Thursday, January 04, 2007

Nebraska Politics: More Stories Told in Numbers

by Kyle Michaelis
Beyond the myth-shattering 2006 voting record of Sen. Chuck Hagel, the Lincoln Journal-Star also reported on the performance of the rest of Nebraska's Congressional delegation by Congressional Quarterly's standards for presidential support and party unity:
Nebraska’s other senator, Ben Nelson, was the Democrat who most often voted in line with Bush’s positions.

Nelson, re-elected last month in a landslide despite a commanding Republican voter registration advantage in the state, also emerged again as the leading opponent of his party’s agenda in the Senate. He departed from the Democratic position 63.8 percent of the time....

Nelson voted with the president 75.7 percent of the time. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana finished second among Democrats at 70.8 percent.

“Nebraska has a lot of support for the president,” Nelson said Wednesday during a conference call from Washington. “And that’s probably reflected in my voting record.”

“It’s no secret that I’m bipartisan,” Nelson said.
I would suggest to Nelson that he's over-estimated Nebraska's support for Bush and could have exercised less election-driven caution in 2006. Still, it's outrageous and deceptive for the Journal-Star's Don Walton to label Nelson "the leading opponent" of the Democratic agenda. In the do-nothing Congress of 2006, a large part of the Democratic agenda was seeing Nelson re-elected, and his voting record helped make that possible by reinforcing his independence and preventing his opponent from gaining any sort of traction on hot button issues.

Of course, I won't be so cynical to think that Nelson's support for Bush was all about winning re-election or so hopeful to think that one year of Nelson's voting like a moderate Republican has bought us 6 years as a moderate Democrat. Like it or not, Nelson is a fairly conservative guy, and, as I wrote earlier this week, every Democrat in Nebraska is going to have to continue working hard at persuading he and our fellow citizens on the issues important to us.

As for our Representatives in the House:
* Rep. Lee Terry, 2nd District, led the way with a 97 percent rating [in party unity], the same score he amassed in votes supporting Bush’s positions.

* Rep. Tom Osborne, who turns over the 3rd District seat to Adrian Smith today, supported the president 95 percent of the time and stood with his party’s majority on 94 percent of the votes in the survey.

* Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, the 1st District congressman, sided with Bush on 87 percent of the votes and with his party 89 percent of the time.
With numbers like that, it's no wonder Terry proved susceptible in 2006. Terry is not his own man, and the voters in Douglas (Omaha) and Sarpy counties know it. If Terry seeks re-election in 2008 (or Hagel's Senate seat), he'd damn well better expect to be held accountable and to be challenged like never before.

It's sad to see a good man like Osborne turned into a Republican automaton and whipping boy, especially in a year when he had nothing left to lose. Osborne's political career should serve as a precautionary tale for anyone with an independent streak who actually thinks he or she can find a home in the lock-step world of the Republican Party. Not only will you be defamed and defeated, but - as evidenced here - you'll eventually be demoralized to the point where you just do as told.

I'll have to look further into Fortenberry's votes to see where where he's broken rank. One wonders if these instances don't usually reflect his stand on the Voting Rights Act this summer, where he voted with an extemist faction within the Republican caucus, led by Iowa nut-job Steve King, against his party, his president, and our nation's principles.

Don't be fooled. Numbers are meaningless without context. While they may not lie, the stories crafted around them and the purposes to which they are used often do.

The first comment responding to the Journal-Star's report on their website reads, "I'm impressed by Fortenberry's numbers...apparently he isn't a rubber stamp."

Maybe that's true. Maybe it isn't. But - keep in mind - numbers don't tell a full story. Fortenberry isn't Nebraska's best example of a Republican rubber stamp, but he might be something even worse.

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Blogger Knightn said...

exactly, and if Fortenberry ISN'T the rubber stamp, that says a lot about who is!


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