Saturday, February 15, 2003

DEMOS GET KNOCKED DOWN, BUT THEY GET UP AGAIN

Nebraska Democrats gathered Saturday evening for the first cheerleading session in their long, strange trip back up to parity in Nebraska. The Lancaster County Democrats' annual Patriots Dinner brought out candidates for Lincoln and Lancaster County offices (this being an off-off year election), with the spotlight on Lincoln mayoral candidate Coleen Seng. The event usually is topped off with a cake auction (including some usually funny political speeches) and presentation of a few awards.

For me, the more important part of this gathering is the chance to perk up the ears to hear what's coming down the pike in a year or two. This time was particularly rewarding. Here are some of the highlights for us from the barricades:

- Lincoln State Senator Chris Beutler is making governor noises. He brought the house down during the cake auction when he announced that the cake he sold was donated by Mike Johanns. After it was bought, he began cutting slices: "Here's the little bit we'll cut off for the University...now here's what we'll give for public schools (more erratic cuts)...and here's for health care (he starts hacking at the cake) and finally, here's for the poor: NO MORE BUMS, GIVE THEM CRUMBS!!!" All that was left was an unrecognizable pile of chocolate crumbs and smeared icing. I would have given much for a video camera. . . .

Further analysis reveals that Chris is a supporter of the Gadberry Plan (and in fact may be the originator of it), the concept of the Democrats selecting four or so key issues, pushing them heavily through the legislature, and if they fail to pass, pushing them as petition initiatives. Conversations with a few key folks tonight make me think seriously that Bereuter, when he is term-limited out of the legislature in two years, may look to the governor's mansion for his next job. Suits the hell out of me.

- Mayor Don Wesley won an award for having done so well with the City of Lincoln, considering the mess he inherited from former mayor (and current governor) Mike Johanns. Don told me privately that he is not interested in running for legislature again (dammit!) but he would consider a run for Congress or another office "in a year or two."

- I met Patte Newman, who is running for Mayoral Candidate Seng's seat in northeast Lincoln. This is a heavily blue collar district and contains the Goodyear plant, one of the larger union shops in town. Patte is an unashamed liberal. She gave a rousing speech as she auctioned off her cake, a speech that reminded me of Terry Werner two years ago. Inside sources tell me that she got her funding start with a hefty chunk from a person unknown (but I suspect who will be declared as is required at the right time) who does not want to see Jerry Shoecraft elected again. (More about Shoe in a moment.) Patte is conducting a walking campaign, walking door to door in the entire neighborhood. This is playing to one of her greatest strengths (at least one that hit me this evening): she's very personable and has a nice, genuine charisma.

- The other serious candidate in that district is former city councilman Jerry Shoecraft. Opinion on him is mixed: the general take is that the unions like him, but I overheard at least one union rep (who will not be named) make a comment that he hoped "that traitor" would not be elected to the city council again. Shoe is okay in one-on-one situations, and did a great job in bringing the Malone Center (the neighborhood center in the traditionally black neighborhood) out of a serious crisis of confidence. But he's annoyed more than a few people.

- Coleen Seng, true to her reputation as a bit of a character, came dressed in a flag blazer & hat. It's noteworthy that in the cake auction, her cake was bought by the Firefighters' Union for $500 -- the largest amount spent for a cake. She announced that a poll taken last Thursday (2/13) showed her 25 percentage points ahead of Glenn Friendt. Wow. But she correctly pointed out that the party can't just sit back and coast.

- Democratic National Committee member Bill Avery gave a nice speech equating "patriot" to "Democrat." I hope to get the specifics of his speech, because it also sounded very much like a manifesto for where the Democrats are going in the next few years. It included, if memory serves me right, fair taxation of "those who benefit most from our system," access to health care, support for public and higher education, bringing the US back into the world community instead of fighting it, civil rights (the old definition, not the Ashcroft definition) and support for union workers. NB: this last bothers me. When will Democrats learn that if we keep ignoring non-unionized workers, we're ignoring a very large pool of voters?

- For me, one of the most inspirational parts came from one of our tablemates, a seventysomething lifelong Democrat. She'd been a national delegate in the early 70s, especially in the Carter years. She talked about how, until 1972 the "old boy network" controlled the Democrats -- until those who had been cut out of power, like women, the Hispanics, farmers, small businessmen, etc. etc., formed caucuses. They worked together, buried small differences, sought each other out at meetings and conferences (they wore safety pins on their lapels so they could know each other) and buttonholed officeholders until they just couldn't be ignored any more. And the stranglehold was broken. These were the power days of the Democratic party. When these caucuses quit working together and started getting selfish is when the GOP moved in and swept up the pieces.

I can't add anything to that.
A PERSONAL STAKE IN THE WAR

Regardless of whether one agrees with the war on Iraq, Nebraskans have a very personal stake in the war, as active duty, guard, and reserve units from all across the state are being activated and sent to the desert. Some examples:

- Members of the 295th Ordnance Company from Hastings sent to the desert this week.

- Two Nebraska Army National Guard units from Lincoln have been mobilized for active duty for medical evacuation duties and others for personnel duties.

- Our Air Guard aircraft will be on duty in or near the Middle East.

- Members from Offutt AFB are deployed to the desert in several locations.

- And of course Nebraska families have members serving in all branches of the service who are either there or on their way over there.

With modern media and the internet, this will be an even more personal war than Vietnam was. It won't be just pictures on the six o'clock news that will make their way into our homes. It will be email from our children, our wives and husbands. It will be CNN, MSNBC, and, alas, Fox (although I giggle to see that Fox has been ordered out of Iraq -- thanks Atrios) bringing blow-by-blow accounts of our war and its aftermath.

There will be body bags coming back from the desert to Nebraska. For good or for ill, we Americans will bear the brunt of throwing out Saddam, since the evidence seems not to bear out our dire warnings. Unfortunately, we will also bear the hatred and the revenge that will follow.

I hope we are up to the task. I have little confidence that our President knows what he's getting into. I do know our Nebraskans do, on a private scale. They will pray every night for their families overseas.

May God comfort those whose family members will die alone, without the support of the world. May that same God grant wisdom to our leaders -- and soon.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

WORLD HERALD WANTS ESTRADA ANSWERS

Well butter my butt and call me a biscut! The Omaha World Herald, while not quite endorsing the Democratic filibuster, has encouraged judicial nominee Miguel Estrada to answer the questions put to him in his confirmation hearings. Here's their clincher:
We agree with a statement made by one senator several years ago: "I believe the Senate can and should do what it can to ascertain the jurisprudential views a nominee will bring to the bench in order to prevent the confirmation of those who are likely to be judicial activists. . . . It will require the Senate to be more diligent and extensive in its questioning of nominees' jurisprudential views."

That was Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, today an Estrada booster, in regard to former President Bill Clinton's nominees. The sentiment was valid then, and it's valid now.
I have to wonder if, now that the W-H isn't really happy with Estrada, our esteemed semi-Democratic Senator will change his mind and join the filibuster. I doubt it.

Now go to a dictionary and look up "petard, hoist by one's own."

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

THE REAL REASON FINALLY COMES OUT

While driving back to the office this afternoon I heard an interview with an energy analyst on NPR's All Things Considered. The topic was the increasing price of gas this month. The audio on the interview is available here: "Fuel Prices Surge Near Two Year High". His comments, in summary:

1) Oil prices are increasing because the supplies of oil is down to its lowest level since the mid-70s.

2) This is due to a) decreasing oil imports from Venezuela, b) nervousness about the pending Iraq invasion, and c) changes from use of natural gas to oil-based electricity generation.

3) An invasion of Iraq and subsequent US occupation will reduce oil prices to a level perhaps even lower than it is today -- below $10-$12 per barrel, since it will stabilize oil production and will guarantee a steady flow of oil from Iraq.

4) Number 3) above is "very good news for economic recovery."

Well, now we know. Invading Iraq will help the economy. Let's roll.
DIRECT ACTION GETS DIRECT REACTION

On Feb. 6th, I sent the following letter to Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska:
Dear Sen. Nelson:

I was dismayed to hear from your staff this morning (11:00 AM) that you will not support a filibuster against the nomination of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Circuit.

Mr. Estrada is an extremely conservative judge, whose views on many constitutional issues – including reproductive choice, affirmative action, and civil rights – are in direct opposition to those which most Democrats support. I am very surprised that you intend to act to permit his nomination to go to a vote. Surely it is clear to you and your staff that, if voted on, Mr. Estrada will be elected. Is that your intent?

Once again you abandon the party which supported your election in Nebraska. I wonder what areas you find common cause with the Democrats any more?


NB: this letter was written before it became known that Estrada refused to comment at all about his position on much of anything.

Today I have received by fax a two page letter from Sen Nelson (probably written by a staffer but addressing my letter, rather than a form letter), and a phone call from the chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party. I am not a big contributor to the Democrats; I gave them twenty bucks last year and did a little work. I've raised some brouhaha this year and volunteered to walk some precincts; somehow they want me to attend some meetings this weekend. Other than that, I am not a major political player. Still, I'm getting some reaction to my letter.

My point: if you take time to contact your representative and tell them straight out what you think, they will listen. If you write, rather than email, it gets more attention. If you tell it like it is, rather than be "nice" (but don't be insulting) you will get still more attention.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

I'M SORRY, NEBRASKA, YOUR PRIMARY IS NO LONGER NEEDED

If, as Robert Novak reports, Terry McAuliffe wants a massive superprimary on February 3rd, why bother even having a presidential primary in this state? In fact, if our primary is so redundant, that will do serious damage to voter turnout for more important races like state representative races, Senate race (Ben Nelson's seat is up in 2004 and you can bet there will be a serious challenge by the GOP and maybe from a real Democrat); and for many other seats.

It's hard enough to get voters out without making people think "why bother, the big one is already decided." Please, Terry, remember that there is more to politics than the presidential campaign!
JUST IN CASE THERE ARE ANY FARMS LEFT AFTER THE DROUGHT

Have a look at this slightly biased (left biased, of course!) summary of the current farm bill . Post your comments. I haven't had time to read it in depth so will defer my thoughts until later. Courtesy of The Watch.

IF WE CAN'T GO TO THE DESERT, THE DESERT WILL COME TO US

Meanwhile, as our troops from Nebraska prepare and deploy to the desert to fight the war against something or other, when they return they may find the terrain in Nebraska very familiar: a dry, parched desert.

- Nebraska's Lake McConaughy, what used to be the largest body of water in the state, is drying up. It's down to half its usual size and getting smaller -- so much so that hydroelectric power is reduced to virtually nothing, and (gasp!) boaters can't get to the lake's shores (such as they are). Irrigation districts who draw from the lake's water supplies may be forced to go out of business -- in other words, cease to draw from the lake.

- Many farmers are in such dire straits that they may opt not to plant this year. "Western Nebraska had the driest year on record in 2002."
Then there are insects. Unless there are cool, wet conditions in early spring Nebraska will see even more grasshoppers this summer than in previous years, [Mark Svoboda of the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln] said.


How bad is it? It's the worst since John Steinbeck wrote The Grapes of Wrath. Fortunately, we have some safety nets in place to help farmers. More than was in place in the 30s. The Senate passed a drought aid package which was substantially less than the Democrats proposed, (3.1 billion as opposed to 6 billion and did not have mechanisms to ensure that money went only to farmers hurt by the drought).

So, among the problems being pushed to the back burner as we go charging into Baghdad, we may well have to deal with the costs of a catastrophic drought -- we're in the third year of drought -- in addition to deficit spending, costs of a war and post-war occupation, high unemployment, and declining stock values. Oh, and declining state budgets, let's not forget those also.

This is a formula for financial disaster that someone else will have to clean up.

Monday, February 10, 2003

OVER THE RAINBOW...

The state Democratic Party is convening this weekend for conferences, confabs, and conversation, capped by the annual Patriots Dinner. This is the coming out party for the year's candidates.

This year, however, the state party is heavily soliciting ideas, thoughts, and two cents' worth for consideration as it plans its revival and builds towards the goal of making the Democrats an equal player in Nebraska politics by 2006. Everyone agrees that the party needs specific goals and principals, rather than broadly based themes to succeed. Here's what we at the Barricades suggest the state party add to the goals.

- By 2004, introduce and pass a "One Day in Seven" statute, prohibiting employers from requiring workers to work more than six consecutive days without a day off. The statute should include a provision that this can only be waived in writing, signed and dated prior to the days beyond six days the employee works.

- By 2004, pass a "Workers Compensation Claims Retaliation Protection" statute, prohibiting employers from terminating an employee in retaliation for filing a claim for compensation for a job-related injury under workers' compensation statutes.

- By 2004, pass a "Statement of Cause for Termination" statute, requiring every employer who terminates an employee to give the cause for termination in writing to the employee, and file a copy with the state Unemployment Insurance office within fourteen days. This does not infringe on the current "at will" status of work in Nebraska; it merely says that if a worker is terminated, the employer must say why he or she was terminated.

- Introduce the "Volunteer Tax Credit Act." This is similar to the infamous LB 775, but on an individual level. If a person volunteers for a community service project for more than a certain number of hours, he or she should get a tax credit for the number of hours he or she volunteers, in recognition of the taxes he or she is saving the state by volunteering his or her time.

- Repeal LB 775.

- Okay, too much of a stretch. How about this: tax credits and benefits paid under LB775 will be reduced to the same extent that funding to the University of Nebraska is reduced. Quid pro quo.

Whatever specific projects are proposed by the Democrats, whether these or other less pie-in-the-sky, I still support the proposal made by Martha Gadberry and Chris Beutler that if these proposals don't become law, the party back a voters' initiative to get them on the ballot and passed by popular vote.

We may find that Nebraskans aren't as conservative as the GOP would have us think.