THE BIGGEST, MEANEST, NASTIEST SPECIAL INTEREST GROUP: THE PEOPLE
Last night the candidates for Lincoln City Council District 3 (a/k/a/ the "Southeast District") met with a few of the people
to talk about issues. Most of the discussion centered around the usual things: sidewalks, libraries, budgets, jobs, etc.
The two candidates are Jonathan Cook, the incumbent Democrat, and Jim Strand, a Republican. Strand scraped up what was (prior to Patte Newman's gift of $35,000) the biggest war chest for City Council in Lincoln history. It was a fairly commonly known thing that the GOP had targeted Cook along with the Lincoln mayoral office in its attempt to conquer Lincoln, the last Democratic stronghold in Nebraska.
But Cook surprised everyone, including himself, by pulling 60% of the primary vote over Strand, despite a "shock and awe" radio and billboard campaign by Strand. Now Strand's campaign has taken an ugly turn: he's running ads claiming that Jonathan Cook is in the pocket of "special interests." Here's what the Journal Star
has to say about it:
Cook defended himself against radio and television advertisements in which Strand says his opponent has made hundreds of millions of dollars in commitments to special-interest groups.
Strand justified the assertions Wednesday by pointing to responses Cook gave in a questionnaire drafted by a consortium of neighborhood groups. In one question about officials phasing in a fiscally sound program to bury neighborhood power lines, Cook said he strongly agreed with such action; Strand said he agreed, but noted on a related question that it should be done when the practice is technically and fiscally sound.
A 1997 study, said Strand, noted it would cost about $200 million to bury many of the city's power lines.
"I've worked with City Council campaigns for eight years now, and I've never seen one candidate attack another like this, with made-up numbers, really ..." Cook said.
"I'm offended he continues to run these ads."
I've chatted about this issue with my friend and political sparring partner Bob Valentine (a loonie libertarian). Bob says that the special interests to which Cook has sold out are the neighborhood associations. One of the attendees at this function seems to agree:
Bob Norris, 56, small-business owner
Norris thinks neighborhood groups flex their political muscle at the expense of the community.
"The neighborhood groups have become more political, and that's unfortunate. Districts have been emphasized over the overall good of the community. ...
"How do you balance the district versus the good of the overall community?"
Now I don't know who Mr. Norris is; whether he is there on his own behalf or whether he's a shill for the GOP. But I do know that the accusation that the "neighborhood associations" are "special interest groups" is purely a divide-and-conquer maneuver.
Neighborhood associations, at least in Lincoln and probably in most other cities, are organizations, drawn pretty much along geographical or "neighborhood" lines, which are made up of the residents in the neighborhood and sometimes the small businesses in the same neighborhood. They almost never include the big businesses, industries, developers, etc. Membership in the organization is either free or extremely cheap. These associations do things like sponsor cleanups, build playgrounds, work with city councils to get street improvements, work with school districts to take care of kids -- lots of subversive things like that.
They are, in other words, people working together to take care of each other. They are people unified for a common cause. If that's not good old American democratic principles in action, then I got the wrong lesson in ninth grade civics
Nevertheless, Strand is using a GOP tactic to call the neighborhood associations a "special interest." He tries to put these democratic organizations on the defensive; to break them up; to make them go away. Once they are broken up, the well-funded (and unified) corporations can come in and sweep up the pieces.
Strand and the GOP need to look again at the fundamental American institutions they are attacking when they take on the neighborhood associations. This country was founded on people banding together for their common good. The moment that stops, this country as we know it is dead. Do the GOP and Strand really mean that to happen?