Saturday, December 07, 2002


I started going to Nebraska Democratic political functions when Mike Meister began his run for Attorney General in January of 2002. At the Patriot's Dinner I first met Audra Ostergard, another small, fiery woman who's been active in Democratic politics for a long time. You can't go to a state Democratic function without running into Audra. To tell you the truth, I don't know what official party position she holds (although if I had my way, she'd be the chairman and maybe we'd get something done!). Anyway, she always seems to be everywhere, doing everything, knowing everybody. And she has more energy, more enthusiasm, and more belief in the Democratic Party as a force for the good of this state than a lot of the current Democratic officeholders in the state put together.

Among the hundred or so other things she's doing, she's up to her ears now in an organization that calls itself the Democratic Divas. No, this isn't an "oh, aren't they cute" bunch of girls playing at politics. This is an informal but dead serious gathering of Democratic, liberal, feisty, uppity women who meet monthly, alternating in Omaha and Lincoln. I suspect that they will branch out to other cities as they grow. And you can betcher ass they will grow. Not just because of Audra, but because these are a bunch of women who are Mad As Hell and Aren't Going To Take It Any More.

Here's a souce of energy, organizational skill, and enthusiasm. It needs to be tapped. There are women here who have run for office, managed campaigns, raised funds, organized events -- in short, the kind of skill the party needs. There is excitement here. There is enthusiasm here. There are new ideas here. Over and over again, I hear from active party members that what the state party needs is "new blood and new ideas." Well, boys, here's a source for the new ideas. Don't invite them to an Issues Committee Meeting, though. See if you can get them to let you crash the next Democratic Divas gathering before an Issues Committee meeting. Listen. Take notes. Bring it back to the committee. Just being at the meeting will give you a new excitement that's been missing from party functions. Then put these Divas where a diva ought to be: center stage, impressing the pants off of everyone watching.

Tonight the contentious issue of whether or not the City of Lincoln will levy impact fees on future new construction was decided between Councilmen Jonathan Cook and Jon Camp. The two went head-to-head in a three-game series of eight-ball at a holiday party hosted by neighborhood activist Jon Carlson. Cook took an early lead when he won the first game handily. Camp, however, came back to win the second game despite harassment from the gallery, including shouting unsubstantiated rumors that the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce had withdrawn all its funding for his run for the office of Mayor of Lincoln. The tie-breaker went to Camp after a long and amateurish series of scratches by both players. It was obvious to all observers that these two had spent their college years studying instead of drinking and shooting pool.

You know, I wish everyone could have seen these two shooting pool and laughing together. Camp has a reputation for being a pretty firey partisan; Cook, for his part, is not ashamed to take a stand on his issues. But they could still play nice together. Maybe there's a lesson to be learned here?

Say, Governor Orr, that's a nice business community you got there...Wouldn't it be a shame if somethin' happened to break it? Ooops, sorry about that, but you know, sometimes things break, companies leave Nebraska... but if you'll just pay us a few million a year in tax breaks, we'll just stay out of your way and you'll never know we were here...

It was just a mere sixteen years ago that Kay Orr was elected to the governor's office, shortly after which the Chamber of Commerce, led by ConAgra, was given the keys to the state treasury. That was the infamous LB 775, which created tax breaks, kickbacks, and outright payoffs for businesses that set up in Nebraska...all under the pretext of "job creation."

Now cuts to LB 775 "incentives" are being looked at seriously -- and with good reason. With the state budget getting hacked twice in one year, and more cuts coming down the road, the only program left untouched are the kickbacks for businesses. And even Mike Johanns is wondering whether we ought to be looking at them.

The business community is not taking this lying down. They've announced a "grassroots campaign" ("grass roots" my ass -- more like Astroturf) to garner support for tax incentives for businesses. Barry Kennedy, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry says this scheme of "tax incentives" is needed to keep industries from picking up stakes and moving.

Where the hell are they going to go, Barry?

Every other state in the Union has the same financial problems Nebraska does right now. No other state can afford to pay the Danegeld any better than Nebraska can. Every other segment of the Nebraska economy has been asked to tighten their belts. Schools have less money to spend; the University has cut its workforce so far down that it might as well sell off the football team to the NFL; every county has cut back services; "welfare" has been pared back so far that Robin Hood would have a field day in this state.

The bottom line is this: we can't afford LB 775 bribes any more. Neither can any other state. Where else are you going to go? Mexico? Thailand? Most companies would go to overseas whether we offer tax "incentives" or not. So, realisitically, companies who can relocate economically have already done so, or will do so with or without kickbacks.

I say call their bluff. Let corporate welfare be cut at the same rate everything else is being cut. Then if companies don't like it, they can go to another state with a stronger union tradition, less illegal immigrant labor, worse transportation, and more Democrats -- and one that can't afford kickbacks, and pay the cost of moving on top of it.

Central Committee, here's another issue to consider for the key points for this legislative session!

Tuesday, December 03, 2002


I attended the KZUM (Lincoln community radio, 89.3 FM) programmers' meeting last night along with my wife. Together we do "Moondance," a show of late 60s and early 70s album-oriented rock and whatever else we feel like playing. Craig Lowe, program director of the station, made a few announcements that deserve comment.

"The management" have decided to terminate broadcast of Jim Hightower's two minute commentary at noon on weekdays, and replace it with a locally-produced point counterpoint liberal/conservative commentary. I can't complain about this change in one sense, because I am to be the liberal half of the new comedy team. However, I must note that "the management's" decision to terminate Hightower goes back to this past summer, when a few callers complained about Hightower's obvious liberal bias (ya think?). Steve Alvis, the station manager, was noted to state to one of his staff that he himself took exception to Hightower's description of President Bush's economic policies as "stupid." There was a concerted effort on the part of some programmers to head off any effort to pull the Hightower show, which irked Steve Alvis somewhat. Now Hightower is on his way out and I am on my way in. That's the way of the world. Certainly the station management is well within its rights to make this decision. I just question its motivation.

The other decision by "the management" that was announced was to put the effort to start Internet streaming of KZUM on "the back burner." This decision was based on problems with the Millenium Internet Communications Act (I think I have the name correct). That act is a godawful regulation proposed by Congress and approved by the FCC controlling internet streaming by private persons, community stations, and commercial stations. The law/regulation is a true gem of bureaucratic confusion, and I can understand the management's reluctance.

I don't know if either of these decisions were discussed with the program committee. I certainly hope so. If not, KZUM may be on its way back to the status it was in before the change of management. We had such great hopes for the new management. I would hate to see us back at square one, where decisions are made without consultation with the board, the programmers, or at least those affected by the changes to come.

There's an old legend about a king who fancied himself ill. A wise man finally told him that he would only be cured if he slept one night in the shirt of a happy man. He sent his courtiers into all corners of the kingdom to find a happy man. Unfortunately, they couldn't find one. What they did find, however, was that the king's subjects were unhappy, and why they were unhappy. The people of the north were unhappy because they had to work long hours. The people of the east were unhappy because they had to pay high taxes. And so forth. The king, of course, got the picture, was healed, and became a good and wise king.

I think maybe it's time for the state Democratic party to send its courtiers unto the four corners of the state to find out what the people of the state have on their minds. Now, what I have in mind is not focus groups, surveys, or town hall meetings. In fact, I would specifically ban facilitators from this endeavour (sorry, dear). I would ban anyone from outside the county in which the research is being done.

Of course, you can't have a survey without methodology. Here's my proposed methodology: Let the local party people (and there are local party people, or at least party people from the next county over) go out into the cafes and the churches and the taverns and the high school football games and mix and mingle.

And listen. Don't talk. Just listen.

Find out what people are saying. Not about any one issue, but what issues are people talking about amongst themselves? What article in the local paper gets voices raised at the local saloon? Is it a hiring freeze at the co-op? Corn prices? The drought? A slowdown in paving roads that are important to people? School consolidation? Layoffs at the factory? Lack of doctors?

What issues get the local voters excited?

Then the local party folks write down, in a nice, unstructured, narrative way, a report to the state organization. Give these reports to the party central committee and let them chew over them for a while, with one goal in mind:

Pick four or five major issues that cut across the state, urban and rural, farm and industrial, and propose a Democratic stance on those issues (this harkens back to the Gadberry proposal I mentioned earlier) ("The Gadberry Plan"). Publicize our stance on these issues. Be strong and definitive on these issues. And make sure our stance is not based on what we think people want to hear, but on what is consistent with Democratic, liberal, progressive ideals: people over corporations, local over national, bottom up over top down, and so forth.

Once again, this all starts with activity at the local level. I realize there may be counties where the Democratic party is virtually dead. Then we send in neighbors from nearby to put their proverbial ears to the proverbial ground. But local is better, even in Omaha and Lincoln. I wouldn't send a computer professional from West "O" into the depths of South "O" to sit in a bar -- he'd stick out like a sore thumb. You get the idea.

Listening is where it starts. And listening doesn't happen with formal focus groups and facilitators. It starts with listening to people being people. Focus groups and town meetings attract loudmouths like me. Taverns and church suppers and coffee houses attract real people. That's who we want to be talking to now. Real people.