Saturday, January 20, 2007

Jeff Fortenberry's Predictable Partisanship On the Opinion Page

by Kyle Michaelis
I often fall back on the familiar refrain asking NNN readers to write letters to the editor on the issues important to them. Just scroll down a little ways on the sidebar, and you'll see some of the local newspapers that are just dying to print what you have to say - in some cases, sharing your words with more people in a day than read this site in a month.

Don't get me wrong. I'm extremely grateful for every one of this site's readers. It's an honor to have been shown so much kindness and respect over the preceding two years. But, let's not fool ourselves - at the end of the day, this site does not have the reach to change a state's political identity and to create the New Nebraska that is its promise and purpose.

I'm not a preaching to the choir kind of guy. In fact, I don't think there's a whole lot of value in having ideas if you're not willing to put those ideas out there for all the word to see. As an admitted, unrepentant progressive in a state that confines itself to an ill-fitting Republican identity that does not fit its legacy or its people's character, we can not fear criticism. We must welcome it. We must invite it. We must even listen and learn from it.

Why? Because as soon as you've shared your ideas in a public forum, you've started a discussion. Criticism allows that discussion to continue, taking on new life and new power in the public's imagination. If we truly believe in democracy and our supposed ideals, then the willingness to initiate these conversations is the most powerful statement of all. We need to take it upon ourselves to challenge the comfortable conformity of the status quo, not just having a different vision of our own but articulating it for the masses.

This isn't about a revolution. It's about making Nebraskans think, about who we are as a people and where we're headed as a state. If we can just get the people to open their eyes, open their minds, and - yes - even open their hearts enough to start asking tough questions and expecting honest answers of our politicians and our press, then we will have fulfilled our moral and democratic duties as citizens of this land we love.

But, talk is cheap. I can't ask readers to do and say that which I will not. So, keeping faith and hopefully encouraging others to follow suit, I want to share two letters I sent in my own name that were published this week by the 2nd and 3rd most widely read daily newspapers in the state....both of them concerning the out of touch values and voting record of Nebraska's First District Congressman, Jeff Fortenberry.

First, the Lincoln Journal-Star published the following:
Fortenberry out of touch

I want to thank the Lincoln Journal Star for its reporting the votes of Nebraska’s Republican Congressmen Jeff Fortenberry, Lee Terry, and Adrian Smith on the issues so far addressed by the Democratic Party’s “100 Hours” agenda. Too often, the Nebraska media fails to inform voters how we are actually being represented in Washington, D.C.

Still, I believe the Journal Star has a responsibility to go one step further in its coverage. With Fortenberry’s votes against raising the minimum wage, against allowing the federal government to negotiate lower prescription drug prices and against expanded funding for potentially live-saving stem cell research, voters have a right to know why their congressman stands in opposition to the vast majority of the American public.

Our new Congress has brought with it the opportunity for Fortenberry to finally represent the people rather than his party. I fear Fortenberry will only live up to this promise, though, if a vigilant press and an informed public give him no other choice.

If we are to expect accountability from our elected officials, we must start by expecting more from the press and from ourselves. In the future, I hope the Journal Star will do a better job of holding its reporting on Congress to this high standard, no longer giving Fortenberry a free pass without explaining his out-of-touch votes on the issues important to the American people.

Kyle Michaelis

That same day, the Daily Nebraskan printed:
Fortenberry should consider student needs

In 2006, the interest rates on student loans skyrocketed as the Republican Congress cut $12 billion out of the federal student aid programs to pay for another round of tax giveaways for corporations and the wealthy.

Now, in one of the first acts of the new Democratic majority in Congress, Democratic leaders hope to pass the College Student Relief Act of 2007 (H.R. 5). For anyone who believes in accessible and affordable higher education, this proposal really should be a no-brainer as it promises to cut interest rates in half in the next five years for undergraduate students with subsidized student loans. Best of all, there are no new costs to taxpayers.

Once fully enacted, it's estimated this plan will save students an average of $4,420. Unfortunately, Nebraska's Republican congressional delegation seems unlikely to vote for this sensible and long-overdue legislation for reasons of partisanship and personal interest. This is especially the case for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry.

The largest contributor to Fortenberry's 2006 campaign was Nelnet, a local student loan provider that stands accused of bilking the federal government out of hundreds of millions of dollars. H.R. 5 offsets its costs by changing the terms for lenders - almost certainly cutting into the outrageous profits that allowed Nelnet to also be the top contributor in the country to the House Republicans' national campaign committee.

Regardless of who funded his campaign or his party, Fortenberry is our representative. He should know that the students of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are watching this legislation and will hold him accountable for his vote.

Kyle Michaelis

Sure enough, Fortenberry voted exactly as predicted, one of only 71 Republicans to vote against the American people's interests in making higher education accessible to all. I'm sure Nelnet will remember that vote come the next election but so should we, the students, graduates, family members, and aspiring dreamers who look to a college degree with hope for a better life.

And, guess what, whether by suggestion or coincidence it was a pleasant surprise to see the headlining front-page story in Friday's Daily Nebraskan that actually got Fortenberry to go on record with this pathetic explanation for his vote:
Once in full effect, the cuts are projected to save borrowers with $13,800 of debt up to $4,400 over the life of the loan.

Fortenberry said the policy would increase debt and exacerbate a negative trend in tuition inflation for college students.

"My policy's emphasis is on the front-end - helping people get to college and go to college," he said.
Who does Fortenberry think he's kidding? Is he really going to act as if higher interest rates and the promise of endless debt aren't two of the most significant factors in keeping people from pursuing higher eduation?

Clearly, he is that far out of touch or that much of a liar considering his vote last year to cut $12 billion from the Federal Student Loan program. No logical consistency. No principle. No problem.

But, at least we've got him on record, and that's a start. What a start it would actually be if the Nebraska media held up its end of the bargain on more issues, keeping Fortenberry and his like accountable to the people they represent.

You can help make that happen. Dare to have high expectations. Make some phone calls. Write some letters. Demand to be heard and to hear what our politicians have to say.

Just forcing the discussion of a progressive agenda works to our advantage because these are issues that people care about and ideas with which they funadamentally agree.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that the more our Republican politicians say, the less they make sense. They know that. They fear it. And, they damn well should.

I say, let's keep'em talking.

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Anonymous Dave Sund said...

Right on cue, news comes that Nelnet gets to keep the $278 million it defrauded from the federal government.

Blogger CollegeGuy said...

Most support the H.R. 5 bill without even fully understanding the bill and it's additions (Sunshine Act & Star Act). Rightfully so, since its sugar coded with, "It's going to lower your student loan interest rates”! Yes, loan rates will drop .68% every year for the next 5 yrs however, it's not an instant drop and it's ONLY on subsidized loans. Most student loan borrowers loans are unsubsidized loans, which will not be reduced at all. Also, subsidized loan rates will change right back to 6.80% once the 5yr term is over, just in time for those new graduates to become responsible for the interest on these loans. Hmm, sounds like the Govt is just giving themselves a break, not the students. Additionally, H.R. 5 and it's additions will increase the fees to FFELP lenders which will force a lot of these lenders out of the student loan industry, minimizing borrowers choices and reducing incentives only FFELP lenders give to borrowers costing student loan borrowers THOUSANDS of dollars in interest. The GOVT is trying to monopolize the industry with this bill and it's additions. THESE BILLS ARE BAD NEWS FOR STUDENT LOAN BORROWERS! If the Govt really wanted to help students they would put more money into grants and/or incentives to help lowering tuition charged by the colleges. I advise doing your online research before calling this bill a "no brainer". You'll be shocked at all the hidden things these bills are going to do to student loan borrowers. If you do not support the H.R. 5 bill, Sunshine Act, or Star Act, I recommend contacting your states senator, contact info is available at: It takes less than 60 seconds to voice your opinion.


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