’s been very progressive and proactive in health care on a couple of things. Made a commitment that there be no uninsured children in the state. We have, depending on the numbers, 40 to 75 thousand uninsured children in the state of Nebraska. We, at least, ought to be able to make that commitment. If we can’t get there, if we can’t get medical insurance for their parents, we as Nebraskans ought to at least make that commitment. Some other states are doing that. - Arkansas. I think Tennessee is moving in that direction. Illinois is moving in that direction. That would be a good first step.

Secondly, the state needs to be just a good businessperson in the sense of negotiating the cost of pharmaceutical drugs. It is inconceivable to me that the state has never put out competitive bids for provision of pharmaceutical drugs and pricing in the areas where it has to pay for those: Medicaid, Health and Human Services, and so forth we just pay the bill. Maybe the state is the only institution big enough to actually bargain….

I also want to talk about the flip side of health coverage. Right now, it’s really sick coverage is what it is. It covers us for being sick and not taking care of ourselves….We need to be more about health and not just about paying for sickness…..

In the National Journal’s rankings of the gubernatorial contests, Nebraska right now ranks 36th – the safest in the country – what would you say they don’t know about David Hahn that’s going to surprise them in November?.....

I think it’s about Nebraska. They look only at numbers… They don’t look at the history of Nebraska. This is the state that nominated William Jennings Bryan as President four consecutive times. This is the state that catapulted George Norris to a very distinguished career as a progressive. He was a Republican and left the party and brought about things like REA and Tennessee Valley Authority and so forth. This is a state that has seemed to rotate out Republican and Democratic governors. So, there’s a very strong strain of independent thinking and I would imagine some would call it populist notions, and those don’t die out in one or two election cycles because those are things that people pick up from their families and they carry those notions forward. And, I grew up in Nebraska. I know that…..

The other thing is it’s not hard for Nebraskans to vote for a Democratic governor. They’ve done it time and time again. So, it’s not anathema - like “My God, we haven’t had a Democratic governor in 50 years, we don’t want to break the trend.” They break it all the time, and they do it quite willingly.

Now, the other side of it is that they don’t know me.... I didn’t get into this just to have a name on the ticket. I did it because I thought it was winnable – looking at the numbers I looked at, looking at a whole range of things. Secondly, I think we’re going to run a really smart campaign, maybe not the way that traditional campaign folks would do it, but – given my background in targeting and data analysis….they haven’t seen anything yet.

I hope they underestimate me. That would be a strategic advantage.

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Heineman in Hiding: World-Herald Pulls Its Punches

by Kyle Michaelis
From today's Omaha World-Herald:
Gov. Dave Heineman said Tuesday he has not yet decided whether to support or oppose an initiative petition proposal that would restrict state government spending.

More than two weeks after his Democratic opponent, David Hahn, and a coalition of interest groups announced their opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment, Heineman said he is still reviewing its potential ramifications.

During a Tuesday conference call, Heineman set no timetable for completing his review and making a decision. He said other matters are more pressing.

"On a day-to-day basis, there are a number of issues that demand my time and are more important, such as the drought and foster care," the governor said. "I'm not saying the lid isn't important, but we've got plenty of time with regard to that issue."

I'm glad that the World-Herald has finally taken note of Heineman's shameless silence on the spending cap petition. Of course, what the newspaper fails to mention is that it has now been a full three weeks (not two) since Heineman first raised this pathetic excuse of being too busy to form an opinion on the petition because "he has not had time to review it in detail."

How the World-Herald can allow Heineman to again employ this same cowardly and cynical tactic to avoid taking a stance is beyond me. They at least had a duty to report that Heineman is still sticking to a script written for him weeks earlier. Yet, here we are - three weeks later - and they're happy to disregard their own prior reporting to let Heineman's saying nothing pass for saying something.

It says something, all right - but only about the cowardice of Heineman's political calculations.

Petitioners are hitting up people in the streets and at their homes, expecting them to make a decision whether to support this measure in a matter of minutes. On the other hand, Heineman - the chief executive of our state - has had all the time in the world to make up his mind and has simply refused to state an opinion to escape the consequences.

The people of Nebraska deserve a leader who should, at least, not be afraid to express an opinion. Heineman wouldn't have to make any final decision on the Spending Cap Amendment, but he certainly owes some sort of honest and human reaction to the idea after all his years in state government living off the peoples' dime.

My God, the man has held office in state government for eight years. If he hasn't learned enough from that experience to have some opinion about how this proposal would affect the state, just what the hell have we been paying him for all this time?

It would be one thing to level with the people of Nebraska and explain why he isn't taking a side on the issue, but this line about him having been too busy to study its ramifications is just utter and complete nonsense. It is an answer only the lowest form of bureaucrat would hide behind - as if politics had drained Heineman of every last ounce of personality and courage.

And, how very sad it is that rather than holding up a mirror so Heineman (and voters) would be forced to look at this hideous reflection, the Nebraska press actually enables him as he crawls back into his hole, promising to drag this state's future with him.

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Monday, June 26, 2006

Hometown (Democratic) Girl Makes Good

by Kyle Michaelis
Two weeks ago, the Nebraska Democratic Party received some very positive national attention courtesy of USA Today. Holding-up Nebraska as a true test-case of the DNCs much-ballyhooed "50 State Strategy," the article specifically used the county convention of the Dodge County Democrats in Fremont to set the scene and lay-out the stakes for both our state and nation.

As an aside that may be of interest to readers, when that article received additional attention from the progressive online community at DailyKos, there was this very sweet and appreciative note left in the comments by a Democratic Congressional candidate in Washington state who has recently attracted a fair amount of attention in her own right. The comment reads:
When I began running for Congress, I returned to the town where my parents live to do a fundraiser and a couple of media events. The local paper (the Fremont Tribune) and the local radio station (KHUB) both covered my candidacy, and the local Democrats and many friends of mine showed up and gave me money and encouragement, providing me with the warm encouragement I needed at that stage.

The town in question was Fremont, Nebraska -- the same town mentioned in this article....

Out of small, midwestern towns come good things.

--Darcy Burner, one of your Netroots endorsed candidates, doing my best to win WA-08

The New Nebraska Network wishes Mrs. Burner the best of luck this November. From her website and her proven ability to rally support nationwide, it appears she's ready for the fight ahead and has a real shot at victory.

So, in a perfect world, Fremont will be laying claim to a Congresswoman in 2006 as consolation for its loss of Nebraska's governorship (Dave Heineman is a former City Councilman). Sounds like a fair trade-off to me - one serving the best interests of all involved. Wouldn't you agree?

Heck, Maxine Moul beats Jeff Fortenberry and Nebraska's First District will be gaining two representatives out of the deal. Ahhh, just think of the possibilities....

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'Intellectual Dishonesty' at the Nebraska Republican Convention

by Kyle Michaelis
The Nebraska Republican Party held their 2006 convention this weekend in Grand Island, and it appears most of the time was spent rallying the delegates to the idea that Pete Ricketts can beat Sen. Ben Nelson this November.

In a raw act of partisanship not at all keeping with Senate traditions, Chuck Hagel continued to lead the charge against his fellow Nebraska Senator. Hagel has even gone as far as likening Ricketts to himself, hoping to drum up support by drawing parallels to his winning race against then-Gov. Nelson 10 years ago.

The only problem with this "same rhetoric, different rich Republican" campaign strategy is that it now follows on the heels of 12 years of a Republican Congress and 6 years of a Republican presidency that have left even Nebraska Republicans worried at the direction of the country with no one left to blame but the leaders of their own party. In fact, the latest SurveyUSA tracking polls put Nelson 11 points ahead of Hagel with registered Republicans (69% to 58%) and 15 points ahead with Nebraskans in general (72% to 57%).

Still, here's the Omaha World-Herald's take on Hagel's and Ricketts' tried but increasingly tired approach:
Republican Chuck Hagel threw several sharp jabs Saturday at his U.S. Senate colleague Ben Nelson, saying the Nebraska Democrat showed his partisan stripes when he voted with Ted Kennedy to raise the minimum wage.

Hagel, who refers to Nelson as a "pretend Republican," left no doubt in a speech before a GOP gathering that he plans to be one of Pete Ricketts' strongest, and most vocal, supporters in his battle to unseat Nelson....

The gathering was used by Hagel and others to try to convince rank-and-file Republicans that Nelson can be beaten by Ricketts, a political newcomer....

He also criticized Nelson for voting for the minimum wage bill proposed by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. Hagel said the vote proved that Nelson was not a true conservative....

Although Nelson sometimes votes with President Bush, Ricketts said, Nebraska would be served better with a Republican "who believes what he votes on and is not intellectually dishonest with his votes"....

Hagel called on the national GOP to return to its roots. The party has been in power for more than a decade and has to take responsibility for the nation's rising debt.

"It doesn't do any good to blame Ted Kennedy, blame the media," Hagel said. "I think we've wandered. We've strayed from our Republican moorings."

Well, I can't speak for Republican moorings, but these folks certainly have strayed from something - mainly their responsibilities to the American people and the truth. For all Hagel's fancy talk, it's pretty clear from this article that he's just as much a part of the problem as anyone.

Seriously, it at least used to take Hagel a full 24 hours to reverse course and talk out of both sides of his mouth. Here, he evidently managed such a feat over the course of a single speech - pathetically trying to tie Nelson's voting record to Ted Kennedy while proceeding to scold Republicans for their sad reliance on that very tactic.

Talk about do as I say, not as I do. The fact that Ricketts was there accusing Nelson of being "intellectually dishonest" after that sort of display by Hagel really takes the cake.

Obviously, Hagel's wires got a little bit crossed. Normally playing the part of a maverick and speaking for the national television cameras on weekends, it must have been disorienting to actually be in Nebraska trying to stick to his weekday agenda of voting and talking like a good little Republican.

Regardless, I can't even imagine the baseness of character that it takes to attack Nelson for standing up for a higher minimum wage, as if protecting low-skilled but hard-working families was somehow out of line with Nebraska values. What total and complete nonsense.

Just who does Hagel think he is saying Nelson doesn't uphold conservative principles when his own party has overseen the bankrupting of the nation under 9 trillion dollars of debt? For all that, he wants to sit in judgment on Nelson for thinking full-time employees working 40 hours a week should make more than $10,000 a year?

Perhaps Hagel needs to look a little more closely at the votes of his fellow Republicans, including some to whom he's given quite generous donations through his Political Action Committee. If voting with Ted Kennedy on the minimum wage is the ultimate measure of conservatism, what in God's name is Hagel doing contributing $10,000 to Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio and $5,000 to Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island when they, like Nelson, also voted for Kennedy's Amendment?

Is Hagel going to ask for that money back? If Hagel goes to Ohio, is he going to criticize Sen. DeWine and tell the people of that state he's not "a true conservative"?

Somehow, I don't think that's likely. After all, that would require some actual consistency from our famously self-contradictory Senator Hagel and his dueling faux-presidential persona.

Stay tuned, folks. I've got a feeling there will be a lot more of this sort of double-speak to come in the coming months. Ricketts and his emissaries will say just about anything to chip away at Nelson's impressive and intimidating support. Hypocrisy is of small concern for a campaign so desperate with a message so empty and cynical.

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Nothing Says "Pro-Family" Like Cutting Medicaid & Education

by Kyle Michaelis
Here's something to chew on over the weekend, as the New Nebraska Network goes on a 2 or 3 day hiatus. A reader drew my attention to the website of Renewal Voter Outreach, a company proudly "hiring petition circulators from all states" at $2.50 per valid signature. Since the company is working in support of two different ballot measures, that means registered Nebraska voters are a pretty valuable commodity to these petitioners - promising $5 a pop.

But, I'm not going to complain about the out-of-state money funding these fake grassroots political activities manipulating Nebraska's democratic process. Powerful special interests are paying handsomely for these operations, and they're within their rights to do so.

What I am going to complain about, however, is the outright deception employed by this mysterious Renewal Voter Outreach, claiming to "work with political groups who support pro-family legislation" while seeking signatures for a ballot measure that is as anti-family as any one could imagine.

What kind of world do we live in that "pro-family" is nothing more than coded language to indicate right-wing extremism? The notion that a state spending cap being written into the Nebraska Constitution is in any way "pro-family" is utterly absurd and insulting. The proposed amendment would, without a doubt, hurt Nebraska's youngest, oldest, and poorest citizens - all of whom would see substantial reductions in the state services on which they rely under such a system.

The Lincoln-based Center for People in Need reports
Had the proposed spending lid been in place for the 2005-06 and 2006-07 legislative sessions, the state budget, under the best scenario, would have been impacted as follows:

*K-12 schools would have received $87 million fewer state aid dollars

*The University of Nebraska’s budget would have been slashed by $52 million

*Aid to Community Colleges would have been cut by $1.9 million

*K-12 Special Education funding would have lost $5.3 million in funds

*The lid would likely result in higher property taxes, cuts in government services,
and ineffective schools.

Ahh, yes....nothing says "Pro-family" like slashing funding for education. And, with the rates at which the cost of Medicaid and health benefits for state employees have been rising, one can only imagine what kind of sacrifices would be required of the state's poorest and most defenseless should this abomination ever make its way into law.

With a name like Renewal Voter Outreach, it's pretty clear from the get-go that this isn't a legitimate company. But, its being a front for the extremist right-wing agenda doesn't excuse its being able to get away with lying to the people of Nebraska and deceiving voters into thinking its efforts have anything at all to do with family values.

Decline to sign, Nebraska. Let's drive these wolves out of our pasture while we still have the chance.

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Thursday, June 22, 2006

Heineman in Hiding: 17 Days and Counting

by Kyle Michaelis
Paid, oftentimes out-of-state petitioners have now been on the prowl for more than a month in the push to get a Constitutional state govermnent spending cap onto the November ballot. The opposition has organized, challenging the petitioners at every turn with efforts to make Nebraska voters think twice before lending their signature to such an amendment.

Democratic candidate for governor David Hahn declared the petition "irresponsible butchery" weeks ago, even challenging its lead proponent first in a series of Letters to the Editor and then in a live radio debate. In today's Omaha World-Herald, even Dave Nabity - the odd man out in this spring's Republican gubernatorial primary - registered his two cents on the amendment.

But, guess who we still haven't heard from.....yup, Governor Dave Heineman.

It has been at least 17 days since the World-Herald reported:
Republican Gov. Dave Heineman had not decided if he would support the petition because he has not had time to review it in detail.

Well, I say the game is up. Heineman has had all the time he's needed to read the petition, take a look at the facts, and make a decision as to where he stands on this controversial issue facing the state of Nebraska. Hell, he could have written a book on it by now. Yet, forsaking any claim to leadership, he maintains his cowardly silence because he knows the issue could cost him politically.

By speaking in favor of the petition effort, Heineman would basically be admitting that he's too incompetent and spend-happy to be trusted with the people of Nebraska's money. By opposing the effort, however, he'd be alienating the right-wing fringe whose support proved so essential to Heineman's victory in the Republican primary. Of course, he could just claim neutrality and say it's a choice to be left to the voters of Nebraska, but people would see right through that convenient line from a mile away.

Choices, choices - that's what life's about. That's what leadership's about. Still, Heineman refuses to take a side.

In a local battle between school districts this spring, Heineman was only too happy to jump in unprovoked in a brilliant (though destructive) stroke of political opportunism. But, here, where we're talking about a matter that would directly impact every function of the state government he supposedly heads, Heineman has nothing to say - at least, not until the polling data comes in clearing the way for his having an opinion or the issue just fades away by petitioners not gathering enough signatures before the July 7th deadline.

Either way, this has been a pathetic display of how Heineman operates and what he holds as his truest priority - not the interests of the state but rather his own political career.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jeff Fortenberry's "Louisiana Limbo"

by Kyle Michaelis
Lowering the bar in Nebraska politics since 2005.

Thanks to the Nebraska Democratic Party for calling out Republican first-term (hopefully only-term) Congressman Jeff Fortenberry for again taking a large campaign contribution tainted by the unmistakeable stench of corruption.

Having already taken tens of thousands of dollars from the combined likes of convicted felon Duke Cunningham and the disgraced Dark Prince of Republican Politics, Tom DeLay, it should come as little surprise that another Republican corruption scandal has yet another tie to the Fortenberry campaign. This time, the putrid pipeline runs from the Future Leaders PAC of California Congressman and Appropriations Committee Chair Jerry Lewis, one of Fortenberry's largest donors.

With Cunningham sitting in a federal prison and DeLay's recent resignation, it's sad to see that Fortenberry still isn't being more careful about the company he keeps in Congress. As the New York Times reported earlier this month, it seems Lewis is just another in a long line of big-time Fortenberry benefactors to have abused his position and betrayed his country in the name of partisan politics and personal gain:
Mr. Lewis and other lawmakers may have traded earmarks for illicit payments from lobbyists and contractors — an outgrowth of the bribery indictment of Randy ["Duke"] Cunningham, a former congressman from California.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry is continuing, federal officials who have been briefed on it say prosecutors are looking into [Letitia] White's ties to Mr. Lewis, her old boss, and to his friend Bill Lowery, a former California congressman who is now Ms. White's lobbying partner.

While working for Mr. Lewis, Ms. White helped direct several hundred million dollars in contracts to clients of Mr. Lowery's firm. The firm and its clients, meanwhile, accounted for more than a third of the $1.3 million Mr. Lewis's political action committee has raised since 2000.

There is, of course, a lot more to the allegations and the investigation surrounding Lewis, his cohorts, and cronies, but that right there is the gist of it. Though I can't vouch for all of the accusations contained therein, a blog titled Down With Tyranny (1, 2) has a pretty good run-down of Lewis' apparently corrupt conduct.

An anonymous blogger at the NDP's website attempted to deflect criticism of Fortenberry for his ties to Lewis and the larger Culture of Corruption by simply mentioning Democratic Congressman William Jefferson of Louisiana (whose example taught me a valuable lesson here). To this cyncial defense, I made the following response:
I don’t think anyone around here is going to defend Congressman Jefferson of Louisiana. It’s worth noting, however, that the personal allegations against him haven’t touched Nebraska in the same way as the corrupt workings of the Republican money machine.

Just look at this: Duke Cunningham sits in prison, Tom DeLay has resigned in disgrace, and Congressman Lewis is well on his way to following suit on one or both accounts. Between these three paragons of vice, Jeff Fortenberry has been rewarded with over $40,000 in just his first term in Congress for nothing more than being a ready, willing, and seemingly eager participant in the Republicans’ influence-peddling pyramid scheme.

Fortenberry has invited their corruption into our state in the form of campaign contributions greater than the annual salary of your average honest and hard-working Nebraskan. Jefferson, on the other hand, has no such connection to Nebraska – whatever his crime. In fact, his closest connection would be Jeff Fortenberry because they both call the state of Louisiana home.

I guess this sort of corruption is just more acceptable in that part of the country, but there was a time when Nebraska was above this sort of hyper-partisan style of self-serving politics. There was a time when we actually expected better of our representatives.

Fortenberry is personally responsible for lowering the bar in Nebraska politics. Here’s hoping the voters of the First District will end this game of the “Louisiana Limbo” when they get the chance this November.

And that's pretty much all I have to say about that. Questions? Comments?

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Who does Pete Ricketts think he's fooling?

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald really should not allow itself to be used by the Pete Ricketts campaign as it was on Tuesday. Take a look, as the World-Herald gives Ricketts a forum to twist the facts in whatever manner he sees fit:
Pete Ricketts, who spent nearly $5 million of his own money in winning the GOP Senate primary in Nebraska, suggested Monday that his campaign might spend at least $2.5 million more in his bid to unseat Sen. Ben Nelson, D-Neb.

Ricketts said that between them, he and Nelson might spend $5 million to $6 million on the general election campaign. Ricketts didn't say how much of his own money he might kick in for the race....

According to his most recent report to the Federal Election Commission, Ricketts has raised $598,563 from individuals and political action committees. He loaned his campaign about $4.9 million for the May 9 primary....

His spokeswoman, Trisha Meuret, said Ricketts is treating that loan as a contribution from his personal wealth and does not expect to seek repayment through campaign donations.

"I don't think Nebraska voters care how much money I have," Ricketts said. "What they're interested in is what am I going to do for the state and country and what am I going to represent (them) and what am I going to work for"....

He contended that Nelson had raised $10 million since 1995 in political campaigns for the Senate. "That doesn't come for free. That means he's got special interests who've got his ear," Ricketts said.

But he acknowledged he is raising money from political action committees - often linked to businesses, advocacy groups or associations that lobby Congress - and asserted that's different from Nelson's fundraising activities.

"The PACs give me money because they believe in me because they know that, with my own means, I'm not going to be someone who is beholden to somebody because they wrote me a check," Ricketts said.

Good lord. Where does the propaganda end and the journalism begin? Does it ever?

First things first, I'd like to point out how ridiculous it is for Ricketts to suggest he's only going to spend $2.5 million in the general election. If the man is serious about winning - if he thinks he has an actual shot at winning - he'll be spending a hell lot more than that.

I mean, come on! Ricketts spent almost $5.5 million to defeat the lowly and hapless Don Stenberg in the Republican primary. Now, he's facing a candidate of a completely different caliber - who the people of Nebraska actually like - and Ricketts honestly wants us to believe he's going to show some restraint.

Ha! The way Ricketts was throwing money around in the primary, I'd almost be surprised if his first $2.5 million even carried him through Labor Day before the hammer comes out to break open Daddy Ricketts' piggy bank.

As for this nonsense about Nelson being more beholden to special interests just because he has a broad base of supporters who will actually contribute to his campaign, it would be nice if Ricketts was able to back up such a slanderous charge by pointing to any votes where there was even the faintest hint of impropriety.

Of course, Ricketts has no record to run on, but the fact that he won't even talk about Nelson's record - relying, instead, on generalizations, accusations, and innuendo - suggests there's plenty more BS to come over the course of the campaign.

And, again, who does Ricketts think he's fooling by funding his campaign with personal loans yet claiming he has no intention to seek repayment? If that doesn't send your BS Meter a-blazing, it's time to get it in the shop for a tune-up. Seriously, this is a common campaign trick, but it's the truly rare candidate who will openly deceive voters to this extent.

Sen. Chuck Hagel followed a similar repayment scheme with his own fortune when he ran in 1996 - cashing in on PAC money later on, when he got into office - but, to my knowledge, he at least never made so dishonest a statement as this about his true intentions. By making his campaign contributions "loans", Ricketts has purposefully left the door wide open to seek repayment. To suggest that he won't do exactly that should he win is a bald-faced (perhaps I should say bald-headed) lie.

Finally, who else enjoys the irony of Ricketts saying that voters don't care about his massive personal fortune but rather what he's "going to do for the state and country"? From Ricketts' campaign so far, he himself doesn't seem to care much for what he'd do as a Senator, preferring to make an issue of Teddy Kennedy and Hillary Clinton being Democrats rather than talking about the challenges ahead or - God forbid - offering any actual solutions.

It's worth noting that, before the World-Herald allowed their pages to be manipulated like propaganda for Ricketts' purposes, they did offer this well-deserved but all-too-short rebuke in a Monday editorial:
It sure would be nice to have a campaign season that wasn't punctuated by political ads that insult the intelligence of Nebraska voters....How much better served Nebraska would be if political ads focused on specific policy differences between Ricketts and U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson rather than trotting out tiresome rhetoric about Clinton and Kennedy, those predictable bugaboos of the GOP hard right.

Ricketts is a joke. He's saying anything - absolutely anything - he can to gain a bit of traction against Nelson. It's just sad that the World-Herald will let him have a forum to do that absent a newsworthy event, some criticism of actual substance, or - at least - a more responsible effort to challenge those regurgitated talking points of Ricketts' that have wormed their way into the reporting.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Nebraska's Economy: 1/2 Step Forward, Two Steps Back

by Kyle Michaelis
As some of you might recall, Nebraska held the crown as the Stagnation National Champion for several months last year before revised data came in pushing Michigan just ahead of us in terms of pathetic economic growth.

Well, guess what - a new batch of numbers are in from the Bureau of Economic Analysis and, thanks to Hurricane Katrina and the continued decimation of America's manufacturing sector, Nebraska doesn't quite stand-out as much as it did last year. The state's economy is still growing at the same snail's pace, but it seems we've been joined by a couple more snails along the way.

In cold hard numbers, Nebraska currently ranks 40th in the nation for economic growth in the year 2005. From the very bottom to at least one step above the basement floor - it would be nice to see that as progress, but any such characterization would be extremely deceptive. Take a look:

Nebraska continues to lag behind every one of its neigboring states, especially those to its West. Moreover, Nebraska's paltry growth rate of 1.7% is less than half of the national average (3.5%).

Looking closely at the data provided, it even becomes clear that Nebraska's already disappointing 2005 results are, in fact, inflated by yet another revisal of the state's 2004 performance. The once-adjusted 2004 growth rate of 1.5% was downgraded to 1.1% with this report, meaning whatever gains we seem to have made since are largely optical illusions burying the ills that plague our economy in prior years' statistics.

Nothing to celebrate here, folks. That's for sure. And, with the BEAs penchant for revising their figures, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if we fall further down this rabbit hole of economic despair before all is said and done.

Of course, for 2005, we're never going to compete with Katrina-ravaged Louisiana, but second-place is still very much up for grabs. Keep the same leadership in the Governor's Mansion - the same 'stay the course' rhetoric on the economy that seems so familiar in this dark political climate - and, regardless, we should be well set-up to make another run at the title next summer.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Conservative Change VS. Nebraska Values

by Kyle Michaelis
Today may as well be election day because, in the 2006 U.S. Senate race, the entire contest has pretty much been laid out on the table for us. There will not be a more clear or more honest picture of the race than the one that stands before us this week with the release of both candidates' latest campaign advertisements.

Our choice is clear: Pete Ricketts or Ben Nelson?

One candidate runs on fear. The other candidate runs on his record.

One candidate talks about Nebraska values. The other candidate has lived and voted Nebraska values.

One candidate thinks the people of Nebraska want a rubber stamp. The other candidate thinks Nebraskans deserve a leader.

Remember these ads. Listen to them carefully and know them by heart. The choice could not be more plain. We have seen the roads these men walk. Here, they have defined themselves - declaring who they are and for what they truly stand.

We know what we need to know. From here on out, it's going to be variations on a theme: Pete Ricketts, the Republican, or Ben Nelson, the Nebraskan?

Do you want a Republican or do you want a Representative? Choose now. Choose wisely. Then, be ready to fight like hell so the better man runs the better campaign and is able to bring out the very best in the people of this state come election day.

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Thursday, June 15, 2006

Heineman's Henchman Can't Spin Boss' Cowardice

by Kyle Michaelis
David Hahn continues to impress with his willingness to tackle tough issues and to challenge the record of Republican governor Dave Heineman in a manner this state hasn't seen in many, many moons. One senses that, if anyone is going to wake-up Nebraska to the failures of the Johanns/Heineman machine threatening to permanently cripple our state, it's going to be this candidate, this year.

Just look at the way Hahn's been making headlines - and inviting response - by taking a proactive approach that won't allow the silence and complacency that has otherwise resulted in a black hole of endless Republican domination.

Today, Hahn's done it again - taking Heineman to task for his notable failures of leadership on a whole host of issues of great importance to Nebraska voters:
Five months before he bumps into Gov. Dave Heineman on the November ballot, David Hahn is suggesting leadership will be an issue in their battle.

“Nebraskans want somebody who will take action,” the Democratic gubernatorial nominee said. “I don’t need polls to tell me where the political winds are blowing. I’ll not wait to see which direction the political weather vane is pointed.”

Hahn targeted several issues he said he’s ready to act upon and the governor is not. “It seems to be a trend,” he said in a Lincoln interview.

On Hahn’s list are immigration reform, a spending lid initiative, rapid development of broadband Internet service throughout the state, and what to do about the newly enacted Omaha school reorganization law that has raised the issue of school segregation and is headed to court.

Heineman's campaign manager, Carlos "Tio" Castillo, however, has taken issue with Hahn's characterizations. First, on immigration:
Castillo said Heineman has made his views known in support of securing U.S. borders, enforcing laws now on the books and streamlining legal immigration.

“I’m not sure whether David Hahn was living in a cave for the last six months,” Castillo said. “Immigration was the issue we talked about the most in the last four or five weeks of the (primary) campaign.”

Ah, but there is talking about immigration. Then, there is leading on immigration. Heineman may have done the former when it was to his poltical advantage to separate himself from Tom Osborne, but with a golden opportunity to speak up on behalf of the people of Nebraska when President Bush was in town last week, he dodged the issue completely, declaring:
“It’s a federal issue....I haven’t reviewed these proposals in any detail. I try to keep my focus on state issues."

Huh? Maybe Castillo's been the one living in a cave, since it seems he's not familiar with his candidate's own statements.

Meanwhile, in response to the spending lid amendment, Castillo actually took the cue from his boss, and explained Heineman's position (or lack thereof):
Castillo said Heineman will carefully review the proposal before taking a position.

Note that this is 9 days after the Omaha World-Herald reported:
Republican Gov. Dave Heineman had not decided if he would support the petition because he has not had time to review it in detail.

Just how much time does this guy need? Petition circulators have been going door-to-door for weeks. The language hasn't changed. The facts haven't changed. The time to lead is now - not once Heineman's had an opportunity to look at some polling data. That is the only thing Heineman "will carefully review," and Castillo damn well knows it.

David Hahn is right to take Heineman to task for these leadership failures. If George W. Bush is the decider (as he so famously asserted), then Dave Heineman has proven himself the waffler.

That's all well and good - I like waffles as much as the next guy. But, after eight years of the Johanns and Heineman permanent campaign, it sure would be nice to have an actual leader in our Governor's mansion - a man willing to stand and fight for the things he believes. Here's hoping that the people have had enough....that the waffler will be toast come this November.

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