Thursday, August 31, 2006

What a Letter to Chuck Hagel from a Pissed-off Nebraska Republican Says About the 2006 Elections

by Kyle Michaelis
To be honest, I don't spend a lot of time reading blogs, not even the other Nebraska-focused blogs I've come across in the 18 months or so since NNN went online. Nevertheless, I'm glad I came across an article published at one such blog, From the Heartland, because - in the writer's expression of disappointment and disgust at Sen. Chuck Hagel's declaring that the Republican Party has "lost [its] way" - he does a pretty damn good job of demonstrating the out-of-touch, power-obsessed hyper-partisanship that has made the Republican Party a danger to itself, to this nation, and to the world.

Take it away, Gunscribe [sic, as follows]:
Senator Hagel we the strong minded, God fearing Republican Christians of Nebraska DID NOT send you to Washington to be your own man. We sent you to the Nations Capitol to toe the party line. You told us you were the same kind of Republican we are and we believed you. We expected as a former Military man that you would be loyal to those that entrusted you with your office.

Senator Hagel not only have you not been loyal to the party you claim you belong to, you have not been loyal to the constituints that elected you.

Since you are a Republican, it is not incumbant upon us to call or write your office everytime a bill comes up for a vote or a position needs to be articulated or the President needs to be supported. It is expected on our part that you will follow the party platform on your part.

You have chosen to turn you back on the President and the people that elected you to represent us Senator Hagel. It is not your lot in life to tell us how things will be and how you are going to vote. It is your duty to vote the way we expect you to as a Republican.

Senator Hagel, you ran as a Republican, "We the People" elected you as a Republican. With that comes certain resposponsibilities on your part. Namely we expect you to act like a Republican.

1. Support and defend the Constitution
2. Support and defend the policies of a Republican Administration
3. Support the Republican Party with your votes in the Senate.

You are entitled to your own opinions on the issues Senator, but that is and always will be secondary to to the "Will of the People" that elected you.

Well, that one really just speaks for itself. Doesn't it?

What's probably most interesting about this post is its specifically announcing that Hagel was not elected to be his "own man." In the new Republican idea of governance - driven by the criminal likes of Rush Limbaugh and Tom DeLay - Hagel's supposed to be nothing more than a rubber stamp for the Republican leadership and another mouthpiece for the Bush Administration's rhetoric. Straying from the party line is not only a betrayal; it's a sin.

Of course, these same people will denounce Democrats as Communists and accuse them of being soft on Fascism without ever acknowledging that the key component of both these ideologies is the unquestioning allegiance to Party before conscience or country that they emulate and expect of their own representatives.

What's most ironic about Gunscribe's attack on Hagel's pretensions of being his "own man" is that 1st District Congressman Jeff Fortenberry made the case for his reelection in the Lincoln Journal-Star last week with that very phrase:
High-profile fundraising assistance from key Bush administration and House leaders does not influence his independence, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry says.

“I’m my own man. I make my own judgments,” the 1st District congressman said in a Lincoln interview a week before Vice President Dick Cheney comes to Nebraska to raise money for him....

Cheney’s visit will follow fund-raising appearances for Fortenberry by the two top Republican House leaders, Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader John Boehner.

Those trips prompted Maxine Moul, the congressman’s Democratic opponent, to suggest the Republican leadership is rewarding Fortenberry for “his rubber stamp votes.”

Moreover, Moul said: “When three of the very top people in the Republican leadership come to Nebraska, that means they are very concerned about this race.”

Of course, Gunscribe never takes Fortenberry to task for committing that greatest of sins by asserting his indepenedence. That shouldn't come as a surprise because Fortenberry's record makes it perfectly clear that this is nothing more than his telling voters what they want to hear to get reelected.

Sure, there's a lot of hype and exaggeration when mention is made of Hagel's independence, but, with Fortenberry, such a suggestion really is an absurdist proposition and an outright lie - perfectly fine with the likes of Gunscribe because it serves that highest Republican ideal: holding onto power.

Behold the disconnect at the heart of modern Republican politics: Senators and Congressmman imagine that they have been elected to serve the R next to their name rather than the voters who put them in office. Yet, with a false heart and a fake smile, they campaign on themes totally contrary to their slavish adherence to the party line - leaving Fortenberry to feign independence despite his voting with the House Republican leadership 95% of the time, with little to no concern for what actually serves the best interests of Nebraska.

No wonder the Nebraska Republican Party reserves such venom for Sen. Ben Nelson. His entire record and his entire campaign have been built around putting Nebraska first. With Republican candidates hardly able to pretend anything of the sort with a straight face, Nelson not only stands in the way of their goal of total one-party domination but also sets a standard for leadership to which no Republican can even hold a candle.

Nelson makes Nebraska Republicans look bad. By transcending party politics, he sets an example for independent and thoughtful leadership that Nebraska voters respect and desire. And, this election year - against the likes of Fortenberry, 2nd District Congressman Lee Terry, and 3rd District candidate Adrian Smith - there's no doubt that the only candidates offering anything remotely approaching Nelson's brand of "Nebraska First, Nebraska Always" leadership are the Democratic challengers: Moul, Jim Esch of Omaha, and the Third District's own Scott Kleeb.

Whether or not the Republican candidates subscribe to Gunscribe's party-first philosophy on the campaign trail, their conduct in office serves as all the endorsement and validation he could ever want. To be honest, it's refreshing to see Gunscribe put the underlying idea driving the Republican Party in such plain language - front & center for all of Nebraska to see. Though I and, I believe, a majority of Nebraskans could not disagree more with his crippling and cynical conception of democracy, Gunscribe should be commended for being up-front about his political intentions in a way that the leaders of his own party have forsaken entirely.

Understanding that the reality of their voting records does not reflect the style of leadership desired by most Nebraskans - even most Nebraska Republicans - it's no surprise that Republicans are running on faux-claims of being their own man. It's also no surprise that - with Nelson and his record of actual leadership front & center this November - they're scared of his appeal spilling over into the Congressional races, particularly Moul's and Kleeb's.

If there has been any doubt about Fortenberry's vulnerability this year, the following passage from the Journal-Star should relieve that:
[Cheney's] fund-raising appearance for Fortenberry reflects a decision by the National Republican Congressional Committee to center on its incumbents in a volatile election year, committee spokesman Alex Burgos said Monday.

“We know Democrats are targeting (Fortenberry) and we recognize this is a difficult national environment,” he said. “We take nothing for granted.”

Fortenberry is a freshman House member “facing a Democrat who has won statewide office before,” Burgos said.

The Vice-President and the top two Republican leaders in the House have both campaigned in Nebraska on Fortenberry's behalf in the last month. They are doing everything they can to put the resources in Fortenberry's hands so that Moul's challenge never builds into the referendum on his pathetic and embarrassing record that it could and should be. The fact that Moul backs up her campaign with years of experience serving alongside and in the same vein as Sen. Nelson gives her immediate credibility with any voter looking for something more than a rubber stamp from his or her representatives in Washington D.C.

Kleeb's race, which drew Cheney to Grand Island earlier this summer, is somewhat different because he's a true political newcomer. He has a background that shatters stereotypes and promises vision and energy that the voters of Nebraska's Third District could have hardly imagined possible. Still, for all Kleeb's assets, his greatest is the total deficiency of Republican nominee Adrian Smith, who served for eight years in the Nebraska legislature without distinction and who is running as a wholly-owned subsidiary of a radical, out-of-state special interest group, the Club for Growth, whose overwhelmingly corporate interests could not be further removed from those of the vastly rural population of Nebraska's Third District. Kleeb is infinitely more impressive than Smith, but it's really the liability of Smith's selling-out to the Club for Growth and putting ideology before his would-be constituents that makes this race one to watch.

There's no doubt, however, that Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith would be precisely the sort of Republicans for which Gunscribe calls. Without question and without fail they promise to support and defend the policies of the Bush Administration, while - first and foremost - supporting the Republican Party with their votes.

That's what Gunscribe wants. That's what he would get with Fortenberry or Smith - probably all-but indistinguishable from one another except for Fortenberry's offering at least some degree of polish and intelligence. The problem is that Gunscribe and his like are flat-out wrong if they really believe their expectations are the same as those of Nebraska's voters, in general. Nebraskans may tend and trend Republican, but it has never been with the blindness towards the facts of who has the better record and who will truly be a voice for their interests that is being asked of them this election year.

The Republican Party knows this. That's why they're not taking "anything for granted," sending their biggest names to campaign and raise money in the First and Third Districts, which, respectively, haven't elected a Democrat in 40 years and haven't elected a Democrat ever.

Clearly, the Republican Party has reason to worry. For all their problems across the country, right here in Nebraska they've recognized that all their advantages historically and in terms of voter registration may not be enough to overcome the disgust of voters at how they've mismanaged the federal government, not to mention the superior caliber of our 2006 candidates who also have the good fortune of running behind a legacy as strong, as principled, and as popular as Sen. Ben Nelson's.

The Republicans are right to take heed. They are right to worry. Voters are fed-up with politics for politics' sake. They want competence and common sense from a Congress that dismissed both in service to a radical agenda conservative in name only. It's time for voters to realize that the Republican Party, as it stands today, is Gunscribe's Republican Party, and - so long as they maintain their stranglehold on power - there will be no reform of their approach. They will stay the course across the board - more empty promises, more deception, and more silence.

That's what Gunscribe wants. He's been quite clear about that, and he's welcome to it by voting for one of the Republican Congressional candidates. But, the people have higher expectations. They know they deserve better - they feel it in their bones. Now, it simply falls to Moul and Kleeb, not to mention their counterparts across the country, to prove that a better way is precisely what they're offering.

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

David Hahn 'Pulls A Heineman' On OPS Segregation

by Kyle Michaelis
In the gubernatorial debate at the Nebraska State Fair on Saturday afternoon, the most newsworthy message to rise above the inescapable echoes of marching bands and revving engines came with Democratic candidate David Hahn's repeated challenges to Dave Heineman's signing LB 1024 into law, the controversial bill establishing the joint Douglas and Sarpy Counties Learning Community that is also set to break-up Omaha Public Schools into three separate, racially-identifiable school districts in time for the 2008-2009 school year.

For a taste of how the issue played in the media, the Omaha World-Herald reported:
Whether it was a question about property taxes or the KKK, Democratic governor candidate David Hahn found a way Saturday to attack Republican Gov. David Heineman for signing a controversial Omaha school law.

Hahn accused Heineman of committing a "huge blunder" and failing to "stand up" to State Sen. Ernie Chambers when he signed a law this year that would break the Omaha Public Schools into three districts, one mostly white and two with large minority numbers.

Heineman opted to answer the panelists' questions rather than Hahn's criticism.

After the debate, Heineman defended his support of the bill, saying it was needed to bring warring school districts in the Omaha area to the table......

[Hahn] said Heineman used the divisive OPS issue to score political points in his campaign against Osborne. Hahn also said the school law amounted to "segregation."

"This was the wrong education policy done in the wrong way for the wrong reasons," said Hahn, saying the governor should call a special legislative session to overturn the law.

What this story leaves out is Hahn's assertion that the state-ordered OPS break-up has effectively ended Nebraska's much-heralded tradition of locally-controlled education. Hahn repeatedly emphasized that the government bodies managing the transfer to the Omaha-area Learning Community would see their power "creep across the state."

As for State Sen. Ernie Chambers, Hahn not only denounced Heineman for failing to stand up to him but even went so far as accusing Heineman of making "a backroom deal" with Chambers to secure passage of LB 1024. Hahn also declared the most controversial aspect of the bill the Chambers Segregation Amendment, calling on Heineman to join him in demanding its immediate repeal.

Although the New Nebraska Network was an early critic of LB 1024 (1,2,3), particularly for the speed with which it was thrown together and the lack of debate before its passage, I think there's enough merit to Chambers' argument that his amendment does little but acknowledge the unspoken but undeniable reality of the situation - that OPS is already segregated and that his measure simply puts power in the hands of those too often neglected under the current system - to warrant greater respect and consideration than Hahn afforded it at Saturday's debate.

In fact, I'm uncomfortable with the way Hahn put Chambers front-and-center in his criticism. Such an approach is inherently race-baiting, playing - as so many politicians have in the past - on the animosity towards Chambers in the hearts of Nebraska's traditionalist (white) majority.

Of course, Chambers has always welcomed such scorn, so I wouldn't dream of taking offense on his behalf. And, this latest controversy is so tied into the racist legacy Chambers either rages against or perpetuates (depending on whom you ask) that Hahn couldn't help but acknowledge his role, but it's silly to single him out when the vast majority of legislators cast an equal vote in the legislation's favor.

That said, it's hard to argue with Hahn's laying blame with Heineman. Heineman's intervening in the OPS "One City, One School District" debate was a needless and destructive instance of political pandering that made this sort of over-reaching legislation all but inevitable. Unfortunately, when the issue was most salient and stood largest in the public's imagination, Heineman's ill-prepared primary opponent, Congressman Tom Osborne, failed to explain the precarious position in which Heineman's meddling had cornered the relevant parties. 5 months later, that's a harder case to make with the issue of the plan's constitutionality left to the courts and its practicality left to those authorities charged with making something workable of the legislation's dictates.

Heineman's greatest sin was his ever politicizing the issue of school district boundaries to begin with. His second offense was his encouraging and ultimately signing whatever the legislature could get to his desk before the end of its 2006 session. For a man who took more than two months before announcing an opinion on the state spending lid amendment - and who's natural instinct appears to be delaying taking a position on an issue until he absolutely must - it's shocking and sickening that Heineman would have signed such far-reaching legislation as LB 1024 with so little concern for its consequences beyond the short-term political gain it offered him with suburban and rural voters more interested in sticking it to Omaha Public Schools than in doing what was best for the affected students.

This legislation has hurt Omaha, and it has hurt Nebraska in the eyes of the rest of the country and even the world. Fear of such consequence alone should not have controlled our actions, but it at least warranted an honest and upfront debate before this course was chosen.

So, ultimately, I'm glad that Hahn is taking this fight to Heineman. This state can't just sit back and idly wait for court verdicts and what could be an endless appeals process to wreak havoc on our system of public education.

What's so ironic about Hahn's use of this issue, however, is how much it reflects what might have been expected of Heineman were he in Hahn's position. Up to now, Hahn has generally stayed above the political fray, attempting to engage his opponent and voters in a discussion about the competing visions for Nebraska's future. This newest message, however, is intended to deliver an overdue and well-deserved blow to the public's confidence in Heineman's leadership. Whether or not such a strategy will ultimately prove successful, it is at least the mark of a candidate who is still very serious about winning the race for Governor.

Heineman, the consummate politician, can surely appreciate Hahn's new approach. In some ways, it parallels Heineman's use of the issue of in-state college tuition for undocumented graduates of Nebraska high schools to draw a distinction and boost his chances against Osborne...except Hahn has an actual controversy to work with that will affect real peoples' lives. He's got legitimate criticism on his side that appeals to voters' intellect rather than their fears and their prejudice (even if, as regards Ernie Chambers, there's room for those as well).

In other words, even as Hahn comes into his own as a politician - late, with the cards stacked against him, but just as Nebraskans finally turn their attention to the November election - he has not sacrificed the principles or the promises that have driven his campaign from its start. You don't have to agree with everything he says, but you will know where he stands and why.

It's still hard to imagine that sort of candor and forthrightness coming from a Nebraska governor. It would be such a marked contrast to the hemming and hawing that has passed for leadership these last eight years with Mike Johanns and Heineman in office that the mere possibility boggles the mind.

A leader who leads - is Nebraska truly ready for such a thing? I believe we are. The hard part is seeing us realize this for ourselves before it is too late.

PS- I must refrain from scoring the debate because - frankly - the distracting presence and participation of Nebraska Party nominee Barry Richards prevented any substantive debate from taking place. Hahn was generally better-spoken than Heineman, but his creatively framing his responses to return to a familiar theme like LB 1024 surely alienated some listeners. And, honestly, neither Hahn nor Heineman were ever going to be able to compete with Richards' outlandish suggestion that free samples of Nebraska beef might be the key to ending welfare (so great-tasting that everyone who tries it will immediately go job-hunting to afford it).

Even Hahn's criticism of LB 1024 was overshadowed by Richards' suggestion that this whole Learning Community-idea sounded downright "communistic." Meanwhile, Richards called for putting God "back into schools," while - at the same time - claiming schools need to stop indoctrinating our children. Seriously, how were either Hahn or Heineman ever going to compete with that? If the remaining two debates are only going to be an hour long (as this one was), they shouldn't have to try.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Petition Process' Perversion Laid Plain

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha-World-Herald did a heck of a job on Sunday laying out the bizarre and irksome facts surrounding the twin petition efforts supporting constitutional amendments imposing a state spending lid and stripping families of the right to remove a loved one from life support without the prior legal sanction of such action by the actual patient. Most peculiar, of course, is the funding, which was laid out quite nicely in the chart below.

Of course, if the above illustration were to present a true graphical depiction it would have to be circular, but this is adequate for at least establishing the highly questionable and deeply troubling facts as they are currently understood.

As for the meat of the article, there are no mind-blowing revelations, but it certainly adds an increased level of depth to that which has previously been discussed here. The World-Herald's to be commended for covering its bases journalistically and adding a new level of sad hilarity to the proceedings with the "Who's on First"-style antics of disavowal and outright confusion when the parties were actually questioned about their respective involvement.

Highlights of the must-read OWH report include:
The amendment was drafted by Steven J. Safranek, an attorney who was raised in Omaha and who teaches at Ave Maria Law School in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Wesley J. Smith, a California attorney....

Safranek and Smith said they worked on the amendment via e-mail and conference calls, but that it wasn't their idea and they don't know whose it was. They said they weren't involved in funding or running the petition drive and didn't select Nebraska as the target state.

Safranek said there had been talk of a humane care amendment percolating in pro-life circles since the spring of 2005 ... He said he wasn't sure how he became part of an e-mail group drafting it.

He said he was paid $1,000 or less but doesn't recall who wrote the check.

"Americans for Limited Care maybe? Or Nebraskans for Limited Care?" he said. "I mean, I'm sorry, Nebraskans for Humane Care might have been it."

Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee has not reported any payment to Safranek.


Safranek said he didn't know anything about Americans for Limited Government, the group that indirectly funded the Nebraska petition drives from its downtown Chicago headquarters.

He expressed surprise when told ALG and U.S. Term Limits share several of the same leaders. Safranek was a paid consultant for U.S. Term Limits in 1997.


As for who ultimately funded the effort, [Laird] Maxwell [of Montana-based money funnelers America At Its Best] said: "People from all over the nation. I don't really know. It's a national movement. I send donors to ALG. They send donations and donors to me."


ALG gave money to Maxwell's group, which in turn was used for the two Nebraska petitions.... ALG leaders publicly embrace only the spending measure.

The decision to spend money on humane care, they said, was up to Maxwell.

"We haven't done anything on (humane care)," [ALG Chairman Eric] O'Keefe said.

But his wife has.


Leslie Graves, who is married to O'Keefe, started Renewal Voter Outreach, the company that was paid $1.4 million to gather signatures on the Nebraska petitions.....

Once she decided to do humane care, she was asked to circulate the spending petition as well....

Graves said she's been active in pro-life causes for more than seven years and feels strongly that the humane care measure is needed. But she said it wasn't her idea and she wasn't involved in funding it. She said she heard about the amendment from Safranek, whom she said she had known for years.

Safranek, however, said he doesn't know Graves and didn't inform her about the measure.

Surely, you're getting a sense of the hilarity, not to mention the depravity at the core of this deceitful pack of say-anything ideologues who obviously believe themselves above conventional standards of honesty, fair-dealing, and accountability.

Yesterday, the World-Herald finally held these bastards accountable. Obviously, they were not expecting it, and they were not prepared for it....otherwise, one has to imagine they would have put together at least some plausible explanation avoiding the worst inconsistencies of their present masquerade.

Compliments to the reporters for laying out the story in as plain of English as is probably possible for all the convolution and misdirection that have been employed to prevent the light of truth from ever reaching these machinations. But now is no time to become complacent. For all the questions that are finally being asked, the incomplete record and contradictory responses reveal that few real answers have been uncovered. From what we know, much can be presumed, but little can be asserted.

Caught in their lies - their manipulation exposed - those responsible for this monstrous abuse of the democratic process owe some answers to the people of Nebraska about their mysterious cross-purposes. It seems Nebraska voters are being experimented on like lab rats by out-of-state influence peddlers testing different formulas for "success" on populations nationwide. At the same time, the flooding of our plains with money has clearly opened the possiblity of graft, laundering, and criminal collusion severe enough to warrant immediate investigation by public authorities who have seen these games played before - though more often in the boardroom than at the ballot box.

They chose to use Nebraska as an ideological battle ground. For their foolishness and arrogance in this regard, they now stand positioned to suffer a stunning defeat right here that could pull back the curtain on their shadowy operations across the country.

This is the beginning - not the end. Keep asking those questions. Keep fighting for those answers. Much is known, but little is understood. If we keep the light of truth burning, there is, no doubt, so much more for us to learn.

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Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Broadband Betrayal Continues

by Kyle Michaelis
For anyone who's followed the one-sided "debate" over public broadband, last week's news that the commission entrusted with studying the issue stands on the verge of doing the telecommunications lobby's bidding should come as no surprise. Following in the footsteps of the legislature and Governor Heineman (who, respectively, voted and signed LB 645 into law without any substantive hearings or explanation), this commission is near completion of a betrayal of rural Nebraska, its future, and this state's neediest citizens that began almost 18 months ago.

The Lincoln Journal-Star reports:
A special task force is poised to recommend the Legislature shut the door on public agencies helping provide high-speed Internet and other services across the state.

After months of wrangling over the issue, the Broadband Services Task Force led by Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy staked positions Wednesday that are expected to frame a final report to be submitted to the Legislature late this year....

Should the positions voted upon Wednesday result in law, Nebraska’s one-of-a-kind web of publicly owned power districts will be barred from helping stretch high-speed Internet, video and telecommunications services to residents. Retail service, or providing services directly to residents, was not at issue. State law already bars it....

A member of the task force that is general manager the Dawson County Public Power District argued that barring that district and others from using its infrastructure to help spread services would amount to “writing off rural areas.”

“I’m not ready to write off rural areas that easily, especially when you have some entities ready to step up and help the process,” said Robert Heinz. “I’m not ready to walk away and leave rural Nebraska to its own devices.”

Another member who supports public participation, Linda Aerni, president of Columbus-based Community Internet/Megavision, said the task force has suffered from myopia by focusing on input from phone companies and not others in the Internet business. The group has also failed to examine the experiences of other states that have allowed public entry, she said.

Shelly Sahling of Lincoln Electric System, who attended the meeting but is not a member, said 14 states allow it. She agreed with Aerni.

“Nobody’s gone out and found those abysmal failures where the public was allowed in and it impeded competition,” said Sahling.

“We’ve been here for 1½ hours,” she added, “and nobody’s talked about the customer.”

Though entirely expected, this really is a bleak sign for Nebraska's economic and educational outlook. Regardless of how people feel about public utilities entering the market for Internet service, in either a wholesale or retail capacity, it's impossibly, inexplicably backwards for state government to choose such drastic and final action at this point. While other states experiment with models to expand access and affordability of high-speed Internet, we are slamming the door in the face of such opportunities before our communities have even realized they exist.

So far, the only leader in the state to have risen up and challenged this act of corporate greed's trumping the public good has been Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Hahn, whose vision for a Nebraska that embraces the future so clearly contrasts with the ruling Republican regime's blind adherence to the status quo. Hahn responded to this latest news by telling the Journal-Star:
The Democratic candidate for governor blasted the vote of a special broadband task force as damaging to the state, and suggested he will draw attention to the issue of Nebraska’s Internet service in the race's final months.

The actions of the task force charged with advising to the Legislature on broadband issues could “put this generation and future generations at a significant disadvantage,” said David Hahn.

“It’s sad and it’s a blunder,” he added....

A spokesman for Gov. Dave Heineman said the governor had not yet had a chance to closely review the task force’s vote.

“He’s going to keep an open mind and will look at the issue,” said Aaron Sanderford.

No surprise there. Heineman needs to study the study, despite the fact that he signed the underlying bill in Spring 2005 without a second thought. Although it's a foregone conclusion that he will again do the Telecommunications lobby's bidding, Heineman will do what he does best - delay taking a position until he's damn sure it's not going to cost him on Election Day.

But, whether or not Hahn can turn the Broadband betrayal into a winning campaign theme, it's clear his forward-thinking message has at least inspired his fellow Democrats to look to the needs of Nebraska's future and the outright foolishness of our forsaking the one strategic advantage we have in terms of 21st century technology. Although I haven't yet had the chance to write a full report on the 2006 Nebraska Democratic Party convention held last weekend, I'm happy to report that, thanks to Hahn's leadership, that body proved several steps ahead of this report in adopting to its platform the following language:
Universal Broadband
Building from Nebraska’s successful tradition of public power and recognizing the economic and educational needs of the 21st Century, the Nebraska Democratic Party calls for the development of a statewide broadband Internet infrastructure. Municipalities and other public entities should have the right to partner with private corporations to encourage access and lower costs, while retaining the flexibility to pursue their own service as best fulfills the needs of the citizens they serve.

A call for freedom - no more, no less. A call that we not tie our hands and cripple our potential any further along this disastrous and short-sighted approach chosen by Nebraska's visionless servants of the status quo.

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Thursday, August 24, 2006

Who Dumped Whom?

by Kyle Michaelis
For most of this summer, Pete Ricketts, the Republican challenger to incumbent Senator Ben Nelson, was listed on the front page of Stop OverSpending Nebraska's website as one of their "Coalition Supporters."

Looking at the page now, however, you'll see a blank spot below the names of the supporting organizations where it previously listed Ricketts as having endorsed SOS Nebraska's sham spending lid Amendment.

Of course, we all know that any true listing of "Coalition Supporters" would list the entire network of out-of-state money men and influence peddlers who are truly orchestrating this effort - along with the anti-family Humane Care Amendment that will also be appearing on the November ballot - having flooded Nebraska with $1.7 million through the Howard Rich-Americans for Limited Government-America At Its Best pipeline that has spilled into our state from deep within the bowels of American democracy.

Well, until a few days ago, Pete Ricketts - a man who is similarly counting on the idea that democracy can be bought by the highest bidder - was front and center amongst SOS Nebraska's rag-tag band of Right-wing supporters. But, suddenly, that's no longer the case.

One can't help wondering what happened behind the scenes to force Ricketts' removal. With Gov. Dave Heineman finally coming out against the spending lid after months of hiding from the issue, maybe Ricketts just realized he didn't want to be the headliner for an extremist group threatening the future of education and our care for the sick and the elderly in the state of Nebraska.

Another possibility is that SOS Nebraska - desperate to seem legitimate - never had Ricketts' permission to claim him as one of their supporters. I know Ricketts went on record supporting the petition effort and the Spending Lid Amendment's being on the November ballot, but he may simply have wanted to reap the political benefits - as intended by Howard Rich & Co. - of this Amendment's bringing the anti-government, anti-taxation fringe to the polls this November.

But, for Ricketts, exploting all that out-of-state money and hoping to make it work for him is a very different proposition than actually supporting the disastrously simplistic formula that would be imposed on state government should the people of Nebraska actually make the horrible mistake of voting for it. Recognizing that there is no real grassroots support for this intiative -it is all smoke and mirrors being orchestrated by people located in New York, Illinois, Wisconsin and Montana - he may just be getting out while he can before the facts about this disaster-waiting-to-happen reach the ears of Nebraskans.

There is one final possibility - that SOS Nebraska looked at Pete Ricketts' 52% disapproval rating and decided that attaching his name to their cause was doing them more harm than good. I mean, seriously, with numbers like that, the guy isn't too far from earning the nickname "Poisonous Pete" for all the people of Nebraska think of him.

Still, having already adopted gubernatorial fringe candidate Dave Nabity as SOS Nebraska's unofficial spokesman, after receiving 5% in May's Republican primary, Ricketts would have to have sunk pretty low indeed to get kicked out of this so-called "coalition."

Who dumped whom? Who in this short-lived marriage of political convenience finally realized that the other really didn't have anything to offer. Honestly, both SOS Nebraska and Pete Ricketts have proven themselves such self-serving and manipulative scoundrels by the methods they have employed in their respective campaigns that I could see "the split" being instigated by either party.

Kind of sad, really. They practically seem made for each other....even if what they share most in common is how bad they would be for Nebraska.

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The More Pete Ricketts Spends, The Less Nebraska Likes Him

by Kyle Michaelis
The unofficial Pete Ricketts campaign theme song remains "Can't Buy Me Love" a month after polls first demonstrated that the people of Nebraska just don't like the guy, with 50% of respondents then reporting an unfavorable opinion of him.

One month later, with Ricketts having thrown in another $2 million into his challenge to Senator Ben Nelson, and - believe it or not - he's actually more unpopular than ever.

According to August's Rasmussen Reports update:
Ricketts...has spent millions of his own money on the campaign, and succeeded in making himself known to voters. Right now, 45% view him favorably, 52% view him unfavorably. Twice as many (25%) view him "very" unfavorably as view him "very" favorably (12%).....

Meanwhile, 74% have a favorable view of Senator Nelson.

Ricketts has certainly "succeeded in making himself known to voters," all right. But, with success like this - having spent more than $7 million to achieve it - failure has never sounded so good.

I'm not one to put too much faith in polling and am too cautious to take anything for granted in politics. But, the simple truth is that people don't vote for candidates they don't like.

At this point, Nelson leads Ricketts 55% to 32% in their head-to-head match-up. With his proven record and continued popularity, Nelson is even within the margin of error to beat Ricketts amongst registered Republicans. That is, quite simply, amazing.

Numbers such as these stand dangerously close to being campaign-killers. With the Ricketts campaign never having shown much life beyond its extravagant spending and negative attacks, that shouldn't come as much of a surprise.

Still, it's early - not even Labor Day yet. If recent history is any guide, that gives Ricketts plenty of time to spend millions of more dollars on his mindless and insulting campaign's partisan rhetoric and rancor. In other words, he's got all the time in the world to sink even further - both on the campaign trail and in the eyes of Nebraska's voters.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Why is Dave Heineman So Deathly Afraid of Debate w/David Hahn?

by Kyle Michaelis
With the most recent poll by the Rasmussen Report giving Governor Dave Heineman a 50%-plus point lead over his Democratic challenger David Hahn, there shouldn't be a whole lot for Heineman to worry about heading into their "debate" at the Nebraska State Fair this Saturday afternoon. Yet, Heineman's campaign appears to be in full-on crisis mode trying to pre-emptively prevent Hahn from making any use of footage from this event that has not even occurred.

Huh? What the hell? Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? It is one thing for the Heineman campaign to have, as expected, shamelessly reversed its call for 6 debates this spring by agreeing to only 3 in the general election - a number he'd called insufficient for the primary, then claiming more than 3 debates were needed "to give more Nebraskans a chance to see the...candidates and to give the candidates more time to discuss key issues."

That's just politics-as-usual from a man who cares nothing for democracy beyond the power he can gain from election.

But now, beyond cynically minimizing his exposure to the risks of facing an opponent such as Hahn who has an actual vision for this state and who speaks with a candor the people of Nebraska have not heard in years, Heineman is using behind-the-scenes influence to make sure the debate is not even accessible to voters as they start paying attention to the race in the post-Labor Day political environment.

This may be a new low for Heineman, though - in terms of sheer political paranoia on the part of his campaign - it's still pretty evenly-matched with his attempt last March to back out of the Republican debate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as soon as he realized students were involved and were even being allowed to submit questions.

At that time, Heineman's campaign manager, Carlos Castillo, relied on an insignificant deviation from the agreed-to terms to justify their cowardice, telling the Omaha World-Herald "neither he nor Heineman has anything against students but [they] believe the original agreement should be honored."

Ha! Clearly, there is no such thing as honor with this bunch. Fast forward just a few months and the Heineman campaign are the ones seeking to change the terms of debate with new diva-like demands just days before it's scheduled to take place.

Luckily for Nebraska voters and Nebraska democracy, Hahn has not acquiesced to such ridiculousness. In a press release sent out tonight, Hahn's campaign responds:
We have heard Dave Heineman’s concerns about limiting the use of any video footage from the debate by the three gubernatorial campaigns. While we do not understand why a candidate who is so far ahead of every other candidate would be so concerned about this issue, we have heard him and want to put aside his fears. David Hahn remains committed to participate in the Farm Bureau debate despite the fact that the Farm Bureau has been a significant financial supporter to Dave Heineman’s 2006 election campaign and an active participant in attempting to reopen the already negotiated and agreed to terms for this debate.

Let’s not forget that this is a debate that Dave Heineman said he would participate in at the end of July. Dave Heineman announced the Farm Bureau Debate as one of only three debates he would participate in with David Hahn. If the Heineman’s campaign’s previous statement that the governor had reached an agreement on the terms for debate with all of the involved parties is not “an agreement,” then I am afraid Dave Heineman is living in a much different world than David Hahn and the rest of Nebraska. Heineman’s world appears to be filled with political gamesmanship and intrigue and devoid of any value for realistically helping the people of our state.

As Castillo said in the primary, "the original agreement should be honored."

This is sickening and pathetic. This is just one more instance of shameless hypocrisy on the part of Heineman to avoid being exposed for the visionless servant of the status quo he has proven himself time and again since taking office.

The debate is Saturday, August 26th at 1:30 pm at the State Fair grounds in Lincoln. Be there if you can. If the cowardly Heineman had his way, that's the only opportunity you would have to see this important showdown for yourself.

He knows he can coast to victory so long as the people remain ignorant of the candidates and the issues. Heineman's enemy is not David Hahn. His enemy is the truth and the outside chance that it might actually reach the people in time to wake them before November.

Heineman's is a race against reality - a race against the future. Quite clearly, it is also a race he intends to matter the costs.

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Monday, August 21, 2006

"Kiss Me Kate" - Rolling Out the Welcome Mat to Witek

by Kyle Michaelis
I didn't have the opportunity to contribute my two cents as the news of State Auditor Kate Witek's changing her registration from Republican to Democrat first unfolded. The announcement appeared in the Lincoln Journal-Star on Friday, creating an undeniable buzz around the continued progress of the Nebraska Democratic Party just in time for their 2006 Convention this last weekend.

Witek becomes Nebraska's first Democratic office-holder in state government since 1998. Her high-level defection - having served as a state senator and as the 1994 Republican nominee for Lt. Governor - could do much to resphape the entire political landscape heading into the November election.

As far as political surprises go, Witek's switch is probably as big and as unexpected as any this state has seen since Mike Johanns stepped down as Governor, delivering a tremendous blow to Nebraska Republicans' hopes of defeating Sen. Ben Nelson. No doubt, this is another blow to Nebraska Republicans - not just for the fact that it breaks their strangehold on the state's Consitutional offices but also for the message it sends to voters: there is no longer a place for independent thought in the modern Republican Party.

Although political considerations certainly played a role in Witek's change of parties (as she now stands positioned to seek reelection as State Auditor rather than conceding her office to Republican nominee Mike Foley), there is a larger and more important principle in evidence that stands on the verge of becoming a national movement away from the Republican Party.

In Kansas this year, nine former Republicans are running for office as Democrats - most notably Mark Parkinson, who was chair of the Kansas Republican Party as recently as 2003 but is now running for Lt. Governor on the Democratic ticket with popular incumbent Governor Kathleen Sebelius. In a similar vein, the popularity and continued success of Ben Nelson opened the door for Witek's becoming a Democrat. Nelson's example and his record are testaments to the Democratic Party's singular ability to bring people of diverse perspectives together in the interests of getting things done.

What's most surprising about Witek's becoming a Democrat is that - unlike her Kansas counterparts and unlike Jim Webb's Democratic campaign for the U.S. Senate in Virginia after having served as Secretary of the Navy under President Reagan - Witek really doesn't fit the mold of these political moderates who've discovered they no longer have a place in the Republican Party. Whereas most of those driven from the Republican Party have been driven out by its adoption of an extremist right-wing ideology, Witek's defection seems to have been forced less by policy and more by the methods of the modern Republican Party.

As a woman and an elected official who thinks for herself and has refused on numerous occasions to forsake her duties by buckling under partisan pressures, Witek has earned the respect of Nebraska voters from across the political spectrum, precisely for her willingness to challenge the status quo. Witek's emphasis on competence, efficiency, and accountability in government made her few friends amongst party big whigs who would have preferred a state auditor who would look the other way and keep her mouth shut as Republicans exercised near-total control over state government these last eight years. She has proven herself principled and fair-minded, willing to put her duties ahead of the interests of her party - for that reason and that reason alone there is no longer a place for Witek in the Republican Party.

In an editorial this Saturday, the Omaha World-Herald unfortunately but not-at-all unexpectedly attempted to undermine Witek's conversion as little more than a marriage of convenience between a woman looking to hold onto her job and a party looking to fill a place on the November ballot. Such Republican-serving spin can not hide the fact that Witek's conversion was truly an act of principled necessity. It is a well-deserved and vitally important act of protest against what the Republican Party has become.

Kate Witek was isolated and eventually driven from the Republican ranks because she's maintained her right to think for herself, putting good government ahead of partisan advancemement. Her example can serve as only one more reminder to voters that the Republican Party has lost its way and demands some check on its lustful 12-year-long power-grab lest it lead this country and this state even further down the roads of divisiveness and disaster.

Of course, there's no denying that the Democratic Party benefits from Witek's change of registration. Not only do they gain a well-respected office-holder and (likely) a candidate for State Auditor on November's ballot, but they have also again put voters on notice that they are not only showing signs of life but actual signs of progress. In a year that saw many Democrats temporarily changing their registration to Republican to vote in the hotly-contested May primary - as two state senators joined in the phenomenon without changing back - Witek's surprise announcement shifts the momentum and sends a long overdue warning sign to the average Republican voter that it's time to seriously reconsider the style of partisanship by which their party has found such success by imperiling the future of our democracy.

No doubt, Witek's registration change also solidifies Sen. Nelson's already strong position by emphasizing his broad appeal, his accessibility to all, and the underappreciated example he has set in the Nebraska Democratic Party for leadership that not only transcends blind partisanship but actually thrives by the lost arts of principled compromise and consensus-building.

The Democratic Party is a big tent. It certainly has room for a man of Ben Nelson's pragmatic character and common sense values. And, in an age when the Republican Party has lost any claim to the principles and pretenses on which it was once founded, this same party has a place for Kate Witek and all those whose approach to government is focused on getting things done and doing them right.

Message control and consolidation of power are not the stuff of leadership, yet - increasingly - these are all the Republican Party have to offer. For this, its moderates have been driven from the GOPs ranks, and - now - any Republican with a mind of his or her own has been forced to stand-up to the cynicism at the heart of their politics and the despair it promises for our future.

The disease and rot have sent Sen. Chuck Hagel onto national television to condemn what his party has become ("I think we've lost our way."). In the case of Kate Witek, it has sent her into unexpected and uncharted waters as a newly-christened Democrat.

For Republican voters who expect more than meaningless gibberish about "staying the course" and more empty promises of fiscal responsibility that have failed to materialize after 12 years in power, their own recourse is more limited. In Nebraska, of course, they have a candidate like Ben Nelson who can be trusted to put their interests first without regard for the pettiness of Washington partisanship. Elsewhere, however, they will have a more difficult choice.

Luckily, I confine myself to discussion of Nebraska politics - where you almost have to ask yourself "if leaders such as Ben Nelson and Kate Witek are Democrats, why aren't you?" (admittedly a more dangerous question of NNNs left-leaning readership, but, surely, they get my point).

PS- I must confess that my receptivity to Witek's sudden onset of Democratic fervor might have a lot to do with its so-fortuitously answering my incessant calls last spring for a challenge to Mike Foley's being crowned state auditor. After Foley's deceitful conduct before the state legislature this year, he is totally unfit to serve in this office for which the most basic and essential qualification is the simple integrity he so obviously lacks.

For whatever my political differences with Witek, she has demonstrated her integrity on numerous occasions, while also maintaining an impressive record of depoliticizing the auditor's office in a manner to which the zealot Foley is not capable and would not even aspire. She is the better person for this particular job and I have little doubt she would do the Democratic Party and the people of Nebraska proud if reelected.

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Friday, August 18, 2006

Nebraska Democratic Party's 2006 Convention Convenes in Grand Island

by Kyle Michaelis
No updates this weekend, which shouldn't come as much of a surprise since I've already been pretty lax in posting the last several weeks. At least, I have a pretty good excuse for the next few days, as I'll be attending the NDPs 2006 Convention and won't have access to the Internet (oh, heavenly release!).

I have been tinkering with the NDPs platform hoping to make additions and amendments touching on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research (for), elimination of the Estate Tax (against, at both state and federal level), establishment of statewide broadband Internet (for), along with the immigration and abortion changes already discussed.

Of course, many of my proposals will be rejected, but that's as it should be if they do not reflect the will of the voting delegates. And, there will be concerns raised about how far out-of-line with Sen. Ben Nelson the party should dare to step on stem cells, estate taxes, and immigration reform, but I generally think there's little for Nelson to worry about each time we give him an opportunity to prove his "independence."

Of more legitimate concern is whether or not the positions we take put us further outside the mainstream and further handicap our down ballot candidates with Nebraska voters. Although it is short-sighted in the extreme, I will not be surprised if we fail to adopt a comprehensive position on immigration reform for this very reason. And, the question will no doubt be raised on many other issues as well.

Other than that, I expect the Convention will adopt resolutions opposing the spending lid and humane care amendments on the November ballot. Talk of Iraq will certainly arise in some form or another, and I regret that a call for President Bush's impeachment will probably take up time as well...though that truly would undermine the efforts of our Congressional candidates and play into the hands of their opponents.

Personally, I would like to see a resolution calling for benchmarks, goals, and greater Congressional scrutiny in the conducting of the Iraq War, with another resolution denouncing President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and the whole of the Republican Party for their continued politicization of the War on Terror, using fear for partisan advantage in total dereliction of their duties to the American public. A perfect example of these tactics is Cheney's assertion last week that Ned Lamont's victory over Sen. Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary would encourage "Al Qaeda types." That is a ludicrous and insulting suggestion - one that even former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge outright rejected in the most recent issue of Newsweek.

Elsewhere on the agenda will be the election of state officers. Most notable is NDP chair Steve Achelpohl's bid for reelection. Over the summer, there was much talk of a challenge to Achelpohl being arranged by an assorted cast of Democratic Party players with a wide-range of concerns, grievances, and motivations. Some of these were legitimate - particularly questions about Nebraska Democrats' worsening disadvantage in terms of voter registration and our very much related failure to recruit candidates for three of five statewide constitutional offices. But, there were also several parties involved in the effort to challenge Achelpohl with rather suspect and blatantly self-interested purposes.

The word is that certain powers-that-be decided a contested race for Chair of the NDP would be too contentious and distracting from the party's campaign efforts, resulting in pressures that have supposedly defused the challenge to Achelpohl's leadership. I believe this unfortunate because it is so likely to only contribute to the resentments and back-biting of those already so inclined.

Ultimately, elections are healthy. They have their short-term costs, but they encourage accountability and provide the victor an undeniable air of legitimacy that may otherwise be lacking. With the record Achelpohl has established, the early support he earned from DNC Chair Howard Dean, and the fact that the NDP today stands better positioned for immediate and future success than at any other point this decade (a point well-established by the NDPs 2006 Report), I believe Achelpohl would have coasted to his benefit and that of the entire party.

Assuming that the challenge to Achelpohl is no longer forthcoming, there is substantial risk, however, that those who backed-down will simply adopt one more complaint with which to undermine the NDPs leadership without the obligation that would have otherwise manifest to respect the will of the Convention. But, that's just my opinion. Who knows - maybe we've averted certain catastrophe.

I'm not entirely sure if it will come up or not, but there's also been talk that the Convention will consider the idea of holding statewide caucuses months before our traditional May primary in 2008 so Nebraska Democrats are more likely to have at least some say in who their Presidential nominee will be.

Whereas Nebraska once had a position of some preeminence when it was one of the few states that held an actual party primary to decide its apportionment of delegates to the national convention (30+ years ago), the expansion of such systems and their increasing front-loading earlier and earlier in the year have left Nebraska's current influence negligible, if not non-existent. Transitioning to a caucus system, to be held earlier in the election cycle (supposedly with the blessing of the DNC), would be an attempt to change that.

The chief downside of such a transition is the expense involved, which would be substantial and which would need to be picked-up by the state party. The other downside is the fact that caucuses are generally considered less democratic, putting more power in the hands of activists and special interest groups at expense to regular voters who tend to be underrepresented. The upside of a caucus is that it might actually provide voters a reason to give a damn. Caucuses would also have side benefits in terms of getting people involved in their local Democratic Party and reinvigorating their activities - though, as it stands now, it seems questionable whether the infrastructure is currently in place or could even be developed in time to pull off such a mammoth undertaking.

It should be an interesting weekend, to say the least. I'll try to report back on what actually unfolds regarding the above topics (and so much more) as soon as all is said and done.

Until then, see you on the flip-side.

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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Chuck Hagel's "ALL TALK Express"

by Kyle Michaelis
Columnist, socialite, and online diva Arianna Huffington has posted a new blog at the self-titled Huffington Post in which she notes the outspokenness of our Republican Senator Chuck Hagel on the Bush Administration's mishandling of the Iraq War and suggests the possibility that it could propel him to be a leading candidate for the 2008 Republican Presidential nomination.

She writes:
Has Chuck Hagel Hijacked the Straight Talk Express?

In the same way that the race for the Democratic nomination in 2008 is shaping up to be Hillary vs the non-Hillary, centering on differences over the war in Iraq, the race on the Republican side looks like it could turn out to be McCain vs the non-McCain, also centering on differences over the war.

And the man looking more and more like the non-McCain is Chuck Hagel.

The two decorated war heroes are longtime friends. But their political paths seem to be diverging. Whereas McCain, longtime wearer of the mantle of party maverick, is aggressively staking out the sweet spot of the GOP base -- supporting President Bush on Iraq and tax cuts (yes, the ones he originally voted against), and making nice with Jerry Falwell -- Hagel is courageously and passionately speaking out against the White House's disastrous foreign policies.

Indeed, Hagel's withering criticisms of the president's handling of Iraq have been far bolder than anything most Democrats have been willing to say....

Like Jack Murtha, another Vietnam vet, Hagel originally voted for the war but turned against it after seeing how poorly it was being handled -- and becoming disgusted with the Bush administration's sugar-coating of the deteriorating situation.

He broke ranks back in June 2005, appalled by Dick Cheney's claim that the insurgency was in its "last throes": "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality. It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

And he's kept up the drumbeat. "The Iraqi government, the Iraqi people, want the United States out of Iraq," he said in June 2006. "They see us as oppressors, rather than liberators. That's just a fact of life."

These sentiments have put him on the side of the majority of Americans, but also in the position of taking on his party's power structure -- something he's shown a willingness to do.....

It's almost as if McCain has abandoned the Straight Talk Express on the side of the road and Hagel has hopped into the driver's seat.

Will his party, looking for a way out of the Iraq quagmire, climb on board?

I am the first to admit that the comments on which Huffington assesses Hagel are thoughtful and courageous, especially in the face of his party's self-imposed gag order when it comes to speaking the truth about the Bush Administration. The problem is that Hagel's words remain nothing more than talk. While McCain's status as an independent maverick has always been an exaggeration itself, looking at Hagel's record of party-line voting - especially where Iraq is concerned - reveals that any talk of him as a maverick is not just exaggerated but is the stuff of outright fantasy.

Until Hagel backs up his words with actions, standing up to the Bush Administration's mismanagement and misconduct with his votes and demanding some accountability, he can't be taken seriously. If Hagel is the new conductor of the Straight Talk Express, it may as well be renamed the All Talk least, if we're to judge the man on his actual record.

That said, I am grateful for Hagel's criticism of the Iraq War and believe it serves our servicemen and our nation well. But, talk is cheap....and politicians do a lot of talking so theirs is even cheaper.

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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

"Walking the Plank" - Immigration

by Kyle Michaelis
Amazingly enough, the Nebraska Democratic Party's 2004 Platform was pretty well silent on the issue of immigration. As reported by the Lincoln Journal-Star in June, even Nebraska Republicans were then able to find some common ground on the issue, stating ever-so-vaguely:
We support, welcome and encourage the assimilation of all legal immigrants and others who are here by due process and are productive, law-abiding citizens.

In fairness to them, we support stringent federal efforts to stem the tide of illegal immigration.

Well, I think Nebraska Democrats can do better than that - no matter how contentious, no matter how politically complicated. The problem is that I'm having a hard time coming up with the proper language. Care to lend a brother a hand?

Now, in my mind, there must be several components to a broad Immigration plank: first, a primary and immediate emphasis on securing our nation's borders. This may actually be a better fit under national security, focusing just as much on gaining control of our nation's shipping ports as our ports of entry for migration purposes. Clearly, there is legitimate danger in not taking action to cure these long-neglected but glaringly obvious failures of public policy that the Republicans have completely refused to touch over the last 6 years.

This, of course, would fit in well with Sen. Nelson's talk of "securing our borders first" and his suggestion that border security need not and should not be bogged down in the more divisive issues of complicated but ultimately necessary comprehensive immigration reform.

From there, however, I think Nebraska Democrats have an obligation to lay-out an agenda for the future that Sen. Nelson might not be quite so quick to embrace.

Amongst the proposals I'm considering is a declaration of support for a pathway to citizenship for those already in the country who have no criminal record. We have benefitted from these peoples' labor (or, our corporations have). For economic reasons, we have been complicit and even could be said to have encouraged the endless waves of illegal border-crossings. It is time for a total break from such short-sighted policy, but innocent laborers and their families who are already in the United States should not be made to suffer for such a long overdue transition.

You say it's amnesty. I say you're goddamn right.

I might also propose that the NDP stand in opposition to any sort of temporary or guest worker program that could forever undermine the American dream by excluding a class of people from its promise whose labor we are otherwise willing to exploit. Those who present no security concern pose no greater danger than they ever have and should be welcomed into our country and into full participation in our democracy in an orderly fashion. Anything less makes less of who we are as a nation and what we have always meant to the world.....what we must continue to mean to the world if we're truly serious about exporting freedom across the globe.

It also seems to stand to reason that Nebraska Democrats must call for vigorous enforcement of our nation's labor and employment laws, with harsher penalties for violating employers, to establish order in a system that will otherwise result in chaos from which no substantial progress will be made in any of the above immigration policies. People come here for work. So long as that work remains available to those who enter the country illegally, they will find a way to do so. With the threat of global terrorism, such conditions can no longer be tolerated.

So, what do you say? Do you think Nebraska Democrats can and should reach some sort of consensus on comprehensive immigration reform? If nothing else, I'm sure there's support for a vague call for securing our nation's borders, but - to leave that as the beginning and the end of the issue, an issue that we claim should be wholly separate from immigration in the first place - leaves a gaping hole in our party's statement of principles and positions.

We can do better than that. If I have any say in the matter, we will do better than that this weekend, though I'm receptive to your own thoughts, concerns, and proposals on this issue for which we can no longer hide from our better nature as both cautious and compassionate Americans.

In fact, beyond the quite reasonable concession to Nelson prioritizing securing our nation's borders (in its many forms), I'm quite comfortable with the language used in the national Democratic Party's 2004 Platform and believe it to be an excellent starting-off point:
We will extend the promise of citizenship to those still struggling for freedom. Today's immigration laws do not reflect our values or serve our security, and we will work for real reform. The solution is not to establish a massive new status of second-class workers; that betrays our values and hurts all working people. Undocumented immigrants within our borders who clear a background check, work hard and pay taxes should have a path to earn full participation in America. We will hasten family reunification for parents and children, husbands and wives, and offer more English-language and civic education classes so immigrants can assume all the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. As we undertake these steps, we will work with our neighbors to strengthen our security so we are safer from those who would come here to harm us. We are a nation of immigrants, and from Arab-Americans in California to Latinos in Florida, we share the dream of a better life in the country we love.

A tad verbose but a whole lot better than saying nothing. Wouldn't you agree?

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The Plot Thickens - A New Level of Petition Process' Perversion

by Kyle Michaelis
A very insidious presence has entered Nebraska politics under the guise of SOS Nebraska and the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee. As established over the last month (1,2,3,4, 5), these fake Nebraska entities are connected at the hip, despite the fact that the Amendments they respectively support have no logical relation whatsoever. The only plausible connection between the efforts - one tying the hands of government by capping state spending with a novel but foolish and inflexible formula, the other expanding the reach of government to take away the power from families to make the most private, personal, and oftentimes painful decisions they will ever face when a loved one is on life support - is their respective appeal to divergent populations who come together under the ill-fitting label of conservative voters.

These efforts are funded by the same people, who have covered their tracks in the same manner, who have recruited Nebraska spokespeople offering the same lies and deception to mask the full extent of the machinations being committed in their name but totally outside of their control.

Credit is owed to the Lincoln Journal-Star and its reporter, Nancy Hicks, for at least providing some minimal mainstream coverage to the web of contradictory but no less interlocking interests pulling the strings of SOS Nebraska and the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee. In Hicks' report this Sunday, "Meet Howard Rich", Hicks does a commendable job of putting the spotlight on the man who stands - like the Wizard of Oz - behind the curtain, pulling all the strings (i.e. paying all the bills) that maintain and sustain a monstrous, nationwide network of artificial grassroots political organizations local in name only, all of which are bent to serve only Rich's will and Rich's interests.

Perhaps the Wizard of Oz is too kind a likeness - the Dark Lord Sauron of Lord of the Rings is probably the more apt literary comparison.

Unfortunately, Hicks' report on Howard Rich, though functioning quite nicely as an introduction and biographical piece on this shadiest of political figures, is quite lacking in terms of revealing the full range of influence he has bought in Nebraska and around the country this election year. But, one can't blame Hicks for avoiding such trappings in print because the system overwhich he presides is so convoluted and intentionally misleading that any standard news article could not even begin to scratch its surface, let alone provide a reader anything approaching comprehension.

For that, one still has to look to the Internet, where a few bloggers like myself have weaved together a fabric from the evidence available across the country that at least begins telling Rich's devious tale before it can do too much damage to our communities and our citizens. The story has not yet been distilled to its most basic essence in clearest language - that will take time and perhaps the benefit of hindsight - but there's more than enough facts readily available to demonstrate the deception and fraud that lie at the heart of SOS Nebraska, the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee, and all their sister efforts across the country.

For a better sense of the national picture painted by Rich and his cronies, see the posts by Sandlapper, an anonymous blogger at DailyKos. Also of note is the work of Hart Williams, whose on-going series of reports (currently in its tenth part) delve deep into the labyrinth that's been constructed and has still maintained some semblance of order and cohesion despite the chaos.

Williams has made particularly good use of Nebraska's quite-stringent accountability and disclosure requirements - going one step further than I had in my own research - to uncover some truly startling revelations about the network supporting these sham organizations such as SOS Nebraska and the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee. I encourage those who are truly interested to read Williams' full report (or, at least, those parts concerning Nebraska - here, here, and here).

For those who just want the gist, however - keeping in mind my own reporting early last month on SOS Nebraska and NHCCs' undeniably shared funding sources and cover-up strategies - the most simplified telling of what's since been uncovered proves that Renewal Voter Outreach - the company used by SOS Nebraska and NHCC for their unofficially joint signature-gathering efforts - was, as expected, nothing more than one more front for Rich's organization. In fact, the woman responsible for incorporating Renewal Voter Outreach in Nebraska - Leslie Graves of Spring Green, Wisconsin - proves to be none other than the wife of Eric O'Keefe, Chair of the Executive Committee of American s for Limited Government, the Illinois-based foundation through which the New York-based Howard Rich funneled most of the money that first flowed through the Montana-based American At Its Best before findings its way in Nebraska.

Here's SOS Nebraska's latest ADC filing: first, note that its only personal or in-state contributions come from its Treasurer and its lead spokesman, amounting to less than $1,600. The other $858,000 they've received all comes from Howard Rich's network - including a previously unreported $240,000 contribution dated 6/28/06 that should have been included in SOS Nebraska's July report but was not (a discrepancy I noted last month that should invoke some form of fine or censure and, moreover, remains suspiciously at odds by more than 3 weeks with the earlier dates listed in America At Its Best's own filings).

Note that almost all of SOS Nebraska's expenditures went to Renewal Voter Outreach. The same can be said for Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee's expenditures. The fact that all this money - more than $1.7 million so far - is flowing from New York, through Illinois, to Montana, into Nebraska, and finally to a private company registered under the name of a Howard Rich underling's wife demonstrates quite clearly just how diseased and just how artful the abuse of the petition process has become.

The facts are there. This news is just waiting to be reported. And, it must be reported because Nebraskans and other voters across the country need to know how deep the machinations and manipulation run. Of course, the stooges who've tacked their names onto these efforts will contend that none of this matters - that only the will of the people, only their vote this November, counts. They would have us believe that where the money comes from and where it goes don't mean a thing.

But, voters know better. They know that when this much money is involved - going through this many hands, going to such ridiculous lengths to cover-up their tracks - there is something very, very wrong here.

These people have something to hide. These people don't want us to understand what's going on. They don't want us to understand what they're doing. More importantly, they don't want us to understand why they're doing it.

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Monday, August 14, 2006

The Pete Ricketts Vanity Project: $7 Million and Counting

by Kyle Michaelis
It must be nice to be the son of a billionaire. It doesn't mean people are going to like you. It doesn't mean people are going to believe in you. But, as Pete Ricketts is demonstrating with his self-funded campaign, it does mean you don't really have to care.

Yesterday's Omaha World-Herald reported that Ricketts just wrote a $1.7 million check to his campaign to unseat incumbent U.S. Senator Ben Nelson. They wrote:
The priciest political race in Nebraska history just got a little more expensive.

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Pete Ricketts has given an additional $1.7 million to his campaign, bringing his total personal contributions for the general election to $2.425 million, said campaign spokeswoman Jessica Moenning.

That will trigger the so-called "millionaires' amendment," a provision of federal election law that will allow Ricketts' opponent, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson, to collect more money from individual contributors.

Under the amendment, once a self-financed candidate's spending hits certain levels, an opponent may raise higher-than-normal amounts from donors to catch up.

Normally, individuals can give up to $2,100 to a U.S. Senate candidate. Nelson may now collect up to $12,600 from individuals....

The cost of the Nelson-Ricketts contest is expected to top $15 million. The candidates had raised a combined $12.3 million as of June 30.

The previous high spending total was in 1988, when Democrat Bob Kerrey defeated Republican U.S. Sen. David Karnes in a race in which the candidates spent more than $7 million....

The Nelson-Ricketts race is the first time the millionaires' amendment has come into play in Nebraska.

$1.7 million. Now, when normal Nebraskans think about numbers like that, we expect them to be printed on a giant personal check to be handed over at a press conference for lottery winners. Either that or Ed McMahon has brought it to the door.

But, that's not the world Pete Ricketts inhabits. For him, this is just another drop in the bucket. For him, all those zeros and all those stacks of bills we regular folks fantasize about may as well be printed on Monopoly money. It's a game - no more, no less. And, it's a game Ricketts thinks he can win, regardless of what the polls tell him, because he knows, at the end of the day, he's the man with more zeros and thicker stacks of bills at his disposal.

And, at his disposal just about says it because this money may as well be thrown on a bonfire, tossed in the garbage, or flushed down the toilet for all the good it's going to do for the people of Nebraska.

What's so noticeably lacking from the Omaha World-Herald's report on Ricketts' latest expenditure is any mention of his total contributions so far to this demonstration of one man's vanity masquerading as democracy. It needn't have been the headline - after all, most people already know that Ricketts spent $5 million of his own money just for the Republican nomination, and they can probably handle basic addition: more than $5 million then + more than $2 million now = more than $7 million dollars so far.

Still, this latest $1.7 million is a pretty huge increment. And, now that the Millionaire's Amendment has been triggered, Ricketts is unlikely to show any further restraint all the way up to election day. Following Ricketts' spending patterns from the primary - while taking into account the infinitely higher-caliber of his opponent in the general election - there's every reason to believe that Ricketts will be putting another $3 million of his dad's Ameritrade fortune into his Senate campaign, and it would not surprise at all if his total personal spending reaches $12 million before all is said and done.

Of course, it's hard to imagine there's enough air time in this entire state to spend that much money on advertising between now and November. But, if Ricketts is serious about winning - if Ricketts seems to have any shot at this thing in post-Labor Day polling - the sky really is going to be the limit.

By himself, with his own money, Ricketts has already spent more to become a U.S. Senator than was spent by both sides in Nebraska's previously record-holding race. Ricketts has already raised the stakes so high, playing from a pool of money that may as well be limitless, that the only check on his spending is the tolerance of Nebraska's voters for the price tag he is willing to put on their democracy.

Is $7 million too much for a rich man's son to pay for a Senate seat? Is $10 million? Is $12 million? The people have their limits, and - regardless of how much Nelson spends - they're going to understand that it's Ricketts' free spending ways that have set the tone for the campaign, making it a war of dollar signs that seems to be motivated very little by issues or an actual vision for our nation.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Few More Pieces in the Petition Puzzle

by Kyle Michaelis
Last month, I raised some very big questions about some very shady characters responsible for the proposed Spending Lid and the Terri Schiavo-inspired Humane Care Amendments that appear likely to be on the November ballot. Publicly, there is no connection between the Nebraska-based entities (organizations would be an exaggeration) behind these petition efforts. But, Stop Over Spending Nebraska and the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee not only used the same signature-gatherers and the same suspect accounting practices, they have also received all of their reported funding from the same out-of-state sources, who themselves operate through a confusing-by-design network of front organizations engaged in an apparently legal but no less corrupt form of money laundering.

Well, today I am happy to see that both the Omaha World-Herald and the Lincoln Journal-Star published articles delving into the first level of the deceptive maze that has been constructed. Unfortunately, the World-Herald continued to obscure what's most troubling in this situation by focusing on the dollar signs ($1.7 million) rather than the tortured path that led all that money into Nebraska. The World-Herald also clouds the issue by lumping it together with information on the expenditures of those supporting the casino gaming initiatives, who also spent extravagantly ($1.4 million) but at least did so out in the open. Still, it's a minor improvement over last week, when the World-Herald failed to even point out the inexplicable connection between SOS Nebraska and the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee.

The Lincoln Journal-Star (in a front page article not published online) is to be commended for going somewhat deeper, painting a more complete picture that seems to actually grasp the ugliness underlying these efforts. The LJS writes:
A group with a Chicago address and the deep pockets of a New York real estate investor has spent almost $1.7 million on two Nebraska petition drives.

The two proposals - a state spending lid and a requirement that hospitals and other health institutions feed dying patients - both appear to have enough voter signatures to get on the November ballot thanks to petition circulators paid for primarily by Americans for Limited Government.

Howard Rich, a wealthy New Yorker with a long history of working for libertarian causes, is chairman of the board for Americans for Limited Government, which has a Chicago address......

On the surface, the money pouring into the two Nebraska petition campaigns appears to come from an organization called America At Its Best, which has a Kalispell, Mont., post office box address and no Web site.

That group is listed as the donor group on financial reports filed by the petition campaigns with the state earlier this week.

But other reports show that Americans for Limited Government actually provides the bulk of the money.

"This seems to be a shell game," said Karen Kilgarin of the Nebraska State Education Aossication, part of the coalition opposed to the spending lid amendment.

"They don't want us to really know who is behind this scheme, this petition," she said. "It raises a lot of red flags for me."

"The folks in our coalition, I know them. They are all Nebraskans. They all live here. They are all involved in our communities and in our churches. They have real faces," she said of the coalition opposing the lid.

Where the money came from is a secondary issue, according to Mike Groene, the Nebraska leader of the lid petition drive.....

The money for the petition drive, he said, comes from like-minded people across the country.

Groene, of North Platte, said he did not know that Americans for Limited Government was funding the campaign. In fact, he never has met Howard Rich, and he's not a libertarian.

"All I know is we get our money from America At Its Best. This is the first I heard where they (America At Its Best) get their money," he said.

But he works with staff members of Americans for Limited Government, he said. And his group received money for the petition drive after he sent a letter through Americans for Limited Government requesting help....

Funds for Democracy, another group started and funded by Rich donated the bulk of the rest of the money to America At Its Best, $400,000....

This is not the first time a group Rich leads has paid to help put an initiative on Nebraska's ballot.

His organization U.S. Term Limits paid for Nebraska's term limit petition campaigns. That amendment, passed by voters, limits state senators to two consecutive four-year terms and means 20 senators cannot run for re-election this year.

The Journal-Star also mentioned that Americans for Limited Government is orchestrating spending lid campaigns in Montana, Missouri, Maine, Oregon, Nevada, Oklahoma, and Michigan - with those in Montana, Oklahoma and Michigan also using the Stop Over Spending (SOS) moniker that the liar Groene would have us believe is being independently operated in Nebraska.

Up to this point, I have generally given Groene the benefit of the doubt, assuming he's just some poor dupe being manipulated by forces he doesn't understand. But, the more facts come to light, the more it becomes evident he's been lying to cover the tracks of who's actually been funding and organizing these actions from the start.

Groene, of SOS Nebraska, wants us to believe that he had no idea Americans for Limited Government and its sister organizations (by way of Howard Rich) were the true face of Montana-based America At Its Best - despite the fact that he admits to working with ALG staff and relying on them to establish his Montana connection.

Lies! Lies! Damnable lies! No matter how big of a dupe Groene might, in fact, be - with no control over what's actually being conducted in the name of the organization of which he is the titular head - there's no way he's actually this clueless and in the dark about what's going on.

For all the damning evidence you need of Groene's deception, I suggest you listen to his debate with Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Hahn from June 20th. It's about a 40-minute debate (moderated by Lincoln radio host Tom Becka) during which Groene claims of SOS Nebraska's funding, "We’ve had 100,000 from one group, and we’ve gotten a lot of small donations.”

He then claims, “We’ve been very upfront and honest,” suspiciously trailing off when he (accidentally) mentions the involvement of Americans for Limited Government. This part of the discussion takes place about 10 minutes in, and - listening to it now - you can practically hear the brakes squealing in Groene's mind as he realizes he's just named the actual source of SOS Nebraska's funding rather than the fake organization (America At Its Best) created for that purpose.

Of course, Groene also lied about the $100,000 amount received at that point, since America At Its Best had already reported more than three times that amount paid to SOS Nebraska in the first week of June. Interestingly enough, Groene did estimate that the ultimate cost of signature-gathering would be $300 to $400 thousand, which is precisely along the lines of what AAIB had already contributed.

Also in that debate, Groene promised that once the signature-gathering was over, most of SOS Nebraska's funding would come from in-state. He said exactly, "When it comes to the ads and (when) we get it on the ballot...most of it will be in-state.”

Groene then went on to denounce reports of $2 million being spent in seven states by opponents of these spending lids. Yet, here it's become clear that Americans for Limited Government has spent almost that amount in Nebraska alone. And, of course, Groene's assurances of being funded in-state have proven even more deceptive now than when they were originally made, as AAIB/ALG have pumped another half-a-million dollars to SOS Nebraska by its own account (disregarding the $300,000 discrepancy in their dueling June reports).

Confused yet? Of course. And that's because you're supposed to be confused. It's supposed to be too much work to put together all these pieces. But, unfortunately for Groene, SOS Nebraska, Thomas Mann, the Nebraskans for Humane Care Committee, America At Its Best (Montana), Americans for Limited Government (Illinois), and Howard Rich (New York), there are people doing the work to expose their machinations here in Nebraska and across the country.

There is more to be written - more to be revealed. The press may be slow in uncovering it, but the truth is finding other ways of coming out. For starters, a lawsuit has been filed in Nebraska that challenges America At Its Best lurking in the shadows without coming forward as a sponsor of the Spending Lid Amendment. This weekend, the Associated Press reported:
Two Lincoln men filed a lawsuit Friday in an attempt to keep a measure designed to cap state spending from appearing on the November ballot.

The lawsuit, filed by John Chicoine and Patrick Henry and backed by AARP Nebraska, contends that spending lid proponents did not officially disclose all their sponsors. And the suit claims the measure violates a requirement of the Nebraska Constitution that a ballot measure pertain to a single subject.

The plaintiffs argue that either one of those issues should keep the spending lid off the ballot.

"We want full disclosure," Henry said. "Who are these out-of-state interests sponsoring this measure that would hurt our state's economy, business, agriculture and all other public services?".....

The lawsuit, filed Friday in Lancaster County District Court, argues that because a group called America At Its Best bankrolled the petition drive and helped draft it, it should be listed as a sponsor. The plaintiffs said in the lawsuit they believe other unnamed individuals and groups also helped draft the measure and should be sponsors.

It's great to see the unraveling of the truth actually resulting in action. But, I assure you, there is more unraveling to be done - some of it already completed by a fellow blogger. I don't have the time to write about it now, but look for the latest layer of dirt and deceit to be discussed this weekend.

Are we having fun yet? If you're enjoying this, let me suggest you do a Google search on our mysterious puppet-master "Howard Rich." That should keep you more than occupied until I find time for my next report.

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