Monday, April 30, 2007

Will Lincoln Voters Reject Republican Lies and Distortions?

by Kyle Michaelis
Vote Chris Beutler for Mayor of Nebraska's Capital City

The biggest election in Nebraska politics in 2007 is tomorrow, as the voters of Lincoln head to the polls to cast their vote for Mayor between long-time State Sen. Chris Beutler and current City Councilman Ken Svoboda. Also up for grabs is conrol of Lincoln's officially nonpartisan city council, with the current one vote Democratic majority to be maintained or lost depending on the outcome of the District 4 race between incumbent Annette McRoy and attorney John Spatz.

Beutler started the campaign at a significant disadvantage because of the prevailing negativity towards sitting Mayor and fellow Democrat Coleen Seng. But, having worked harder and run a better campaign than Svoboda on every front - from fundraising, to building a message, and most importantly to presenting voters with an actual vision for Lincoln's future - Beutler has positioned himself not only as a contender but likely as the frontrunner. This was evident after his impressive 13-point victory over Svoboda in the primary. But, Beutler came up short of 50% four weeks ago, so this race conceivably remains a toss-up.

The fact that Svoboda has remained competitive has done nothing to relieve the growing desperation of both his campaign and the Nebraska Republican Party as they've lost hold of what once seemed a near lock for their anointed candidate. So, it comes as no surprise that Lincoln politics have once again been dragged into the mud by the Republican Party with a series of long expected but no less disappointing attacks against Beutler, claiming to present the truth about Beutler's record on taxes with a poorly-doctored, sliced and spliced video clip that shamefully distorts a 2006 statement made by Beutler on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature.

The 10/11 News (KOLN/KGIN) has the report:

Readers may recall that this is the exact same distortion that NNN exposed 3 1/2 months ago. To get a good sense of just how terrible a job the Republican Party did splicing Beutler's statement to lie to Lincoln voters, watch this video clip currently featured on the party's website. As you can see, this is trash politics using the same insulting and dishonest tricks employed by Pete Ricketts in the closing days of his similarly desperate 2006 Senate campaign. This is also a fitting addition to the Republican Party's record of shameless, unprecedented personal attacks that made Lincoln's 2005 city elections one of the ugliest spectacles in Nebraska political history (1, 2, 3, 4).

The race is in the hands of the voters now. In my opinion, it would be a tragedy if Lincoln voters passed up this opportunity to elect a mayor with such a proven record of progressive and visionary leadership as Chris Beutler's.

Although I labeled Ken Svoboda "idiotic" for his road construction plan that even the Omaha World-Herald condemned as irresponsible political pandering, I'm not going to sit here and say that he's a terrible guy. His party has done some despicable things to win campaigns, and he's allowed his partisanship and ambition to color his judgment on the City Council to an unfortunate degree, but my beef with Svoboda is not a personal one. He's just not the right choice for the city of Lincoln.

That choice - the right choice - is Chris Beutler, a man whose election would portend good things and a brighter future for the entire state of Nebraska.

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Nebraska's "Common Cause" in Lobbyist Reform

by Kyle Michaelis
The following Letter to the Editor appeared in Sunday's Lincoln Journal-Star and raises an excellent point about our state's failure to regulate Unicameral campaign contributions by registered lobbyists:
The Legislature is in session and 350 lobbyists are eager to win favor. What a perfect time to hold a fundraiser breakfast at Billy's or the Nebraska Club....

A restaurant like Billy's is closed to the public for breakfast. The public and the press are not permitted to witness the transactions. Lobbyists and senators send out private invitations usually asking lobbyists for a $100 contribution at the door while fellow senators get complimentary passes. Individual contributions must be kept under $250 so the contributor's names will not have to be reported. A Public Service commissioner appears to hold the record by raising more than $19,000 at a Billy's fundraiser. Only the total amount raised has to be reported.

The invitations clearly point out: "If unable to attend, please mail your contribution to: (Senator’s name)." Some senators actually take attendance and follow up with a letter and a return envelope to non-attending lobbyists. The implication is, if you don't come across you are not likely to influence me. Is extortion too strong a word?....

It is clear that incumbents have a great advantage over any challenger by employing the in-session fundraiser. The lobbyists are handy, the legislative leverage is in place, and the geographic location is perfect. Even better, you don't have to make a campaign speech or any promises to the press or the public.

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 16 states prohibit any campaign contributions during their legislative sessions. Twelve more states prohibit registered lobbyists from making contributions during legislative sessions. Nebraska, obviously, isn't one of those states.


Jack Gould, Valparaiso
Common Cause Nebraska
Gould's characterization of these fundraising efforts as "extortion" seems a needless exaggeration and a somewhat unfair accusation. But, the issue he raises about these private breakfasts and luncheons leaving our state legislature susceptible to corruption and influence-peddling is a perfectly legitimate one.

Restriction - perhaps even prohibition - of campaign contributions during the legislative session and by registered lobbyists are both worthy ideas deserving of enactment here in Nebraska. Not that such reforms would cure the ultimate problem, but the worst possibilities for impropriety would at least be mitigated.

Still, there's no removing money from politics. With these changes, senators, contributors and lobbyists would just have to be more creative and better prepared (i.e. getting their 'ducks in a row' before the session begins). There will still be the scratching of each other's backs, the leaning on one another for this or that, the same winking assurances that there has been no quid pro quo. But - damn it - they'd at least have to work harder as they play their games at the public's expense.

That's a start. If nothing else, it's a better system with greater protections than what we have now.

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Saturday, April 28, 2007

Finally A Reason For Lee Terry's Support Of Iraq War

by Kyle Michaelis
The city of Bellevue wants to locate a national veterans cemetery next to Offut Air Force Base, and Lee Terry is doing everything he can to see that they get it (besides being an effective Congressman for Nebraska's 2nd District).

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Rep. Lee Terry said Tuesday that he will introduce a bill in the U.S. House to authorize a new national veterans cemetery in eastern Nebraska.

Advocates of creating a cemetery near Offutt Air Force Base have tried for years to convince the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that enough demand exists....

"The bill would be to specifically allow that eastern Nebraska be recognized for a federal veterans cemetery, because right now we don't meet the criteria," he said.
Suddenly, Terry's unquestioning support for President Bush's failed Iraq War policy makes a little more sense. His thinking seems to be quite simple:
More War = More Veterans = More Dead Veterans (i.e. "demand") = A New Veterans Cemetery for Bellevue
Hard to argue with logic like that. With the way Terry voted lock-step with Congressional Republicans (and fellow Nebraska Reps. Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith) against this week's House legislation setting goals and a timeline for troop withdrawal, he's certainly doing his part to get Bellevue the veterans' cemetery they desire.

Pork barrel politics? Supply and demand? Either way you look at it, you've got to give Terry credit for looking out for his constituents - just not those in uniform, their families, or any of the taxpayers who are carrying the financial burden of the Republican Party's directionless and unprincipled war without end.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

NNN Special Report: "Nebraska Politics in the New Media"

by Kyle Michaelis
The following is a speech I presented to the Nebraska Associated Press Broadcaster's Association at their annual awards banquet on Friday, April 13th. It was an honor and a pleasure to have the opportunity - as a humble blogger - to address some of the most powerful and respected people in Nebraska television and radio news. The thrust of my 15 minute remarks, followed by another 10 minutes of Q & A, was the role of the blogger and the future of Nebraska's traditional news media.

I have done a lot of complaining about the media in Nebraska since NNN was founded more than two years ago. Understanding that this was my first - and perhaps last - real chance to deliver a call to action to those whom I have faulted and held responsible, I spoke more bluntly than was probably expected by those attending to receive an award for the quality of their journalism. But, the NAPBA was a better than gracious audience, and I certainly appreciated that its members seemed to take what criticism I offered in stride - hopefully without taking offense.

That being said, I'm proud to present:

Kyle Michaelis on
"Nebraska Politics in the New Media"


[After some brief attempts at humor in introducing myself]....


Ladies and gentlemen, I am a blogger.

That isn’t always easy for me to admit. I have a background in journalism and – first and foremost – I consider myself a writer. If I had to choose a title, I would call myself a citizen journalist. The work I do is unpaid. The site is free-for-all, has no budget, and has spread entirely by word of mouth. And, to those of you who have never seen the New Nebraska Network, I’ll be perfectly honest that it really isn’t much to look at.

Why do I sometimes bristle at being labeled a blogger?. It isn’t that “blogger” is any great insult, but it does suggest a certain flippancy that undermines my every purpose. That’s not a problem when a blogger is using his or her site as an online diary. But, when I write about Nebraska politics, which has been the sole focus of the New Nebraska Network since it began, I am not writing for personal satisfaction. I am not writing to amuse my friends. I am writing to make a difference.

My words and my ideas are all I have. They are my only source of credibility, and each time I write I stake my reputation and my readership upon them. People don’t tune into a website like they do the radio on their way to work or television while sitting down for supper. Now, there’s a pretty good chance my readers are just wasting time at work, but at that desk - on that computer screen - my voice is one in a backdrop of millions. The competition may not be as fierce as that between newsrooms in the same market, but it’s global in scale and infinite in number.

The one thing I have going for me is that I do have a fairly specific niche. Nebraska’s blog community has been relatively slow developing, and the number of bloggers who actually focus on Nebraska politics with any regularity can probably be counted on one hand. But, even with these other sites – whether they lean Republican or lean Democrat - I like to think the New Nebraska Network stands apart by offering substantive and insightful commentary that readers aren’t going to find anywhere else.

Now, that’s a bold statement, and I don’t make it lightly. It’s also a statement I wish I didn’t feel compelled to make. Still, after years of following the Nebraska media – the last two with an almost ridiculous level of intensity - I do feel there is something essential that we are undeniably lacking. Mainly, the Nebraska media – and those of us in this room - have failed the people of Nebraska by not asking more tough questions that challenge the status quo.

It’s easy to put myself on a pedestal. I’m accountable to no one – I have no advertisers, no editors, and no station managers I need to keep happy. My audience is limited to those strange people with enough passion for Nebraska politics that they’re going to read a website dedicated entirely to the subject. I also don’t have to worry about the appearance of political bias because I’ve never been anything but up front that I am a progressive and I am a Democrat. I do not deny that this shapes my thinking and colors my articles. So, there’s no doubt this affords me certain freedoms that allow me to be more openly critical of our elected representatives …. who just happen to be mostly Republicans.

But, let’s not forget one more important thing – I’m not getting paid to do this. Asking questions and informing the public isn’t my job. It’s yours, and I’m begging you to take it more seriously.

I’m not here alleging any great political bias in the Nebraska media - just a general complacency that might be even more dangerous and disastrous for our democracy.

For instance, let’s take a moment to consider the tax cuts that are all the rage in the Nebraska legislature this year. Governor Dave Heineman presented his tax plan in LB 331 with promises of simplifying the income tax and providing relief to the middle class. But, where were his claims and his numbers actually subjected to even the most basic scrutiny?

Why was it never reported that the most basic structural change Heineman proposed – reducing the income tax brackets from 4 brackets to 3 – would have been accomplished entirely by eliminating the lowest tax bracket? Heineman had just proposed a higher tax rate for Nebraska’s poorest population and no one said so. At the same time, it didn’t take an economist to point out that Heineman’s proposals to eliminate the estate tax and to phase-in a massive rate reduction for Nebraska’s wealthiest taxpayers weren’t intended to help the middle class.

The numbers were out there, but no one challenged Heineman on them. When he testified on behalf of his tax plan before the Revenue Committee, only one state senator even asked him a question. Heineman is a smart enough politician to have stayed on script with his answer – as he’s done whenever the cameras are rolling and microphones are in his face. The man is a walking, talking soundbyte – I’ve got to give him credit for that. But, the Nebraska media should be ashamed for letting those soundbytes so completely set the tone of their coverage.

This is not about whether Heineman’s original tax cut plan was a good or bad idea – even if I personally found it appalling. This is about the fact that Heineman’s statements and Heineman’s press releases completely dominated the media’s reporting on the issue. I don’t doubt that there was some independent fact-checking, but that’s not enough. When Heineman is armed with cherry-picked numbers to put his plan in the best possible light, it’s not enough to say that his numbers are accurate. What this state needed was independent analysis that might actually portray the proposal in an honest and complete light that a good politician like Heineman will do every sort of dance to avoid.

Honestly, who can blame them? If the media is willing to let itself be manipulated by regurgitating selective figures and well-rehearsed soundbytes, you’d be a fool not to take advantage of that fact.

A politician can save you the trouble of doing research. He can save you the expense. He can save you the time. But, he’s not doing your job for you. Your job isn’t getting done. The truth isn’t being reported. Suddenly, the public is getting nothing more than secondhand press releases, and – too often – that’s exactly what’s happening in Nebraska.

This isn’t a result of bias. This is the result of laziness, and I’d go so far as to call it the prevailing characteristic of Nebraska’s political press corp.

Which brings us to blogs and this hard-to-define concept of “the new media.”

There are many people who believe that we’re witnessing the dawn of a new age in politics and in journalism. There are many who believe that the rise of the blog and online communities will radically transform not only the relationship between politicians and voters but also the relationship between the media and its audience.

While I don’t doubt that new mediums and new means of communication will change these relationships, I’m actually quite skeptical that these changes will result in a more democratic society or a more informed public. The potential is there – God, there is so much potential – but so far, when I step back and look at this online universe in which I inhabit and invest so much of my time, all I really see is a new playground for the same games.

Now, I may not fit the bill, but there is a certain “coolness” factor surrounding blogs at the moment. They’ve been around for years, but the news media - both nationally and locally – have really embraced them in the last year or two – particularly in the realm of politics.

There are blogs dedicated to every subject under the sun, so it does seem odd that political blogs receive as much attention as they do. They’ve got their own corner of Newsweek. They’ve got their own segment on CNN. Just here in Nebraska, I’ve personally been interviewed on TV, cited in the newspapers, and even asked to speak at this dinner. Not bad considering that many people in our state have never and will never read a blog – let alone one about Nebraska politics.

So, why do people care? Why do blogs receive this attention? Again, why am I here?

The beauty of blogs is that they do have a way of leveling the playing field. They might be the purest example of the marketplace of ideas that our country has ever seen. There is little-to-no cost of entry. There is no corporate censorship and, for better and worse, there isn’t much in the way of self-censorship either. It’s an emerging form of communication without any specific bounds or standards, so there’s still the perception that anyone with something worthwhile to say who’s able to say it effectively can find an audience.

Still, the question of why the news media seems so fascinated with blogs is a legitimate one. For some, I think it’s an admission that they haven’t done enough to integrate diverse viewpoints and perspectives into their reporting. For others, I think it’s a simple matter of following the hype and giving the people what they seem to want.

It might just make good economic sense. The audience for traditional media – whether the people in this room want to hear it or not – has been stagnant for years. It’s understood that, in the coming years, increased emphasis on more engaging online content is probably going to be essential just to maintain a market share foothold. From an advertising standpoint, who wouldn’t want to attract those who read blogs and watch video clips on YouTube – they’re young, they’re tech-savvy, they’re educated, and – whether to an ideology or just to John Stewart – they already tend to be loyal. They may not reflect the larger population but that’s still a demographic any advertiser wants on board.

The problem is that this idea that the new media can serve as a supplement to the traditional media seems to underestimate that the online world really is a new medium that needs to be thought about in new ways.

Then again, I wasn’t asked here to offer my thoughts on the 21st Century marketplace. That I have opinions on the matter and am only too happy to share them without invitation, however, is very reflective of my role as a blogger.

Basically, the only requirement for blogging about politics is an abundance of opinions. Writing skills come in handy. Being informed is generally a good idea. But, by and large, we are commentators.

Despite my pretenses to the contrary, bloggers are not journalists. Many of us adopt a vaguely journalistic, truth-seeking mission. Some of us do our best to uphold journalistic standards of form and objectivity. But, the only real checks are the ones we impose upon ourselves, and those can change day-to-day or as the situation dictates.

Maybe I’m projecting my own faults and my own weaknesses onto the blog community with that assessment. But, from what I’ve seen and from what I’ve written myself, there’s a critical stage of fact-checking essential in journalism that is not expected of a blogger. For lack of resources – mindful that this isn’t a job – a blogger has the latitude and might even be encouraged to rush to judgment and jump to conclusions.

Speed is a factor, but not in the same marking your territory sense as scooping your rivals. No, on a blog, the speed with which you respond is essential to the relationship with your readers. There is an intimacy born of blogging’s instantaneous and immediate nature. Bloggers are not in a position of authority. They stand in the place of the reader, the viewer, the listener – except they don’t do so passively.

Personally, I write when I hear something on the radio, read something in the paper, or see something on TV and feel the real story has not been told. When some critical bit of context has been left out, when there are obvious questions that remain to be asked – that’s when I log-in to the New Nebraska Network and share my two cents with the world.

Blogs can flesh out a story. They can provide the context that most people will not piece together themselves because they’re busy living their lives and have other priorities. Now, I think the best journalists do a good job of building that context into their own reporting. This may invite charges of bias, but it’s called informing the public. What could be more unethical and in greater violation of the public’s trust than remaining silent on an important point just to avoid the appearance of bias.

Blogs are less concerned about appearance. We’re expected to be biased, and there certainly isn’t any pressure to be polite.

While these are all strengths, they aren’t without their drawbacks. As much as it pains me and insults my fellow bloggers, I’m very concerned with the parallels between blogging and what’s become of cable news. There is definitely a level at which Bill O’Reilly serves as the televised template for what many people consider good blogging. There’s a point at which every blogger seems to declare his or her own personal “No Spin Zone” – where a single truth prevails and the fools who disagree will no longer be suffered. I find this ironic because, like O’Reilly, spin is all most bloggers really have to offer. Spin is what we do.

The difference is that your average blogger is not presenting his or her work as something that it’s not. They’re partisan and proud of it. Their readers come for the spin that caters to them or challenges them from a perspective they might not otherwise consider. This spin is not an active attempt to mislead in the worst sense of the word, but it does require that one be willing to go out on limbs and not shy away from innuendo.

I’ll be perfectly honest that I take comfort in the fact that I can be wrong and can be misled because, like anyone else, I’m relying on the news media for the facts that inform what I write. If you don’t do your job providing unbiased, in-depth, investigative reporting, the bloggers of the world will still have their opinions, but they’ll be a whole lot more ignorant and ill-informed – just like the public at large.

The people in this room, you have legitimacy. You have credibility. You have the people’s trust – whether it’s deserved or not. Take that responsibility seriously, or it will be no time at all before the talking heads, the talking points, and the worst excesses of our dueling political dichotomy have completely taken over.

Blogs can be part of the problem, or they can be part of the solution. Regardless, I think it goes without saying that blogs are here to stay. Eventually, the topic won’t be so trendy, but the medium itself will continue to develop. How much good they’ll do – what size of audience they’ll actually reach – I can’t really say. But, they’ll be around. And I expect certain voices will emerge online that become quite credible and influential – probably even here in Nebraska.

They’ll criticize bad reporting. They’ll claim bias from the left and from the right. They’ll mock our politicians and try their best to hold them accountable.

The traditional media will do what it can to co-opt the new media – to make a buck, to broaden its audience, and to keep a check on the competition. Meanwhile, politicians and their staff – who are so obsessed with image and message control – will no doubt find new and evermore creative ways to manipulate the online community for their own purposes. It’s already ridiculous now, and it will only get more ridiculous with time.

As for me and the New Nebraska Network, I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be in the blogging game. The only reason I’ve stuck with it as long as I have is because I truly believe those who share a progressive vision for this state have been horribly under-represented and their issues under-reported by the media. Also, there are important debates about Nebraska’s future that simply aren’t being discussed or even acknowledged as they should.

I have no delusions that the New Nebraska Network is going to single-handedly change Nebraska politics. But, I’m happy to have been in on the ground floor as this new medium develops, and I hope – when I’ve finally gotten sick of the sound of my own typing – there will be a few other voices to step up and follow in the New Nebraska Network’s footsteps.

There are so many important things to be said and no one way to say them – just so long as someone believes enough in the power of ideas and the strength of democracy that they’re at least willing to try.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Chuck Hagel Says Lincoln Will NOT Support Ken Svoboda

by Kyle Michaelis
After Lincoln's Republican mayoral candidate Ken Svoboda embarrassed himself and the city he hopes to lead with his idiotic plan to cut off roads funding for the western two-thirds of Nebraska, the hits have just kept on coming.

First, the Lincoln Journal-Star sensibly endorsed Svoboda's opponent, longtime State Senator and proven Nebraska visionary Chris Beutler, as Lincoln's next mayor. Then, in today's print edition, the Omaha World-Herald delivered a harsh rebuke to Svoboda, condemning him for confirming rural Nebraska's worst "negative perceptions" of the state's urban leaders. The World-Herald rightfully accused Svoboda of being irresponsible with his blatant pandering to local political interests.

Unfortunately, the World-Herald forgot to include the Nebraska Republican Party in its rebuke after Nebraska Republicans splashed Svoboda's plan across their website - insulting taxpayers and citizens across the state just to help win an election. It should come as little surprise that they have quickly changed the site's front page - replacing one insult with another, now attacking Beutler by distorting his record on taxes.

It does make sense - when their candidate has just made such an ass of himself - that they should suddenly try to turn people's attention away from Svoboda. Besides, there was never any question that the Republicans would go negative in this race - resorting to the same sort of desperate and dirty tricks they've used in past Lincoln city elections.

I just hope Beutler was right in his two-part NNN Interview (I, II) last month when he promised his campaign was "prepared for anything and everything" the Republicans might throw at him.

But, back to Svoboda, his worst move yet might be the way he's been drawn into the inner-party skirmish between Sen. Chuck Hagel and Attorney General Jon Bruning. In the race to prove who's the most conservative and most loyal Republican of the two (who's got the biggest elephant's trunk?), a Hagel spokesman responded:
Nebraskans will not vote for a chameleon.

When Bill Clinton was president and the Democrats controlled Congress, Jon Bruning was a card-carrying pro-choice, pro-tax Democrat. After a Republican Congress was elected in 1994, he transformed himself into a pro-life, anti-tax Republican.
Surprise, surpise...guess who else besides Bruning was also a Democrat until after the 1994 elections. That's right - Mr. Ken Svoboda.

You heard it here first, folks. Chuck Hagel says Nebraskans will not vote for a chameleon. So, according to Chuck Hagel, Nebrakans will not vote for Ken Svoboda.
As published by the Lincoln Journal-Star and NealO.com

Talk about a tough week. Ouch. But, don't feel sorry for Svoboda. He and his party have brought this on themselves and will hopefully get what they deserve.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

Good News for Jon Bruning Is Bad News for Nebraska Republicans?

by Kyle Michaelis
Chuck Hagel vs. Jon Bruning - Round Two

Attorney General Jon Bruning has released a poll of 404 likely Republican voters in the 2008 Nebraska primary to bolster his case as the front-runner in the Senate race, whether incumbent Chuck Hagel seeks re-election or not. Bruning's numbers show him beating Hagel in a head-to-head match-up 47 - 38%. They also show Bruning with a head-to-head advantage of 55 - 16% over former Congressman and former Omaha Mayor Hal Daub . . . which would be quite impressive if it weren't for the fact that they pit him against Hal Daub.

But, while Bruning might find lots to celebrate in this poll, the picture is not so rosy for Nebraska Republicans as a whole. For starters, when asked about the direction of the country, with more than 20 months left in George W. Bush's presidency, a full 55% of Nebraska Republicans say the United States is on the "wrong track." Only 30% said the country was moving in the "right direction." That's a remarkable level of pessimism that speaks to a deeply divided and demoralized Republican base that knows it has no one to blame but its own elected officials for the failures, the corruption, and the partisan excesses of the previous six years.

In terms of raw favorability, Nebraska Republicans were still able to rally behind Gov. Dave Heineman - who led the pack with the favor of 82%. Meanwhile, 61% thought highly of Bruning - better than Hagel's startlingly-low 52% favorability or Daub's 39% (which still seems a little bit high if you ask me).

But, it's the unfavorable ratings that are the real story here. 18% of Nebraska Republicans have an unfavorable opinion of Daub, with twice that many - a full 36% - having a negative opinion of Hagel.

The real kicker, though, might be the fact that more than a quarter of Nebraska Republicans (26%) have an unfavorable view of Bush - their own president. I'm guessing there's not a whole lot of cross-over between the 26% who dislike Bush and the 36% who dislike Hagel, painting a picture of a Nebraska Republican Party in which more than 60% of its voters are practically at war with themselves.

There's also evidence of a serious disconnect with reality in the Nebraska Republican Party rooted in its self-imposed, reactionary ignorance in all matters concerning the Iraq War. Of those voters who were so disfavorable towards Hagel, 16% said it's because "he's critical of the Bush Administration," and 12% said it's because "he's not loyal to the Republicans." Clearly, that's a whole lot of Republicans who are so consumed with the desire to believe what they want of the Iraq War that they'll also believe whatever they want of Hagel - whose 2006 voting record rated him as the most loyal Republican to President Bush in the entire U.S. Senate.

So, really, that 60%-plus of Nebraska Republicans who've found so much to dislike about Hagel or Bush might still be able to find some common ground realizing they dislike Hagel AND Bush.

Now, that's a Republican Party I could get behind!

By the way, there's one other measure that should either really worry Nebraska Republicans or at least call into question the methodology behind Bruning's poll results. Looking at the demographics of those polled, only 12% were under the age of 40, while 34% were ages 65 or older.

I know Nebraska has an aging population, but that's going to quite the extreme. Maybe Bruning's baby face goes over especially well with the nursing home crowd, who might also be more inclined to bristle at Hagel's Iraq War criticism. Either way, it sounds like Bruning has his work cut out for him. If he runs, not only does he have to get his voters to the polls, he also needs to keep them out of the grave.

Scorecard Through Two Rounds
Jon Bruning 09 - 10
Chuck Hagel 10 - 09

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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ken Svoboda's Stupidity Reveals Republicans Don't Give a Damn About Rural Nebraska

by Kyle Michaelis
I don't like making brash declarations and relying on the politics of us vs. them, but, if the following story does not piss you off, you are either not a true Nebraskan or you are simply a damn fool.

From the front page of the Nebraska Republican Party's website:
Svoboda unveils Lincoln roads plan

Believing that an adequate and serviceable road system is vital for the city’s future economic development, mayoral candidate Ken Svoboda has advanced a forward-looking road and street construction plan for Lincoln.

Road improvement dollars have not been allocated as broadly or effectively as they might have been in recent years, Svoboda said....

“In 2003 the residents of Lancaster County, 90 percent of whom are Lincoln residents, paid over $88 million in road construction dollars to the state and received only $24 million dollars in return,” Svoboda said. “That just 29 cents on the dollar.”

As Lincoln’s next mayor, Svoboda pledges to work with the Lincoln delegation to the Nebraska Legislature to negotiate a better deal for Lincoln taxpayers.

“We’re state residents, and we don’t mind subsidizing road construction in the western two-thirds of the state to a certain degree,” he said. “But there’s more economic development benefit in having roads built in the eastern third of the state than in the western two thirds.”

During his chairmanship of the I-80 Commission, Svoboda proposed a seven-year moratorium on new, non-Interstate-related road construction in the western two-thirds of Nebraska. During that time, more dollars would go to the eastern one-third of the state, especially Lincoln and Omaha.

“The state would get a much better return through economic development and jobs created,” Svoboda said. “At the end of the moratorium, you could probably return to the western part of the state twice what they gave up during the seven years.”
The Lincoln Journal-Star adds of Svoboda's proposed moratorium:
Mayoral candidate Ken Svoboda called for a seven-year moratorium on new road construction in the western two-thirds of Nebraska, except for on the interstate.

If more state road construction dollars flowed into eastern Nebraska, namely Lincoln and Omaha, those two economic engines would be able to produce even more revenue for the rest of the state, he reasoned.

Svoboda said he first proposed the admittedly “politically incorrect” idea as chairman of the I-80 Commission....

[Mayoral candidate Chris Beutler] said he agrees that more road dollars should go to Lincoln, but said Svoboda’s call for a moratorium would just alienate western lawmakers.
The plan put forward by Svoboda and the Republican Party should not just "alientate western lawmakers." Rather, this plan should be denounced and apology demanded by every political leader, every agricultural worker, and every community activist in the state.

Honestly, I don't know who Svoboda thinks he's fooling. There's nothing "politically incorrect" about this selfish, stupid and short-sighted political insanity.

This all calls to mind the editorial pictured at right from last month's Scottsbluff Star-Herald lamenting their realization of Gov. Dave Heineman and Congressman Adrian Smith's empty promises on the 2006 campaign trail.

Read it. Seriously.

What you see are just the latest examples of a pattern of betrayal and a history of neglect by Republican politicians who have abandoned Western Nebraska at its most desperate hour.

Now, not only Republican politicians but also the Nebraska Republican Party itself have proven just how hollow their concern for rural and Western Nebraska truly is by advancing Svoboda's ludicrous and insulting proposal on their own website.

This is an outrage. To help a single failing campaign, the Nebraska Republican Party has shown its willingness to sacrifice the future and the economic well-being of 2/3rds of our state. Any and every Nebraskan - living in Norfolk or McCook; Chadron or Omaha - should take offense and take the offensive against such crass and destructive political posturing.

The backbone of our state's economy - not to mention its heart and its soul - rests in the fields and pastures of rural Nebraska. By pushing this moratorium on highway construction, Svoboda and the Nebraska Republican Party risk condemning those Nebraskans who are already struggling the most to what would essentially be life in an economic Stone Age.

Through Heineman, they have already shown complete disregard to the need for new technological infrastructure (i.e. public broadband). With rural Nebraska's road infrasture now being targeted for disrepair and destruction, those most in need of our investment would see even the possibility of renewed development and economic progress vanish right before their very eyes.

We can not allow that to happen. That it should be suggested - even by a foolish and desperate candidate searching vainly for a message - is utterly appalling and an absolute insult to Nebraska's people and their shared heritage.

I can't imagine what proof voters could ask for that would better demonstrate just how little Republican politicians and the Republican Party really care about rural Nebraska. For decades, they have offered nothing but lip service - delivering on none of it while an entire way of life dwindled and whole counties fell into despair.

This is the Nebraska Republican Party's legacy. Of course, voters bear some responsibility because, rather than staying true to the independence for which they pride themselves, they have allowed petty partisanship and scare tactics to blind them to their own self-interest and self-worth. It's a game that's gone on long enough - maybe so long that the damage has become permanent.

But, it's never too late to change. It's never too late to hope and to fight for your family, your community, and your fellow Nebraskans.

Today, we can see the enemy. Not just Ken Svoboda. Not just Heineman or Smith. No, the blame begins with the cakewalk campaigns, the controlled media and the voters' complacency that have made possible the Republican Party's endless litany of failed promises.

Regardles of where you live in Nebraska, I hope this story drives home that even the race for Lincoln's mayor does affect you. In this state, with the odds we are up against, we really are all in this together. For now, that means writing a letter to the editor, challenging rural Republicans with evidence of their own Party's betrayal and - yes - making a contribution to progressive visionary Chris Beutler's Mayoral campaign.

Then, after May 1st, all bets are off, and our battle for the future of the entire state of Nebraska begins anew.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

Chuck Hagel vs. Jon Bruning - Round One

by Kyle Michaelis
While our anonymous GOP counterpart at Leavenworth Street has set his sights on Jon Bruning for having been a Democrat in his college days - publishing statements he made as a columnist at the Daily Nebraskan that suggest Bruning's either a secret liberal in conservative's clothing or an unprincipled political opportunist - it's amusing that Bruning's supposedly controversial remarks (i.e. “Homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else” - GASP!!!) have only come to light as Bruning attempts to establish himself as the loyal Republican and the "good" Republican in a potential 2008 primary challenge to Sen. Chuck Hagel.

Nevermind that Bruning's statements have been readily available for as long as he's been in Nebraska politics. Nevermind that I'd personally read his columns in the Daily Nebraskan archives four years ago. Nevermind that Bruning's statements have about as much relevance as his run-ins with the police as a frat boy in college. Bruning's gone on the attack against Hagel, so certain powers that be in the Nebraska Republican Party have decided that Bruning is fair game.

Aside from the amusement factor, I don't much care about Hagel, Bruning, and their respective camps going to war with one another on something so trivial. I am, however, happy to see that Hagel is standing up for himself and for our troops in Iraq as the new wave of Republican BS that supporting the troops means letting them die in vain finds Bruning its new champion in Nebraska.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., said Thursday that Iraq is "worse off than it's ever been" and that he will continue to press President Bush to change his war policy.

Hagel made his fifth trip to Iraq last weekend, visiting Anbar province and Baghdad's highly fortified Green Zone....

The U.S. military is doing an outstanding job, Hagel said, but it's up to elected officials to guide the development of the mission in Iraq.

"We're not playing with a set of dominoes here," Hagel said in a conference call with reporters. "We're not playing with budgets here. We're talking about real lives. We're talking about the most real and fundamental aspects of the world, our position and security."

Hagel was asked about a possible challenge from Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning in the Republican Senate primary next year....Bruning said Wednesday that he might run regardless of what Hagel does. He criticized Hagel for supporting a timetable to get out of Iraq, saying it could hurt troop morale.

Said Hagel: "I don't accept that. I just don't agree with that. Those who make those kinds of statements maybe should go to Iraq and spend a little time (there) like I have.

"Maybe if they understood a little about the military, had any experience in the military, it might help them understand this better," added Hagel, a Vietnam veteran.
Who is the "they" of which Hagel speaks? Well, about 90% of Republicans in Congress - as well as our Republican President and all announced Republican Presidential candidates - would certainly seem to qualify.

To our discredit, Nebraska's entire House delegation has also adopted the Republican talking points suggesting that, after 4 years of increasing disaster, all our military leaders really need is more time.

Most recently, 3rd District Congressman Adrian Smith declared, "We have a long way to go. There is tough and difficult work ahead, but we are making progress." Of course, this progress is never defined as Smith's far-from-expert opinion flies in the face of Hagel's assessment and the facts showing the last 6 months in Iraq being the deadliest for American forces since the 2003 invasion.

So, Jon Bruning and Adrian Smith have their talking points while Chuck Hagel is left talking from experience that may or may not be colored by his own ambitions. Either way, they may all inhabit the same party but not the same reality - not on this issue. It's still politics, though, so one suspects they're all playing the same games.

Round One Score Card:
Jon Bruning - 09
Chuck Hagel - 10

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Has Hagel Lost His Hold?

by Kyle Michaelis
Congressman Lee Terry Ready to "Get On Board" with an Actual Presidential Candidate

Sen. Chuck Hagel has been the dominant force in Nebraska Republican politics for the last decade. From recent headlines, though, one can only assume his Hamlet-like ruminations on his political future have resulted in an army of would-be Macbeths sick of waiting their turn in Hagel's shadow.

As Ryan notes below, Attorney General Jon Bruning has all but announced his intention to challenge Hagel if Hagel seeks re-election. That's quite the change from Bruning's March 15th press conference, when he not only vowed that he would not run against Hagel in the primary but also declared "I'm a Hagel guy" who wants "to be there right behind him" supporting Hagel's bid for the Presidency.

So, Bruning would support Hagel for President but not for re-election? Is that a flip? Or, is that a flop? Either way, it's a sign that Hagel is no longer the golden boy above reproach in Nebraska Republican politics - even though he's played a big role in every major Republican victory in the state since 1996 and gave up much credibility as an independent voice on the national stage with his flagrant partisanship supporting Pete Ricketts' money-flush but inherently flawed 2006 Senate campaign.

Just goes to show that you really are only as good as your last campaign - even when it wasn't your name on the ballot.

Honestly, though, the size of Bruning's ego has made him a poor fit for the Team Hagel crowd from the start. Far more telling in terms of Hagel's newfound weakness is the report in Thursday's Omaha World-Herald that Congressman Lee Terry doesn't seem to be waiting around for Hagel to make up his mind before finding a candidate to support for President:
If Sen. Chuck Hagel waits too long to decide on a presidential bid, he may find his fellow Nebraska Republicans on Capitol Hill have already signed up with another candidate.

The state's three U.S. House members attended a meeting Wednesday with former senator and potential presidential contender Fred Thompson, who was pitching his conservative philosophy to lawmakers.

Rep. Lee Terry of Omaha said he was impressed with Thompson's desire to return the GOP to its roots - pushing for limited government and fiscal responsibility.

Thompson is still in the "listening tour" phase and is not officially running, but that could change.

"I think I need to start finding a candidate to back," Terry said. "I have some level of enthusiasm about Fred Thompson, so if he came out tomorrow, I could see myself getting onboard with him."
It's interesting to note that the online edition also includes the following, which was not reported in print:
Terry said he gets the feeling Hagel will ultimately decide not to jump into the race.

"Some of the vibes that I'm (getting) are that Chuck is not going to run for president," Terry said.

"I can't answer for my colleagues, but the fact that they were there listening to Fred Thompson means that they might be feeling some of the same vibes and that it's time for us to start looking."
So, what exactly is going on here? Has Hagel's continued criticism of President Bush's Iraq policy so completely destroyed his relationship with the Republican base that his fellow GOP politicians don't really care about offending him? Does Terry know something we don't - that Hagel has ruled out a Presidential bid? That Hagel is angling for a rumored indepedent campaign for the Vice-Presidency with billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg? That Hagel is retiring? That Hagel is resigning himself to seeking re-election....much to Bruning's chagrin?

Hell, I don't know. I'm just a dude who asks questions. But, clearly Hagel is no longer the end-all-be-all in Nebraska Republican politics. Although he served as something of a king-maker for Dave Heineman and attempted to do the same for Pete Ricketts, his national ambitions have left an open flank at home that others are proving more than willing to exploit.

Should be an interesting couple of months ahead.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

NE-Sen: Huh? What? and How come?

by Ryan Anderson
Today, the 2008 Senate race left Chuck Hagel's hands. Unfortunately, it also left a whole lot of us would-be pundits and prognosticators scratching our heads. There is no other race in the country in such a state of flux. Here's what we know:

* Attorney General Jon Bruning is willing to enter the Republican primary even if Hagel runs for re-election. He stopped short of announcing a run, but his statement leaves little to the imagination:
Senator Hagel voted with the Democratic leadership against President Bush on the most important issue facing our country... It's extremely counterproductive. I'm very concerned about the morale of our troops and the potential comfort given to the enemy, who knows now that they can wait us out.
Simply put: you don't declare war unless you're ready to fight. It just doesn't make any sense for Bruning to start hurling these bombs unless he sees an opening in this race. And for those of you keeping score at home, that's one point for Harold Anderson, nada for me. Oops.

* Bruning's announcement comes on the heels of Hagel's completely unimpressive first Quarter fundraising: a haul of $143,663 (not exactly a presidential sum) for a Cash on Hand total of $230,214 (compare that with COH total of $113,911 for the late Jim Exon, who hasn't been in the Senate for 12 years and hasn't been on this Earth for the last two).

* Meanwhile, Mike Fahey isn't exactly sounding like a Senate candidate. While careful not to rule out a statewide bid, he's been busy ramping up a mayoral re-election campaign, complete with a $100,000 fundraising dinner earmarked for a third term in City Hall (and not transferable to a hypothetical federal campaign).
I'd hate not to be around to see some of the projects through," Fahey said. "I don't think there has ever been a better time to be mayor of this city.
* Finally, this bombshell from Don Walton about some mystery organization conducting a poll for former Senator Bob Kerrey... who hasn't expressed any interest in the race and doesn't even live in this state anymore.

So where does that leave us? Scratching our heads and waiting to see the pieces fall into place. But first, a few thoughts:

I'm not yet convinced Bruning is an easier target for Nebraska Democrats than Hagel would be. True, it would be possible to run to Bruning's left on the war, but it's the very unpopularity of Hagel's Iraq rhetoric which has made him vulnerable in a Republican constituency that constitutes over half of the state's electorate. Bruning has the advantages of any statewide incumbent in terms of name identification and fundraising, but he's still a relatively fresh face who has managed to avoid isolating large sections of his idealogical base.

Then again, I just got schooled by Harold Anderson, so what do I know?

And Bob Kerrey? Seriously? The man was a terrific public servant who is still rather beloved across this state, but we've just seen similar goodwill dissipate in an instant when former Senator John Breaux tried to return from Maryland to Louisiana to run for the governor's office. Senator Kerrey has demonstrated a certain wanderlust throughout his career (retiring from the Governorship after only one term, announcing for the Presidency only a few years into his Senate career, retiring from Congress when he was nearly assured re-election), and it wouldn't be surprising to hear that he's considering a return to public life. But does that mean a run for the Senate in Nebraska? Doubtful, very doubtful.

For the moment, the Democratic nomination remains in Fahey's hands. Though not my first choice, Mike Fahey has been a terrific administrator for the City of Omaha and would make a formidable candidate against whomever the Republicans decide to nominate. But will he decide to run? Will Scott Kleeb, or Hal Daub for that matter? I don't think any of them know just yet. They're all probably just scratching their heads and waiting for the pieces to fall into place.

Who could blame them?

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The CfRA's Big Push

by Ryan Anderson
More than anything, the netroots have proven themselves through their ability to raise cash. We're now at the point where a candidate like Barack Obama can rise from the political woodwork and challenge the fundraising supremacy of the most established name in the Democratic Party with donations from college students, working people, single parents... people who don't usually shell out $2,000 checks to eat rubber chicken.

This momentum has been trickling down into the state blogospheres, with sites like Raising Kaine using local networks to raise money for candidates to state and federal offices... often with terrific success. In this respect, us Nebraska bloggers are behind the curve.

Not that we've eschewed fundraising in general. I should note (as I failed to note earlier -mea culpa), that NNN founder Kyle Michaelis supported an ActBlue page from this very site for the 2006 cycle, and other Nebraskan bloggers have certainly done their part to generate interest and raise funds. But I don't think we've tapped into our full potential, a potential illustrated by other state and national blogs who have perhaps been a little more forward in their solicitations.

In fact, the Center for Rural Affairs just might be the first organization in the state to break out the ole' fundraising thermometer and dream that big dream:

For years, the CfRA has provided an invaluable voice on progressive issues of concern to rural Nebraska: advocating for the state corporate farming ban, working to eliminate federal handouts to corporate mega-farms, and calling for reform of LB775 among many other admirable crusades. Now they're looking to raise $15,000 by May 15th.

A chance to support progressive causes and help prove our fundraising prowess? Sounds like a good deal to me. Let's help 'em bust this thermometer.

Click here to donate.


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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"The Fix Is In" On Unicameral's Tax Cut Plan

by Kyle Michaelis
I can't apologize enough to readers for being unable to focus on Nebraska's ongoing tax cut debate these last few weeks. The Revenue Committee advanced its plan to the full legislature on March 29th and the next day's headlines were so outrageously one-sided that I still haven't fully recovered from the shock.

The Omaha World-Herald read:
Tax Cut Plan Called Good Balance
A proposal advances that would set aside $100 million in 2007-08 to pay property taxes.
The Lincoln Journal-Star read:
Tax Cuts: Everyone Benefits
Governor offers support to proposal that provides more than $200 million in tax relief.
I can't compete with that. It's not journalism - it's advocacy. And, it's not a damn bit objective by any stretch of the imagination.

Right then and there, the state's two largest newspapers decided for the people of Nebraska that the Revenue Committee's plan was going to go through. For almost three weeks now, I've been meaning to dissect the Revenue Committee's proposal - acknowledging that it's nowhere near as hideous and appalling as Gov. Dave Heineman's original tax cut plan but that it's also nowhere near as beneficial or equitable as the headlines would let on.

Now that the debate has actually begun on the floor of the legislature, it's probably too late to really make any attempt to beat back all the hype and the one-sided coverage likely to carry the Revenue Committee's plan through the legislature.

Only yesterday did the Lincoln Journal-Star finally carry an article admitting "there are winners and losers with the plan." But, guess what - that admission came in an article entitled:
Tax Cut Package: A Bit For Everybody
Maybe it's not the journalists - just the copy editors - who are using the full force of the press to curry favor with Gov. Heineman and to prevent an honest assessment of the weaknesses of the current proposal.

And, what of "the losers" under this tax cut plan? Who will speak for them? Who has even acknowledged that they exist in the Nebraska media but as a throwaway line in a heap of spin? They are the unmarried. They are the working poor. They are anyone in the middle-class who owns their own home because they would see so much more benefit under alternative proposals (that, polling shows, people actually prefer).

I haven't spoken up for them these last three weeks. No one else has either. And, in the rush to go along and get along with a plan specifically crafted to please everyone....so long as there is no critical analysis and no questions are asked, I doubt that anyone will be able to truly make a stand for the quiet majority of Nebraska voters who have been deliberately silenced and manipulated by the media and by the politicians in whom they place their trust.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Special Event - Blogging vs. the Mainstream Media

by Kyle Michaelis
Sorry to be so last minute, but Lincoln readers who don't have to work afternoons might still be able to make the following event, the details of which I've known for a few weeks but forgot to post. Don Kuhns suggests that you attend:
Blogging vs. Mainstream Media - "The Daily Howler" Comes to Nebraska
Tuesday, April 17th; 1:30 - 2:30 pm
UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA-LINCOLN, City Campus Union


Bob Somerby, editor of THE DAILY HOWLER (www.dailyhowler.com), a prominent political blog that de-constructs the New York Times, will discuss the mainstream press coverage of recent White House elections, especially the history-altering 2000 campaign which sent George W. Bush to the White House. Somerby will also discuss the mainstream press coverage being extended to candidates in Campaign 08. He will focus especially on the coverage of Hillary Clinton and John McCain....
Don further suggests:
Somerby has probably done more than any one person to encourage liberals and Democrats to embrace full-time media criticism as a necessity for fighting back against conservative propaganda and anti-Democrat MSM "scripts". Before Atrios, before Media Matters, it was Somerby's Daily Howler that reminded us every day that so-called "liberal" pundits and other screwballs of the elite Washington press corps are not doing us any favors. Liberal media criticism is playing a vital roll in today's politics. Anyone who is happy with the outcome of the 2006 election owes Bob Somerby a big debt of gratitude, and a listen.
I haven't read much of Somerby's work, but I'm willing to take Don's word that this is a great opportunity for local blog readers to get a taste of the national blog scene.

I must say, blogging really seems to be coming of age in Nebraska. This last weekend, I had the honor of delivering the keynote address at the Nebraska Associated Press Broadcaster Association's annual awards dinner. The topic of my speech was the the similarly-themed but more locally-flavored "Hope vs. Hype: Nebraska Politics in the New Media." The text of those remarks should be posted at some point this week (if I can find time to edit what was a 20-minute speech).

Regardless, I'm hoping to make Somerby's talk at UNL Tuesday afternoon. Maybe we'll even get the chance to compare notes. New Nebraska Network Meets the Daily Howler - sounds like an old Abbot & Costello film or an episode of Scooby-Doo. I could dig that - most definitely.

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Catching up

by Ryan Anderson
* Following up from my post on Friday, I'd like to thank the World Herald for their Sunday morning cover story about poverty in Omaha's black community. This is exactly the sort of discussion that should have to endure the 24/7 "Imus cycle": Why does Omaha, home of five Fortune 500 Companies, have the third highest rate of black poverty in the nation? Why does the 19th best city for business -the largest city in the 10th best state for business- have the highest rate of black children in poverty?

Fortunately, as the OWH also reports, there is no shortage of possible solutions: "A coordinated effort by government, schools and the business community...", "reduce the isolation of blacks...", "jobs", "homes", "public transportation", and of course, "education." But all of these efforts start with political will, and that will only come when the rest of us stop being satisfied with "cleaning the airwaves" and start tackling the real problems, the ones that can't be solved with a memo from a radio executive. The problem isn't on MSNBC, it's next door. It's in all of us.

But as I've said before, this problem is bigger even than public policy. I've asked why these problems persist in a business friendly state. Now I ask: why does the state with the second highest rate of volunteers have such a large and largely isolated community of impoverished blacks?

There's a statue, just inside Boy's Town, of a little boy on another kid's shoulders. The caption reads "He ain't heavy... he's my brother." Omaha needs more brother's keepers. We all need to invest in a community that is less segregated, less isolated, and richer in ways beyond any dollar amount. In that spirit, the OWH has a list of organizations that would love to have your time and money (and yes, this goes to the preacher as well as the choir).

* We can all breathe a sigh of relief: Adrian Smith has been to Iraq, and he assures us that "progress has been made".

* Harold Anderson is gunning for Hagel's Senate seat:
Don't overlook the possibility that U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, the increasingly controversial Nebraska Republican, will face potentially strong opposition next May in the Republican primary....

I do not suggest that the following report of a recent conversation involving eight Nebraska Republicans approaches a comprehensive survey. But it was typical of almost all of the comments I have been hearing in recent day's when Hagel's name comes up. And it is coming up with increasing frequency.

The consensus of the conversation was strong dissapproval of the nature of Hagel's campaign of criticism over the way President Bush is conducting the war in Iraq.
I don't doubt the sincere possibility that Hagel could face a right-wing primary challenge next year. Sometimes this anecdotal evidence is ahead of the polls in revealing underlying vulnerabilities, and it isn't necessarily wise to dismiss a growing murmur just because it hasn't been recorded in a survey (then again, this is coming from the man who claims to get floods of e-mails begging to know what his wife and dog are up to).

I still think it's unlikely that a big name like Daub or Bruning (the two mentioned in Anderson's column) will get the ball rolling, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's a Dave Nabity out there waiting to take a swing at it (Speaking of which... why not Nabity? What's he been up to?).

As always, I can't provide a link to this column because the largest paper in the state won't put their opinion page online. Just saying.

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Race and Racism in Omaha

by Ryan Anderson
There are two stories about race on the front page of today's Omaha World Herald: one that's important and one that isn't. First off, Don Imus.

I'm trying to be professional about this story, but I just can't get past my first reaction, which is a sort of maddening, fuming indifference that wants to scream and point fingers but might be satisfied with a sermon or lecture so long as my "holier than thous" are on prominent display. Well, neither reaction is warranted. Imus' comments were inexcusable, but they weren't unforgivable.

They certainly weren't unforgettable. And the real subject of my anger, the real object of my sermon -not just the mass media, but the masses themselves, for driving this story and swelling those ratings- well, they deserve something less than my "Godawmightys", too. Then again, they deserve much more than another sideshow witch hunt masquerading as "racial dialogue".

I can understand the attraction of this story. Race is still a dominant issue in our lives, but we're so bottled up about it pretty much the only release we'll allow comes from those minor celebrities stupid enough and mean enough to say the wrong words at the wrong time. Well, we've got another head on the pike, what good'll it do us this time? Will it branch out into a larger discussion, not just about the them -the hip hop artists and the talk show hosts and the rednecks- but about the us, about all of us, about how we've fallen short of that ideal of Dr. King? That dream to live free of color, free of division... that one?

No, of course not. It didn't happen with Michael Richards, it didn't happen with Mel Gibson, it won't happen now. There are real problems with race relations in this country... are we seriously going to deal with them just as soon as we scrub the Earth clean of every shock jock, one by one?

Our task is too big and Imus is too small to matter. Let's start with OPS.

On the integration question, there are two proposals: the superintendent's plan, which offers priority to any student whose first choice of a school would help improve that school's socioeconomic integration (be they a poor student choosing to go to a wealthy school, or a middle class student who prefers a poorer school); and the Raikes plan, which would allow low income students their first choice of schools, even if it didn't improve that schools' diversity.

The superintendents claim the Raikes plan will only work to integrate middle-class schools, leaving poorer facilities far less diverse. They're right. But their plan won't work either.

The truth is that the voluntary integration OPS has relied on for decades is too little, too late for most students. There's some data considered in that sweeping statement, but for the most part I speak from experience alone. I was a "West O" student who attended a "North O" magnet school, Omaha North High, a fine and diverse school which is nonetheless quite segregated. Voluntarily segregated.

North attracted kids from out west with genuinely high quality academics, especially in the areas of computers and technology. Most of these recruits were serious students who bussed themselves halfway across town to take advantage of North's exciting honors classes. The majority of the neighborhood kids, like the majority of kids everywhere, elected instead to take the path of least resistance and filled up desks in the academic classes (some, like me, occupied a bit of both worlds).

The result was like squishing two schools right up next to each other: the West O's and the neighborhood kids, with some overlap but not quite enough. Not that there was racial conflict. Race was a dominant issue in our lives, but we kept ourselves pretty well bottled up (I remember that, as editor of the Commentary section of the school paper, the only thing the administration ever censored of ours was a political cartoon about the alleged racism of the school's security, a controversy quietly acknowledged by students and staff alike but never discussed in any productive way. Reminds of me news today that OPS condemned an article in Benson High School's Gazette that attempted to deal with student use of "the N word").

This isn't the fault of North, or OPS, or the Legislature. Not any of them alone. This is a problem that can't be solved by policy alone. But there are a few things we can do to help, so long as we're honest about the shortcomings of the status quo.

The first is an equitable distribution of the city's wealth, for which this "Learning community" seems an adequate solution. We could also do something about the "3,000 children, 3 or 4 years old," most of them from North Omaha, who "are either on waiting lists or otherwise not being served" by Head Start in Douglas County (OWH, 1/24/07). The lack of adequate funding for preschool and elementary education in North Omaha contributes significantly to the "black-white achievement gap", which is worse in Nebraska than many other states (you can play around with state by state comparisons here).

But this is an issue that's too big for the Unicameral and the superintendents. It's an issue that's way too big for Don Imus. It starts with letting some pressure out of that bottle, letting the students at Benson open up a real dialogue and encouraging their parents and neighbors to do the same. It starts, too, with an integration plan that will help convince some more "West O" students and their families to drive east of 72nd Street. It starts with us, with all of us, and a dream. Yes, that one.

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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Stop Employment Discrimination in Nebraska - Support LB 475

by Kyle Michaelis
If I could see only one piece of legislation pass in the remaining weeks of the Unicameral's 2007 session, that legislation would be LB 475. The Judiciary Committee approved LB 475 with six Senators FOR, one Senator AGAINST, and one Senator not voting. The Committee described the bill as follows:
Legislative Bill 475 adds sexual orientation to the factors that an employer is forbidden to consider when making employment decisions. Under LB 475, it would be an unlawful employment practice for an employer, an employment agency, or a labor organization to discriminate against an individual on the basis of sexual orientation....

The Act applies to employers having 15 or more employees; employers with state contracts regardless of the number of employees; the State of Nebraska; governmental agencies; and political subdivisions....

[T]he prohibition against discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation does not apply to any bona fide religious organization.
Don't get me wrong - I know there are more pressing issues facing the state of Nebraska than employment discrimination. The budget, tax cuts, school reorganization, and water policy all demand greater attention and deserve prioritization. But, I stand by my designation of LB 475 as the New Nebraska Network's own personal priority bill because it best reflects the Nebraska in which we believe and the principles to which this site is dedicated.

I cannot speak to the people of Nebraska's opinion on the morality of homosexuality. That's a deeply personal question speaking to an individual's character, convictions, and religious faith in so fundamental a manner that generalization is all but impossible. But, I do feel confident in saying the Nebraskans that I know are not bigots - not in the rural community in which I grew up, not in the city in which I currently live.

Like race, religion, gender, disability, and national origin that are already protected classes, Nebraskans understand that whom a person loves and how they express themselves sexually has no bearing on an employee's qualifications or performance.

Sex may still be a topic that many Nebraskans are uncomfortable talking about publicly, but that doesn't mean they'd support using sexual orientation as grounds for discrimination. Rather, Nebraskans believe in privacy and respect that there are personal matters - hurting noone and breaking no law - that do not and should not affect ones employment.

This is more than just wishful thinking on my part. A 2004 survey conducted by the Nebraska Association of Sociological Behavior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln found that the people of our state overwhelmingly reject the notion that "it is okay for an employer to hire or not hire an applicant based on the applicant’s sexual orientation."

Broken down by legislative district, not a single district supported allowing discrimination based on sexual orientation. In fact, such discrimination was rejected by more than 2/3rds of those surveyed in 42 of Nebraska's 49 districts. The seven districts that couldn't manage a super majority against discrimination included:
LD #1 - Lavon Heidemann - 62.7% against discrimination
LD #16 - Kent Rogert - 62.9% against discrimination
LD #30 - Norm Wallman - 61.5% against discrimination
LD #36 - John Wightman - 65.7% against discrimination
LD #43 - Deb Fischer - 64.4% against discrimination
LD #44 - Mark Christensen - 52.9% against discrimination
LD #47 - Philip Erdman - 53.3% against discrimination
With results like that, it's hard to imagine how State Senators could justify not making this overdue change that will finally capture the common sense and principled compassion of Nebraska's voters.

Only Senators Christensen and Erdman, both representing the extreme southwest corner of the state, could even make a straight-faced claim that the jury is out or that their constituents haven't made up their minds on this issue. And, even they must first answer to conscience, which cannot possibly justify allowing employment discrimination against citizens for no other reason than their being attracted to people of the same sex.

The Center for People in Need has put together a great resource for contacting State Senators (via e-mail) with your support for LB 475. And, of course, the more direct and personal the contact the better, so constituents should definitely consider calling, writing a letter, or even making a visit to the capitol.

It would also be great if those who contact their State Senators about LB 475 could send word of the response they receive to Michael Gordon of Citizens for Equal Protection at michael@cfep-ne.org. That way, supporters can see where things stand and plan for where they have the most work to do.

Nebraskans are a fundamentally decent people. They believe in fairness and equality even if they sometimes need a refresher on what those principles actually entail. LB 475 is not some pie in the sky advancement of a "gay agenda" - it's good public policy reflecting who we are and what we stand for.

This is one of those issues on which we don't have to look to the future for progress. The people are already on our side. Now is the time to make our stand.

Again, I'm declaring LB 475 the New Nebraska Network's official priority bill for the 2007 session. That may not mean a damn thing, but - if you read this site, agree with its general philosophy, or even just have some vague appreciation for what we do - I hope you'll give serious consideration to joining in our effort to end this insulting and unprincipled form of employment discrimination that is so far beneath the people of our beloved state.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Nebraska ACLU Asks For Your Action in Death Penalty Debate

by Kyle Michaelis
After the near success of a bill repealing capital punishment in Nebraska, efforts are currently under way to add a "future dangerousness" requirement limiting execution to convicted first-degree murderers who pose "a present and substantial risk to the lives of others that cannot reasonably and effectively be controlled by institutional security measures."

Regardless of where you stand on the ultimate issue, this would be a change for the better. So, here's your call to action from the Nebraska ACLU in support of the amended LB 377:
Dear ACLU of Nebraska Members and Friends,

Your call today could make a big difference for the death penalty in Nebraska. On Wednesday or Thursday, the Nebraska legislature will be voting on a bill to significantly limit the application of the death penalty in Nebraska.

This is very significant news: we were most disappointed when the bill to outright abolish the death penalty failed by one vote. But this also shows how close we came when people like you called our state legislators. Now, we have a second chance and your call is critical to win!

We need your phone calls right away in support of LB 377 as amended.

Please call your Nebraska state senator. Or, look up your Nebraska state senator here:
http://action.aclu.org/nebraska

You no doubt have your own way of explaining why the death penalty should be used more sparingly in Nebraska. Just in case, here are some talking points to help with your phone call:

* This amendment creates an appropriate mechanism to assure that only truly dangerous people face the possibility of execution by requiring a determination by the fact finder.

* Adding this component to Nebraska law is not a unique or unheard-of step: Of the 38 states that allow the death penalty, nine states currently include "future dangerousness" as an element to be considered among other aggravating factors.

* The Baldus study, done by the Legislature just a couple of years ago, showed that the death penalty is applied unfairly in Nebraska. Socio-economic status, race and geographic location all affect who gets life and who gets death.

Help us make the most of this second chance! It's imperative that you call your senator and let him/her know that you support LB 377 as amended. Recent Nebraska poll results support this approach!

Please call your senator on as soon as possible. Time is of the essence and there’s no time to wait.

ACLU Nebraska is tracking what responses citizens get to their phone calls, so please call or email us to "report back" on how your call was received. Report your call by calling (402) 476-8091 or send an email to info@aclunebraska.org.

Thank you for your help!

Sincerely,

Laurel S. Marsh
Executive Director
ACLU Nebraska

P.S. Please pass this email on to friends and family -- we must send a strong message to the Nebraska Legislature today and tomorrow! Thank you for all your efforts!
My opposition to Nebraska's death penalty is not for ideological reasons. It's simply a disaster by any measure of fairness, justice, or practicality. As such, I'm proud to join ACLU Nebraska in urging support for LB 377.

Two weeks ago, State Sen. Ernie Chambers said on the floor of the Legislature that his only reason for supporting this reconfigured proposal changing Nebraska's sentencing procedures rather than eliminating the death penalty completely was to stop the execution of Carey Dean Moore. But, this is not about one convicted murderer's life or one senator's political agenda. This is a common sense reform to an unprincipled and out-of-control justice system.

Gov. Dave Heineman has called this new proposal "a back-door attempt to repeal the death penalty." Promising a veto that would require 30 senators to over-ride, Heineman here displays the darkest side of his political agenda by purposefully blinding himself to the absurdities and outrages of Nebraska's current policy.

Without any regard for truth, he has politicized this issue even worse than the activists opposed to the death penalty - except Dave Heineman's is an extremism of death. He is doing everything in his power to see that the state not only has the power to kill but also uses it as frequently as possible - with the loosest, most flexible standards.

Although a handful of senators might see this as a stepping stone towards outright repeal, the vast majority only want to see a more just system that might actually protect the conscience and humanity of the people of Nebraska.

Of Heineman, I must say that it's a miserable man with some very warped priorities who clings to the death penalty for reasons of politics and popularity. Sadly, there doesn't appear to be any reaching Heineman. He's got the polling numbers he wants, so Nebraska's king of the status quo doesn't need the facts.

LB 377 is going to need 30 votes in the Nebraska Legislature, and it needs your help to get them. Please do what you can.

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Hagel:The Next Chapter and other stories

by Ryan Anderson
Unfortunately little is moving me towards a full blown rant today, so let's take a quick look back on some of the headlines we might've missed:

*Washington Whispers reports that Senator Hagel is hard at work on his new book, America:The Next Chapter, "a collection of practical—and reportedly nonpartisan—policy prescriptions" due for release early next year (as the article helpfully points out, that's around the time of the Iowa caucuses). Quote Hagel's publisher:
He's said over and over again that this book is his legacy ... it's what is most important to him right now."
Now I'm not one to cast doubt on the power of the written word -believe it or not, at times I've even fancied myself a writer. But Senator Hagel isn't a blogger or a columnist, he's a public servant, and one would think his legacy might be built around that service. The man's been in the Senate for a decade now... did that not seem to him the proper forum for introducing these "nonpartisan policy prescriptions"?

*Now this is old news, but it's worth noting that NE-03's Adrian Smith was one of only 39 Congressman to vote against tougher penalties for people who promote animal fights. As Smith Watch noted (in a much more timely fashion):
To vote against this bill was, as I said, essentially Smith saying he hates your dog. I can’t even begin to imagine the reasoning behind voting against such a bill!
*Yesterday was Lincoln's first general election mayoral debate. Svoboda, desperate to overcome an abysmal primary showing, tried to address the median care controversy with a mea culpa ("That’s accountability, people"). It seems both candidates remained pretty positive.

*The Grand Island Independent favors an outright ban on the death penalty:
That public safety can be assured with a life in prison sentence rather than the death penalty, that millions of dollars are spent without benefits to the public can and should convince us to consider the abolition of this law in Nebraska.
Now that's another inexcusably old story, but considering this issue will almost certainly dribble into next year's session it's a nice reminder that it isn't the fringe opinions of some Omaha liberals driving this debate. A minority opinion it may be, but it's a growing and sizable minority. A mainstream opinion that will no longer be ignored. The Unicameral's thoughtful consideration of this issue was an outstanding triumph for all of us who desire a true political dialogue in this reddest of red states. Let's keep up the good work, fellas.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Challenging Steve King

by Ryan Anderson
Though a little beyond our normal scope (Nebraska, for those of you just joining us), this Omaha progressive can't help but feel a little excited by the news that the wingnut across the river -Iowa Congressman Steve King- has drawn an early and energetic challenge from a rather unusual Democrat:

As a Democrat in Iowa’s heavily Republican 5th Congressional District, Rob Hubler knows the earlier he starts campaigning, the better.

Hubler, 63, announced his candidacy for western Iowa’s congressional seat last week in a 12-stop tour that started in Council Bluffs, where he lives, and included a stop March 29 at the Coffee Parlor, officially known as Java & Flicks, on Osceola’s square.

A retired Presbyterian minister and former political consultant, Hubler talked about his campaign strategy amid a small group of four. He said he started touring the 5th District in November to gauge whether to run. He said he hopes the early start, nearly 18 months before the 2008 election, will give his campaign the finances and support to win the Republican-heavy district.

Hubler said his father has a Republican background. And, he said, from his conversations, he believes there are two kinds of Republicans. Those who want anybody but U.S. Rep. Steve King and those who dislike King.

That's quite the admonishment, but King has earned it. King: the man who idolizes Joe McCarthy ("a hero for America"), the man who compared torture at Abu Ghraib to "hazing", the man who declared Baghdad a safer city than Washington D.C. Between eating crow and gagging on his own foot, Rep. King has somehow found the time to vote against the 9/11 Commission recommendations, cutting interest rates on student loans, increasing the minimum wage, allowing Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices... man oh man, his record just keeps going on and on like this.

Looking at his votes and his solid re-election numbers, you might think King's district was a conservative stronghold rivaling Western Nebraska, but the truth is that IA-05 is even less Republican than the district represented by Lee Terry (a Cook PVI of R+8, compared to R+9 for the Omaha centered NE-02).

Despite being far too conservative and abrasive for even his mostly Republican constituents, King has managed impressive victories against two competent if underfunded Democratic challengers (including now State Rep. Paul Shomshor, who won the World Herald's endorsement over King in 2002) and has acquired an aura of invincibility that has him considering a race against Senator Tom Harkin, a situation that would create an open seat and likely draw a bigger name Democrat into this contest.

But what of Rob Hubler?

He's a preacher, a veteran, a first time candidate who nevertheless has plenty of campaign experience... but, more important than all that, he has energy. Energy enough, he says, to run a campaign 24 hours a day, six days a week for the next eighteen months. And, damn it, that might be just what this district needs.

I have to admire a man that's willing to put everything on hold and run for an office that seems hopelessly out of reach. It's exactly that kind of effort that propelled Scott Kleeb and Jim Esch into astonishingly close races in districts that hadn't seen a competitive election since the Gingrich revolution. This is precisely the sort of heavy lifting that is required to shake out the cobwebs of our single-party system and start introducing some new ideas in a political debate that's become something of a monologue.

Though primarily concerned with my home state politics and elections, my heart goes out to Hubler and his effort. Perhaps my money and time will follow. But for now, just this: keep fightin', Rob. We're with you.

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