Friday, February 16, 2007

Hype and Hypocrisy in Unicameral Scandals

by Kyle Michaelis
Freshman State Sen. Danielle Nantkes of Lincoln made a very poor choice on Tuesday night, apparently driving while under the influence of alcohol and crashing into a snow plow. Thankfully, this foolish mistake did not end in outright tragedy, and no one was hurt in the crash.

Still, the news media have jumped on the story - on tv, on the radio, in the newspapers - and already public cries of outrage and indignation have reached borderline ridiculous levels. For proof, look no further than the Lincoln Journal Star's website, where a mind-boggling 170 comments have already been made in response to this story.

Without making light of the very real, very dangerous, and very illegal decision Nantkes made to drive while impaired, it's hard to reconcile the amount of criticism she's receiving with the generally lackadaisical approach of the Nebraska media to our elected officials. The New Nebraska Network's archives are replete with stories of politicians making just as grave of decisions, except in a public capacity and with much more lasting effect.

Of course, I understand that a controversial vote is never going to be as sexy as a scandal. But, I have to question the priorities and the integrity of those who've made such a spectacle of the Nantkes incident while turning a blind eye to the would-be scandals of even greater public concern that abound in Nebraska politics. For a perfect example, let's take a look at the following story from Wednesday's Omaha World-Herald:
Ex-Senator Lobbies for Deal He Initiated

Fomer State Sen. Don Pederson is being paid $20,000 to help push through a $12 million deal for the state to buy a Lincoln office building - a deal that he helped initiate while a member of the Nebraska legislature....

The possible purchase of the Assurity Life building became public last month, when Gov. Dave Heineman included it in his budget proposal. The purchase must be approved by the Legislature....

William Schmeeckle of Assurity Life said Pederson was the first person the company approached, about 18 months ago, to learn whether the state had an interest in the building. Pederson took the idea to the governor.

Pederson said Assurity Life President Tom Henning asked him about the idea at church one Sunday. Both men attend First-Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln.

Jack Gould, a spokesman for Common Cause, criticized Pederson for taking the job and said he found it particularly concerning that the purchase was under way before Pederson left the Legislature....

"State Senators are entrusted by the public to serve the public," Gould said. "When you turn that public trust into profit, that's wrong."

Schmeeckle said $20,000 was the amount Pederson requested for the job. As a state senator, Pederson was paid $12,000 a year.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that this is not the sort of "scandal" the media typically hunts because, frankly, they are so commonplace at all levels of government.

Here, there's not going to be a smoking gun. Rather than a shadowy backroom, we're talking about a deal that was supposedly made at church. None of that changes the fact that this entire situation stinks and that - yes - it represents a much greater threat to the people of this state and the integrity of their democracy than Nantkes getting ticketed for drunken driving.

Has Pederson broken the law? Probably not. But, I would contend that the impropriety of his receiving what is basically a "finder's fee" for actions taken as a state senator is a far more serious problem, more relevant to the future of our state than the potential illegality of Nantkes' conduct.

But, which story will get the Letters to the Editor? Which one will invite more complaints and calls for investigations? Which one are we going to hear about for months - if not years - in strawman arguments and partisan attacks? Sadly, I think we all know the answer to those questions.

A promising young woman just starting her political career made a terrible choice that jeopardized other's lives, and - for it - she will pay a steep price. At the same time, however, a man in the twilight of his political career also made a terrible choice that betrayed the public's trust, but - for it - he will cash-in on $20,000.

The scandal-mongers have spoken. Their concerns are clear. But, those concerns are most definitely not the best interests of Nebraska or we'd be talking about a much different balance between these respective controversies.

State Senators are only human. Of the corporations that own our major media outlets, I can only ask, "What's your excuse?"

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Anonymous Jared said...

I heard Nantkes will be doing a keg-stand at the Democrat Drinking Liberally Party?

Anonymous Football Madman said...

Other prominent politicians have been given second chances after being picked up for DUI. Back in 1976, at age 30, George W. Bush was picked up for DUI. V.P. Cheney was picked up twice for DUI during the 1960s. If Bush & Cheney deserved a second chance, then so does Senator Danielle Nantkes.

Anonymous Karl said...

OK taking into account the current screw-up and her not accomplishing a damn thing, what do you think now Kyle?


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