Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bob Kerrey: Not a Big Fan of the Blogosphere?

by Kyle Michaelis
Omaha World-Herald columnist Robert Nelson e-mailed Bob Kerrey for his response to the Nebraska Republican and Democratic Parties using their websites to attack potential candidates of the opposing party - himself and Mike Johanns, respectively.
Kerrey's reply to Nelson suggests he's not particularly fond of the effect blogs and the Internet have had on American politics.
"In the old days (before the Web)... a 'name-caller' had to get a newspaper, radio, or television to include their insult in a story. Today the parties publish their own stories and the blogs add to the mix.

"The fact that The World-Herald asks me to respond to a political Web site is evidence the world has changed. The tail is wagging the dog.

"Couple this...with a decline in the number of radio, television and print reporters who cover politics and you have a lethal mix. The public drinks this stuff and something good dies."

There's definitely a lot of truth to Kerrey's concerns. But, despite the polarization and raw partisanship with which Kerrey is right to take issue, it's unfortunate that he should fail to acknowledge the positive contributions to democratic discourse in our country made possible by the new media.
Also, it's worth noting that here we're talking about partisan attacks by political parties that are inherently - by definition - partisan. It's not very idealistic, but there's something to be said for this being their primary purpose. Either way, such attacks certainly didn't begin with the advent of the Internet - just one more outlet beyond the parties' traditional press releases, which have often tended towards ugliness and spitefulness over the years.

If anything, the Internet has made it possible for political parties to bypass the middle men in the press and take their message directly to the people. This certainly changes the dynamics of modern campaigning, but it also heightens the dangers for political parties that go too far and run the risk of shooting themselves in the foot with voters when left to pursue their worst impulses unchecked.

Such a system provides more information to the people and puts more power to hold politicians accountable directly in their hands. That can't be a bad thing - at least, not entirely.

At the same time, there are sites like New Nebraska Network - which I like to imagine being above the fray...even while admitting we don't always live up to that standard. Still - despite his understandable comments above - I hope Kerrey recognizes our potential to serve the good rather than simply snuffing it out.

As we look to 2008 and what is already shaping up to be a very contentious campaign season, I trust NNN will be a positive force in Nebraska politics - overcoming the cheap and the easy while still having fun in the process.

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A War of Rhetoric: 'New York Democrats' vs. 'Washington Republicans'

by Kyle Michaelis
In 2006, the Nebraska Republican Party grasped desperately to the idea that 3rd District Congressional candidate Scott Kleeb was not a true Nebraskan - focusing on the years Kleeb had spent at Yale University and his successful out-of-state fundraising because their candidate - Adrian Smith - couldn't compete on the issues, by reputation, or with personality.

Now, looking to the 2008 Senate race, we already see the same sort of attacks revving up against potential Democratic candidate Bob Kerrey for living in New York City the last six years while serving as President of New School University.
What's funny is just how much hypocrisy it will require of Nebraska Republicans to attack Kerrey on this basis. For starters, Kerrey would be running to replace Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel - who was first elected in 1996 after spending two decades living in Virginia and Washington D.C.

Even more ridiculous, though, is the fact that two of the best-positioned Republicans hoping to replace Hagel have also recently declared Washington D.C. home. As most readers know and as cartoonist Neal Obermeyer has pointed out, Mike Johanns has been living in Washington D.C. since becoming Secretary of Agriculture for the Bush Administration in January 2005. In fact, Johanns is even reported to have gone house-hunting last weekend to reclaim his Nebraska residency.

Less well-known and less remembered is just how recently Hal Daub also called Washington D.C. home. The Omaha World-Herald (11/27/05) reported:
In July 2004, [Hal] Daub took a full-time job in Washington, D.C. He and his wife, Mary, sold their Omaha house and purchased one in the Georgetown area....

Daub never really put Omaha behind him during his 14 months leading the Washington-based American Health Care Association. Originally, Daub expected to spend three to five years with the national nursing home organization.
Of course, Daub didn't have a whole lot of say on his early return to Nebraska because he'd managed to alienate the AHCA leadership to the point that they couldn't wait to get rid of him. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise to anyone who remembers Daub's relationship with city officials when he served as mayor of Omaha.
Regardless, both Daub and Johanns have proven quite willing to adopt homes outside of Nebraska when it served their career ambitions. It's not my place to say whether these choices make them any less Nebraskan, but they make it downright absurd and hypocritical for the Republican Party to attack Kerrey on similar grounds.

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Heineman's "Property Tax Relief" Targets Ted Turner For Biggest Benefits

by Kyle Michaelis
The Omaha World-Herald finally publishes some of the criticism of the 2007 Nebraska Legislature's Heineman-approved package for property tax relief, 5 months after robbing voters of the debate they honestly deserved.
State tax officials notified counties Friday to trim their 2007 property tax bills by $83.22 for every $100,000 of real estate subject to taxation.

Instead of sending more money to local governments to spend, the Legislature and Gov. Dave Heineman decided this year to use $105 million in state funds to pay part of Nebraskans' 2007 property tax bills....

State Sen. Tom White of Omaha said the program spreads the dollars too thinly. He also said the plan pays out sales- and income-tax revenue to people who pay little or no sales and income taxes in Nebraska. "It's lousy economics," White said. "Far too much money is going out of state. Ted Turner, as the biggest private property owner in the state, is going to make out like a bandit."

The media mogul and CNN founder has about 425,000 acres - about 625 square miles - in multiple counties. He also is the nation's largest landowner, with some 2 million acres in seven states. White said the $105 million - had it been limited to Nebraska homeowners - could have resulted in $250 going toward their property tax bills.

During the legislative session, White called for a $500 income tax credit for homeowners - but his measure stalled when other lawmakers wanted to make sure farmers and commercial property owners got a share of any reduction.

State Sen. Chris Langemeier of Schuyler said the Legislature settled on the fairest approach. "It seems fair to tax everybody in the state, yet some of the ideas to give money back would have excluded certain groups," he said.
I'm sure a billionaire like Ted Turner appreciates Langemeier and Heineman looking out for his interests rather than those of the working people who actually live, work, and raise their families in Nebraska.

The true measure of a tax cut or the politicians who support them is less a question of how much than who benefits. It should come as little surprise, then, that Nebraska's destructive legacy of one party Republican domination would work to Ted Turner's favor over the common Cornhusker fan's.  In 2007, Heineman promised "middle class tax relief." Now, we see what he meant - forsaking his obligation to the people of Nebraska to help Ted Turner recoup past alimony payments to Jane Fonda.  Heineman and Langemeier may find this "the fairest approach," but it amounts to a tax giveaway to Nebraska's wealthiest landowners with the least actual need for assistance. It is sad to think that's where so many of our politicians' priorities lie rather than with the homeowners who invest not just their money but their lives in Nebraska's future.

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rural Straw Poll Picks Fred Thompson and Barack Obama for President

by Kyle Michaelis
Last week's Husker Harvest Days celebration in Grand Island, sponsored by the Nebraska Farm Bureau, included an unscientific presidential straw poll of Nebraska farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers, and their families.
 The Associated Press reports the results:
Of the 387 who voted Republican, 36 percent picked [former Sen. Fred] Thompson, 16 percent picked Sen. John McCain of Arizona and 15 percent picked Rudy Giuliani.

Of the 165 votes cast by Democrats, 35 percent were for [Barack] Obama, the U.S. senator from Illinois, 31 percent were for Sen. Hilary Clinton of New York and 16 percent were for John Edwards.
Anyone surprised by these results? How well do these numbers conform with your expectations of Nebraska voters? Personally, I see Thompson's numbers reflecting his position as flavor-of-the-month in a weak Republican field. There's no justification for his being the front-runner beyond the fact that Republicans have seen him on Law & Order and are buying into the hype that he could be the next Ronald Reagan.
It doesn't surprise me that rural Nebraskans would reject a smooth operator like Mitt Romney - who failed to even register in the top three. Giuliani also polled a lot lower than would be expected from his national standing, suggesting that a former New York mayor who doesn't pander completely to the religious right would be a tough sell to the Republican base in Middle America.  Honestly, if anyone knew who he was, I'd expect the sort of voters who'd attend Husker Harvest Days to favor former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. I'll give my fellow Nebraskans enough credit, though, that I don't think they'd rally to the likes of Sam Brownback or Tom Tancredo.  As for the Democratic straw poll, it's hard to say what exactly to glean from these results. Probably what stands out the most is that the numbers simply don't support John Edwards' claim to be the only candidate who can connect with red state voters. Rather, Nebraska Democrats seem to be banking what hopes they have for a new beginning on Obama, while a number of others thumb their nose at the Republican majority by rallying to Clinton.   Either way, a black man and a woman ended up with a combined 2/3rds of the vote. Who would have guessed such a thing would have been possible in Nebraska just a few years ago?  Of course, there's no reason to put much stock in these number. For starters, it isn't a very large sample. Not to mention, the ratio of voting Republicans to voting Democrats (70% - 30%) is pretty damn disappointing - even taking into account this being an agricultural sector poll taken in the Third Congressional District.
Still, it's something to think about. Something to talk about, as well. Let's hear what you have to say.

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Daub To Join The Race

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

The World-Herald has it:

Hal Daub, energetic and sometimes combative former Omaha mayor and former congressman, is hoping he scores a win in his third try for the U.S. Senate.
Daub is widely known in Omaha and in state GOP circles, particularly from his years as mayor of Nebraska's largest city, where he was praised by some for his willingness to take on tough political battles and criticized by others for being too aggressive and divisive.

"Aggressive and divisive" may be an understatement. But, hey, if Daub wants to lose another election, who are we to stop him?

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Bruning Poll Shows Johanns With Slim Lead

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

Via TPM:

A poll released by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning (R) shows a close race against former Governor Mike Johanns for the Republican nomination for Senate, Roll Call reports. Johanns leads with 39% support, followed by Bruning at 30%.
"These numbers show that the pundits who say Mike Johanns is a clear favorite are flat-out wrong," said Bruning campaign manager Jordan McGrain. "Johanns is not the heavyweight among Republicans some expect him to be."
The poll also showed Bruning ahead of former Congressman Hal Daub in a two-way Republican primary, 48%-17%. Overall, the poll is a strong signal that Bruning has no intention of backing down if Johanns makes the race.
The Nebraska Senate race is expected to be a top Democratic target next year, if former Dem Senator Bob Kerrey runs for the seat. Two-term incumbent Chuck Hagel, a strong conservative who has broken sharply with the White House on Iraq, is retiring. Bruning was already running hard against Hagel in the GOP primary, citing Hagel's votes with Senate Democrats on the issue.

Standard caveats about internal polls apply, but this does show that Johanns isn't as strong against Bruning as his camp would have you believe. Don't underestimate the amount of support Bruning gained by challenging Hagel. This is going to be a very interesting primary to watch.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

LD-11: Contenders Emerging To Succeed Chambers

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

A legislative giant of 38 years who drew strong feelings (both pro- and con-) throughout the state, Ernie Chambers will be forced out of the legislature due to term limits in 2008.
 Now, the race to succeed him in the legislature begins. So far, two candidates, both Democrats, one Democrat, and one independent, have emerged. The first is Preston Love, Jr.

Preston Love Jr. may become the first person to vie for the chance to succeed State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha in the Nebraska Legislature. Love has scheduled a Sept. 20 press conference to announce that he will run for the District 11 seat. Term limits will force Chambers, who has served in the Legislature since 1971, to vacate his seat in January 2009. Love, 65 and a registered Democrat, said Monday he sees the Legislature as his best chance to help north Omaha. "With the challenges and crises we're in, we need a major, major focus," on north Omaha, Love said. "I have weighed the alternatives, and this is where I could have the most impact." Love, a former University of Nebraska football player and the son of the late Omaha jazz great Preston Love Sr., has an impressive political resume. A former IBM executive, Love served as the Rev. Jesse Jackson's campaign manager in Jackson's 1984 bid for the presidency and was the first executive director of Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. He also worked in the late Harold Washington's 1983 and 1987 successful campaigns for mayor of Chicago. Along with those triumphs, however, Love suffered some embarrassing lows back home. He withdrew from a bid for the Metropolitan Utilities District board in 1992 after acknowledging an addiction to cocaine. He was arrested for shoplifting cigarettes during his unsuccessful bid for Omaha City Council in 1993. He got a $100 fine and 20 hours of community service after pleading no contest to the shoplifting charge.

The second is Matthew Stelly.

Matthew Stelly, 52, a consultant and doctoral student, said he is best-suited to protect Chambers' legacy. "I've studied Ernie Chambers more than anybody else," Stelly said Wednesday. "The person who succeeds Ernie should defend what Ernie built, what Ernie stood for, and make sure it stays in place." Stelly, a registered independent, joins Preston Love Jr., a Democrat who has scheduled a Sept. 20 press conference to officially announce his bid for the District 11 seat in next year's elections. However, Stelly would have to move to be able to file for the office. Stelly presently lives near 48th and Izard Streets, in District 8. In 2006, he ran for the District 8 legislative seat, finishing fifth in the primary election. Democrat Tom White was elected to the post in November. The Nebraska Constitution requires senators to have lived one year in their districts before their election. Stelly said he is willing to move. He said much is at stake for District 11. "Because of the demographic changes in north Omaha, somebody white" might win, said Stelly, who is black. Black lawmakers have represented the area since the 1950s. Chambers has held the seat since 1971 and must step down because of term limits. "The best politician we ever had, who wasn't compromising and stood for being black, was Ernie Chambers," Stelly said. Stelly said he feared that critical legislation passed by Chambers, such as district elections for the Omaha City Council, the Douglas County Board and the Omaha Public Schools board, could be undone by future Legislatures. "It could be open season on north Omaha," Stelly said.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Nebraska Republicans Pay Tribute to Chuck Hagel

by Kyle Michaelis
Neal Obermeyer presents:

"Et tu, Bruning?"

And, be sure to check out Obermeyer's most recent Omaha Reader cartoon as well. It's about time someone challenges the absurd suggestion that former Governor and two-term U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey would somehow be a carpetbagger should he return home to Nebraska and run for a third term in the Senate.

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Oh, The Rumors Are Running Thick Now

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

This from The American Spectator:

With the announcement today that Sen. Chuck Hagel is retiring, Republicans in the Senate are privately giving big props to National Republican Senatorial Committee chair Sen. John Ensign for his behind the scenes support to Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, which started about six months ago.

Of course, given this quote later in the article, it's pretty clear that they are either clueless or desperately spinning in favor of Bruning:

Former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey has also indicated an interest in running for the seat, though after years of living in New York and consistently opposing the Iraq effort, he would be an interesting foil to Bruning, a bright, energetic conservative. "It would be like Bruning vs. Hagel all over again," says the GOP insider.

This from Dave Heineman:

During a phone news conference from Taiwan, Gov. Dave Heineman said he "fully expect(s)" Johanns to seek the Republican nomination to succeed Hagel."
"I assume he will make some announcement in the next few days (or) within the next week," the governor said.
Heineman served as Johanns' lieutenant governor and succeeded him when Johanns resigned in 2005 to become U.S. ag secretary.
"Let me just say I know Mike Johanns very well," the governor said.

In the next week, huh? Well, then I suppose Bush better ready his short list for a new Secretary of Agriculture. Because surely Johanns and Heineman realize that he can't do any campaigning for Senate until he resigns that position. Kerrey, meanwhile met with DSCC Chair Chuck Schumer Tuesday. He says that he will be making a decision very soon.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Chuck Hagel Likes Democrats' Chances of Reclaiming His Senate Seat

by Kyle Michaelis
I suppose the following could be posturing on Sen. Chuck Hagel's part just to discourage complacence by Nebraska Republicans. On the other hand, this might be Hagel's way of emphasizing his legacy as the only Republican to have won a U.S. Senate race in Nebraska in the last 30 years. Regardless of his intent, this Hagel statement to the Lincoln Journal-Star should prove interesting to anyone forecasting the 2008 election:

"I am confident I could have won re-election," Hagel said.

Nebraska's GOP faces a challenge in retaining an open seat, he said.

"I don't know how anyone can say it's a safe Republican seat," Hagel said, in view of recent Nebraska political history. Democrats have won nine of the past 11 Senate races here.
Could Hagel have survived the primary challenge by Attorney General Jon Bruning? I'm on record thinking so but - at the same time - have no particular insight into the strange thought processes of your typical Republican primary voter.

Looking to the open field that now exists for the 2008 general election, though, Hagel is absolutely right in declaring that Nebraska's should not be considered a "safe Republican seat." On the other hand, I must again caution against the continued embellishment and exaggeration of Democrats' chances in this race should Bob Kerrey run. Kerrey's entry undoubtedly makes this a top-flight race, but his odds can't honestly be said to be any better than 50 - 50 if former Governor and current Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns gets the nomination. I could see Kerrey having a slight advantage over any other potential Republican nominees, but there's no way this race is a cake walk.

What troubles me most about these out-sized expectations is the effect they'll have should Kerrey opt-out of the race. Suddenly, Nebraska becomes a lost opportunity rather than the battleground it could and should be in 2008. Sure, without Kerrey, the race could rightfully be said to "lean Republican," but it can't be considered a safe bet for the GOP by any stretch of the imagination.

No doubt about it - Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey has the potential to beat any candidate the Republicans could put up, including Johanns. That isn't saying it would be easy...or likely....but it's well beyond plausible and should be kept in mind as the next wave of candidates declare and this exciting campaign develops.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Chuck Hagel's Blaze of Glory?

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Ryan Anderson

If you're looking for some perspective on Hagel's announcement today, you can't do much better than Don Walton's column for the Lincoln Journal Star. Eschewing for a moment the horses racing and dominos toppling, Walton stops to reflect on Hagel's service in light of the promises he made and the statements he gave during his breakout campaign in '96.

The main thrust of Walton's column is that Hagel is a simple man and an honest politician who simply kept the promises he made... namely: to support the Republican Party whenever he could, to support his country's interests whenever he must, and to try and get the job done in twelve years. Fair enough. But there's another story in this piece about another Chuck Hagel: the warrior, the fighter, and, ultimately, the champion.
Hagel and his team had just finished what Jim Exon later would describe as the most flawless campaign he had ever seen. Grudging praise from the Democratic political maestro and retiring senator Hagel would succeed.
During that 19 months, Hagel emerged from comparative obscurity to overcome and handily defeat the Republican and the Democrat who had been the leading vote-gatherers in their parties two years earlier.
First, Hagel caught Attorney General Don Stenberg in the Republican primary. Then, he ran down Ben Nelson, who had been re-elected governor in a statewide landslide.
In the beginning, Chuck Hagel was a Republican hero.
Hagel was never a man short on energy and talent, and those gifts have served him exceptionally well in every fight he's picked and every race he's run. That's a good thing for us, and I mean it. Our political system works best when it works us the hardest. We should value worthy opponents: they force us to rethink old strategies and question old ideas. Hagel was such an opponent, and we owe him for that.

It's a shame, really, to see the old gladiator lay down his sword before an opportunist like Bruning, but perhaps Hagel's got fight left in him yet. Freed at last from party allegiance and political jockeying, he's left only with that talent and that energy, that fight and that promise: to serve the interests of his state and his nation. And we need that service, now more than ever.  The spotlight may have passed from Hagel's political career, but it shines everyday on the challenges left in Iraq. As Senator, Hagel has not always shown the judgement or the courage to take whatever action neccessary to meet that challenge. But he has shown an ability to question, a capacity for growth, and in these dual qualities he has proven a potential to lead.  Well, Senator, this is your chance. Now is your time. You have the talent and the opportunity. What you haven't is an excuse. Here's hoping there's still one fight left in this dog.

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Harold W. Andersen Announces World-Herald Departure

by Kyle Michaelis
Under the guise of entering the "electronic telecommunications age" upon the suggestion of friends, it appears the Omaha World-Herald is finally kicking former editor and publisher Harold W. Andersen to the curb after years of filling its opinion page with increasingly insufferable inanity.
Andersen is, of course, an institution in the Nebraska press, but his ultimate legacy is one of unprincipled partisanship, protecting and projecting the World-Herald's singular position of power in Nebraska politics.  Andersen has always been keenly aware of the World-Herald's influence, and he has never been shy to use that influence to advance the paper's corporate, conservative agenda - in its reporting as well as on its opinion page.  Since retiring as publisher in 1989 (after being implicated in a series of bizarre allegations involving influence-peddling and even child sex abuse), Andersen has been been officially confined to duties as a twice-weekly columnist. But the spirit of his reign has survived pretty well intact.  One hopes the symbolism of Andersen's departure, the need for change in the face of declining readership, and a new generation of reporters and columnists untainted by past regimes might allow for a true change of course at the World-Herald, embracing an ethic of responsible reporting that actually challenges Nebraska's powers that be rather than positioning itself for pre-eminence amongst them.  But, let's face it - this is the World-Herald, folks. I wouldn't count on it.  By the way, Andersen promises that he will continue to make new columns available at after his last World-Herald column on September 30th. Thank God for that. I can't imagine what the people of Nebraska would do without Andersen telling us what to think.

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A Golden Opportunity: More Reactions to Hagel's Retirement

by Kyle Michaelis
From the Omaha World-Herald:

Democrats hold a 51-to-49 majority in the Senate and they would like to extend that lead in 2008. Republicans must defend 22 of 34 seats on the ballot next year, and about a half-dozen are considered vulnerable. Democrats, meanwhile, hold 12 seats that will be on the ballot, and only one or two are considered vulnerable at this point....

"The good news for Democrats just keeps coming," said Larry Sabato, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, after hearing of Hagel's plans.

"The Democrats have got an enormous playing field for 2008 in the Senate. They have lots of Republicans to target and a good chance of picking up seats in the Senate," Sabato said.

From CQ Politics:
Pollster John Zogby said Hagel's retirement would complicate efforts by Republicans to regain a Senate majority, forcing them to defend an open seat in what is likely to be a tough race.

"It was already tilting against the Republicans as far as regaining control of the Senate. Now Nebraska is going to be competitive. Polls had shown recently Hagel was not a shoo-in. Now, with an open seat in a state that can go either way, it's clear that the Nebraska is another state that Republicans have to worry about," he said.

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Saturday, September 08, 2007

Scott Kleeb Speaks to the Midwest Nebraska Central Labor Council

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Lisa Hannah

Our old friend Scott Kleeb popped up in North Platte at the Midwest Nebraska Central Labor Council's 17th Annual Labor Day picnic as one of the guest speakers. There was a crowd of about 400 present. Some of his statements and information on his ongoing activities deserve highlighting:
Scott Kleeb visits Labor Day picnic  
Big issues -- health care, energy independence - haven't gone away, Kleeb said, "They need a louder voice." "I'm still engaged, energized and excited about our district," he said. "Unlike a lot of people predicted, I haven't picked up and left Nebraska." Kleeb is teaching three college history and government courses at Hastings College. He also works with students to help them "servant-leadership" under a Hastings College program - helping them find ways to fix problems. And, Kleeb sells Nebraska beef in Europe for the Morgan Ranch of Burwell. He and his wife have a new baby daughter. Kleeb recently brought energy conservationists together with rural Nebraskans in Scottsbluff. He introduced members of the National Energy Defense Council from Washington, D.C. to businesspeople from Scottsbluff. They talked about ethanol and wind power.
The two groups share the desire to lessen the nation's dependence on oil, but they come at it from different perspectives. Nebraskans want to boost the economy. The Washington group wants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. "The best coalitions come from people with different views and interests," Kleeb said.
"When they find common ground and a common goal, they can really get things done."
If Kleeb runs again, he wants to engage more people in government and help them stay involved. "The only way we win is by getting involved in the process," he said. "It's about all of us participating in democracy."
Scott Kleeb wants to stay involved

"I have the same concerns, energy and desire as I did a year ago," Kleeb said. "I will be involved in the future. If that means running for office in a year, or two years, or four years, well, that's definitely an option. "When we have representation that votes against securing more health care for our children, against securing America, and doesn't support a balanced budget, and is not representing out interests, then yes, I am still engaged," Kleeb said.
He said his 2006 campaign did better than expected. "We wanted to build a campaign and find out what people are concerned about," he said. "We did better than expected because we connected with Democrats, Republicans and Independents. The issues were the same regardless of party." After his loss to Smith, Kleeb moved to Hastings, where he works as an advocate of renewable energy sources and helps sell beef internationally for a Sandhills cattle Ranch. He also teaches history at Hastings College. Kleeb married Jane Fleming and daughter Maya was born last month. "It is a matter of working for everyone," Kleeb said.

It's clear he's keeping an eye on Smith, and his message continues to be much more inclusive than Adrian Smith's. He continues to be active in promoting our state's best interests and gaining the real world knowledge and connections needed to make a real positive impact. I especially like his philosophy of bringing people of different perspectives together on issues they can share in common. That is how positive change and progress is made.

Maybe Smith should sign up for a class with Scott Kleeb. Maybe he could teach him something that is worthwhile. Who knows?  I've recently seen some comments from people on various boards about the fact Scott has not been a career politician and that he's probably just wanting to go to Washington to get away from Nebraska. I find this rather ironic. These are probably many of the same people that voted for term limits because they didn't want career politicians. The same people that probably voted for Smith even after he was quoted as saying "I want got get elected and stay their until retirement." Do they think Smith wanted to get out of Nebraska? I'd say that comment sure makes it sound like it.
Whatever Scott's plans are for the future, I'm proud to call him a fellow Nebraskan, and we are lucky to have someone of that caliber continuing to promote what is great about our state.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

NE-Sen: Hagel To Announce Retirement Monday

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

Don Walton confirms it:
Sen. Chuck Hagel will announce Monday he'll not seek re-election next year.
Hagel also will tell an Omaha news conference he does not intend to be a candidate for any office in 2008, clamping a lid on speculation he might be pondering a late-inning presidential bid.
In a prelude to Monday's announcement, he conferred Friday with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
Later, Hagel gathered his Washington staff together to inform them of his decision, according to sources close to the senator.
Hagel's departure at the end of 2008 will bring an end to a meteoric 12-year Senate ride that propelled him to national prominence as the most outspoken Republican opponent of President Bush's Iraq war policies.

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Thursday, September 06, 2007

NFP Challenges 'the Pro-Life Lie' in Nebraska Politics

by Kyle Michaelis
Paul Olson writes in this month's Nebraskans for Peace newsletter [excerpts with emphasis added]:

My state has three representatives who say that they are pro-life. Adrian Smith is a "Christian," Lee Terry a Methodist, and Jeff Fortenberry a Catholic. They are not hearing from one religious authority, but they have one "life" message.

When I go to churches, I hear homilies that tell me that I would have committed a mortal sin had I voted for anyone not pro-life. Local and national religious authorities call for a "consistent ethic of life": anti-abortion, anti-capital punishment and anti-assisted suicide. Fundamentalists on the religious right call for similar goals, especially on abortion.

In the case of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, a life-ethic meant more: a condemning of the idea of nuclear deterrence. But when Nebraska votes, it means nothing about war or most forms of death ....

To take the House of Representatives as an example, the "consistent ethic of life,"the "reverence for life" that our representatives, Smith, Fortenberry and Terry, profess means opposing abortion (mostly this) and perhaps assisted suicide. They appear to accept the death penalty through inaction. They do not oppose nuclear deterrence. They do not question "shock and awe" bombs or surge raids that abort mothers in Iraq. They are, to all intents and purposes, silent when mothers in Darfur have to birth babies destined for bloated bellies and flies in their eyes as they eke out their few days before dying. They do not testify loudly enough to be heard about children in the U.S., Africa, Asia and South America starving or dying from war, AIDS, malnutrition or multi-national corporate indifference.

If we, as peace people, value an ethic of life, we may well ask, "Do our representatives represent the same ethic?" If so, why, in the 109th Congress, did all of our representatives - including Tom Osborne - vote for funding the continued occupation of Iraq with its murder of civilians? Why have they all continued to justify the initial illegal invasion of Iraq and the ouster and execution of Saddam Hussein as aspects of the "War on Terror"? Why did they vote against prohibiting military action against Iran? Why did they oppose cutting funds for the so-called "missile defense program" that is destabilizing the international nuclear situation and prompting a new arms race? Were they 'life-people' when they voted to share nuclear technology with India, a non-signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty? Did life-reverence tell them to oppose increased humanitarian aid for refugees? ....

Why did Terry, Fortenberry and Smith vote against the crucial "Fairness in Farm and Food Policy" Farm Bill amendment ... ? ... Our guys know that our subsidized corn, beans, rice and cotton, regularly dumped on the international markets, drive small farmers in other lands off their farms - increasing hunger, dependent urban ghettoes and the likelihood of civil strife and terrorism. They know that we - and the Europeans - have been the primary causes of the breakdowns in the Doha Round WTO trade talks designed to prevent such dumping. Do they know that there is no reverence for life in such a vote? Do they know that 798 million people in the world suffer from chronic hunger because of poverty?....

Why did Terry, Smith and Fortenberry vote against the Children's Health Care Bill extending health insurance to six million unserved U.S. children ... Where is the "consistent ethic of life" in that vote? Or in their votes on Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, military spending, world hunger, hunger in America and world poverty? They did not get their positions from the Pope's statements on the Iraq war, poverty, and hunger. Or from any mainline Protestant leaders'. Or from Sojourner's evangelicals.

We Nebraskans can toot our horns until hell freezes over about how we revere[] life. But we do not do so as voters in any meaningful way. We do not care when we send representatives like these to Washington. We do not care.

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'Open Left' Opens Up About Bob Kerrey & Scott Kleeb

by Kyle Michaelis
From Open Left:

Notes on Nebraska Politics
by: Mike Lux

Although Chuck Hagel is obviously a really quirky guy and could change his mind at the drop of a hat, everyone I talked to in the know about Nebraska politics is pretty convinced that Hagel is going to announce his retirement, and that Bob Kerrey is going to get in the race to replace him. I know that many in the blogosphere are not fans of Kerrey's, some even comparing him to Lieberman, and I have never been close to him. But I think his running again is actually a good thing.

The most obvious reason is that he will likely give Democrats another seat in the Senate. Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey and Scott Kleeb are the two other potential Senate candidates, and while both have a lot going for them, I think their paths to winning a statewide Senate race are much more uphill compared to Kerrey's, who is still very popular and who would likely beat any of the Republican candidates.

I also don't think Kerrey is as bad as a lot of the blogosphere assumes. He is for sure an independent cuss, one who has driven me crazy many times over the years, and he would be very unpredictable on issues the progressive community cares about. But overall he was the most progressive Senator that Nebraska has had since the legendary George Norris (a Republican in the 1930s who championed rural electrification and labor law reform). And unlike most politicians, he will be open and passionate about what he believes. He will drive us all crazy from time to time, but on balance he's a whole lot better than either Lieberman or any of the Republicans running.

I also had a good conversation with Scott Kleeb, his wife and new Nebraskan Jane Fleming Kleeb, and most importantly their one month-old baby Maya (they got me to lunch by promising I could hold her). Scott got 45% last year in one of the five most Republican districts in the country, and is trying to decide whether to run again. It's a tough call given the nature of the district, and it would be really difficult to defend the seat even if he did win in 2008. I think he's leaning toward going for it in spite of the odds, and I hope he does- he's a good guy. The nature of the district wouldn't allow him to vote with progressives on every issue, but I think he would always be open to listening to us, and would do what he could, given the district, to be a solid team player for Democratic leadership on tough votes.
Sharing a ticket with Bob Kerrey could only strengthen Kleeb's candidacy should he again challenge Adrian Smith, the Third District's freshman Congressman. This Kerrey-Kleeb tandem (certain to attract a top-tier candidate in the 2nd Congressional District, as well) could lay the groundwork for a united front by Nebraska Democrats, running a true statewide campaign the likes of which hasn't been seen in almost two decades (since Ben Nelson's 'go it alone' philosophy took hold, leaving Nebraska Democrats with no real identity and making a true Democratic Party brand all-but-impossible to establish).

Of course, there are enough cards still in the deck that its too early to assume anything of the 2008 election. But, reading the above, there are definitely reasons to hope. The dream may yet become a reality.

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Nebraska Republicans Don't Care That Their Votes Won't Count???

by Kyle Michaelis
The rejuvenated Douglas County Democratic Party held a press conference yesterday touting the Nebraska Democratic Party's 2008 Presidential caucus, scheduled for Saturday, February 9th. The press conference was obviously quite successful, earning a front-page story in the Omaha World-Herald, not to mention across the dial coverage on Omaha television (KMTV, KETV, KPTM).

This is a really exciting development for Nebraska Democrats, who are certainly taking a risk with so massive an undertaking but who ultimately have little to lose after years of our state being less than an afterthought in presidential politics. Of course, there are no guarantees the caucus will prove a tremendous success, but I think the people of Nebraska will appreciate the fact that at least one political party in our state cares enough about its voters to give them the chance to have a say in choosing their presidential nominee.

The Nebraska Republican Party may have any number of legitimate reasons for not following suit, maintaining its own presidential selection during the May primary when the race is all-but-certain to be over. It may be a matter of tradition. It may be a simple (and quite practical) acknowledgment of Nebraska's low place on the presidential totem pole. It may even reflect plain old laziness on their part, not wanting to deal with the hassle when Nebraska's Republican majority is likely to rally behind whoever has the "R" by his name on the November ballot. Who knows - they might even sense that the current crop of Republican candidates is so uniformly unimpressive that it's just not worth having a choice between them.

Whatever their reasoning, I could probably respect it. What I can't respect, though, is the insulting mockery by the Nebraska Republican Party's Executive Director, Tiffany Carlton, directed towards Nebraska Democrats just for daring to be relevant on the national stage.

  The Omaha World-Herald reported:
Although the Democrats' caucuses will come four days after Super-duper Tuesday - when more than 20 states are expected to hold primaries or caucuses - several candidates have indicated interest in competing for Nebraska's delegates, state party officials said. "We are definitely a part of the process now. Even though there's a Super-duper Tuesday going on February 5, there are so many strong candidates that we won't end up with a definite winner on that date," said Chris Jerram, chairman of the Douglas County Democratic Party....  
[Tiffany] Carlton, the GOP executive director, said it's unlikely that a Feb. 9 contest will have any real impact, with so many states choosing a nominee on Feb. 5. "Unfortunately, because so many other states have moved their caucuses forward, their delusion of grandeur is not going to happen. By February 9, the decision will be made and the Nebraska Democrats will be left standing like the kid who got left out on the playground," she said.

Now, I realize that, as her party's executive director, it is Carlton's job to be partisan. But, I don't think that partisanship should extend to actively rooting for the failure of any effort to empower the people of Nebraska and to give them more of a say in who will be their next president.

According to the Nebraska Republican Party, democracy is the true delusion of grandeur. They decided for their own voters that Nebraska Republicans would have no real say in their nomination process. And, from this response, they clearly resent the fact that Nebraska Democrats are daring to be more bold, taking a risk that shows signs of life and true concern for Nebraska voters that will only make the complacent GOP look bad by comparison.

Then again, they already look bad from Carlton's statement above. I guess they might as well get used to it now.

***Addendum*** I just added a new poll on this topic. Please tell us what you think about Nebraska Democrats' plans for a presidential caucus.

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Is Hagel Ready To Make It Official?

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

Via Leavenworth Street, the Washington Note reports:

The word is slowly leaking out that not only is Chuck Hagel not going to run for President -- but he's not going to run for the Senate again in 2008. I'm not sure this is the final word, but Hagel is getting ready to make an announcement either this next Saturday or the one following -- and all indicators are that he is going to depart an institution that very much still needs his conscience and sensibilities.

Going to the poll that is currently on the sidebar, this falls under the "politics of Husker football," and one of those things national media types like Steve Clemons won't get. There's no way that Hagel's announcement will come on September 15. Every second of media on that day will be devoted to the Nebraska-USC game.

I don't doubt the accuracy of Clemons' sources, though, in that I think we can expect Hagel's decision to come in the next couple of weeks. There's certainly no surprise on this end: it's been a foregone conclusion since at least June. Just a question of "when," and when the Democratic field will shake out. The next two weeks should be very interesting.

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Nelson: It's Time To Change Course

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

I haven't exactly been Ben Nelson's biggest fan in the world, but he generally has a pretty good idea of where Nebraskans are on an issue, and I think that's one of the reasons why he's so popular. Which is why this bit of news in Wednesday's Lincoln Journal Star came as an encouraging sign for the state of the debate on the war in Iraq:

Sen. Ben Nelson said Wednesday he'll push for a change in the military mission when the Senate next week resumes consideration of U.S. policy in Iraq. U.S. troops should be phased out of sectarian conflict in Baghdad, Nelson said, and redeployed to pursue and destroy al-Qaida elements in Iraq. That transition over a six-month period would lead to reduced troop levels without any artificial deadlines for U.S. withdrawal, he said.  
While the Bush administration may argue its surge of additional combat troops is showing some military success, Nelson said, it is not leading to the political accommodation required for peace and stability. "It's very difficult to see what reducing violence in Baghdad has achieved," he told his weekly telephone news conference from Washington. Without Iraqi progress in achieving a political settlement and national stability, Nelson said, it's hard to argue that U.S. policy is succeeding. "In that context," the Democratic senator said, "I don't think the surge has worked."

This is the debate that the administration refuses to have: there is no military solution in Iraq. This must be dealt with politically, diplomatically, and responsibly. No more platitudes, no more fearmongering, no slogans or empty promises. Bring this war to a responsible end.

Nelson's evolution on Iraq has been interesting to watch, because I think it presents a window into Nebraskans' opinions on the war in Iraq. My own personal experience in 2006 was that people in Nebraska had just about had enough of the war in Iraq. Nelson didn't say much of anything about the war during the campaign - he didn't have to with an opponent like Pete Ricketts. But since the new Congress began, he has been outspoken in trying to build bipartisan support to change course in Iraq.

If only the Republicans would listen. But Ben Nelson has been a pleasant surprise over the last few months. And it's been good to see a reminder of why I - and so many others - voted for him.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

LD 27: Dan Marvin To Run For Legislature

by Kyle Michaelis
By: Dave Sund

I mentioned before that this community creates an opportunity to expand our scope and dive in deeper to local races. Though the unicameral is officially nonpartisan, the reality is that partisan politics rule when it comes to standing up to Dave Heineman. A number of veterans of the unicameral will be term-limited out of office, and while it means we will be losing some dedicated public servants - and one controversial legislative giant - there is also a tremendous opportunity to gain ground and elect the next generation of progressive voices for Nebraska. There will be 26 legislative seats up for election in 2008. We'll do our best to cover them.

Dan Marvin, the city councilman who overcame some ugly Republican attacks to win his election in 2005, is running for legislature:
City Councilman Dan Marvin has worked on many of Lincoln Sen. DiAnna Schimek's campaigns, but next spring he'll be working on his own legislative campaign.  
Marvin announced Tuesday that he intends to run for the District 27 seat that Schimek will leave next year because of term limits. She was elected in 1988 and has been re-elected every four years since.  
Marvin served on the planning commission from 2002 to 2005, when he was elected to the City Council. He said he had been thinking about running for the Legislature for a while because he feels he could represent the city's interests well on the state level.  
"If I'm a strong voice for the city of Lincoln and the citizens of Lincoln, I think I can do more there than if I'm on the City Council," he said.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

State Senator Mick Mines Resigns

by Kyle Michaelis
If we really want to see more progressive voices in the Nebraska Unicameral, Legislative District 18 - running from Blair to Northwest Omaha - just became a prime pick-up opportunity in November 2008 after the resignation of State Sen. Mick Mines only one year into his second term.

As Eric reports, Mines will be leaving office to set-up shop with his own lobbying firm. It seems he couldn't wait any longer to cash-in like former Speaker Kermit Brashear on all the fat lobbying contracts and legislative inexperience that abound in the post-term limits environment.

Of course, District 18 voters should be annoyed - perhaps even outraged - that Mines would abandon their interests to exercise his legislative influence in the name of corporate profits. Every voter across the state, though, should heed the warnings of this situation, which so well illustrates the dangerous expansion in corporate influence that has consumed Nebraska politics under the reigns of Gov. Dave Heineman and his predecessor, Mike Johanns.

Heineman will appoint Mines' successor for the 2008 legislative session. The example Heineman set with the appointment of Tony Fulton in November 2006 suggests he will look for a long-time partisan ideologue who can be counted on to serve his corporate agenda.

If that again proves to be the case, this is a district ripe for change where we must give the people the chance to break Heineman's lock-grip on the legislature, restoring much-needed balance to our state's democracy.

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