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September 18, 2008
In yesterday’s column, still available for calling up on this website, the focus was on presidential politics and some of the tactics being used by the liberal establishment to tie the Republican McCain/Palin ticket to George W. Bush and to discredit Palin by a barrage of questions and criticisms, hoping to offset the popularity and new vitality which the Governor of Alaska has brought to the McCain campaign.
Today some additional comment on the presidential campaign, but first a look at some state and local issues much in the news recently, issues such as the push for a state bond issue to finance construction of more four-lane highways linking some cities beyond the Omaha and Lincoln metropolitan areas.
I don’t think that a bond issue proposal is likely to go very far—and shouldn’t go very far. Consider the facts:
The Nebraska constitution authorizes the issuing of highway construction bonds if 60 percent of the legislators approve but limits the funding of the bonds to tolls or irrevocable pledges of “all or part of any state revenue closely related to the use of such highways, such as motor vehicle fuel taxes or motor vehicle license fees.”
So a bond issue proposal immediately runs into a requirement that 60% of the 49 legislators must approve and the perhaps higher hurdle that bonds could be paid off only by tolls or “revenue closely related to the use of such highways, such as motor vehicle fuel taxes or motor vehicle license fees.”
At a time when the level of gasoline tax revenue is under pressure from the fact that high gasoline prices have some motorists driving less and/or turning to cars which get more miles to the gallon, paying off a major bond issue—and the interest on the bonds—would appear to require a major increase in the state gasoline tax rate and/or vehicle license fees.
And it seems to me to be a near impossible task to come up with some acceptable new form of “revenue closely related to the use of such highways,” at a time when a good many Nebraskans feel they are already being overtaxed.
An even more compelling argument in this matter of new highway construction comes, in my opinion, from highway engineers rather than from state legislators and chamber of commerce spokesmen. The engineers’ argument was very clearly expressed by Nebraska Department of Roads spokesmen during a recent legislative hearing. They pointed out that traditional roads-funding has fallen as people drive less and buy more fuel-efficient vehicles, while construction projects cost more because of inflation in the construction industry.
Thus, Randy Peters, planning and development engineer for the Roads Department, explained, the department has had to change its priorities and concentrate on, first, fixing bridges that need immediate attention, then preserving existing highways, then completing the six-lane Interstate 80 project between Omaha and Lincoln. Last on the list are new projects such as four-lane expressways.
Legislators representing central and western Nebraska questioned why finishing the proposed state four-lane expressway system seems to be much lower on the priority list than the Interstate 80 project in eastern Nebraska.
John Craig, the Roads Department director, said the “blunt truth” is that the department has to rely on traffic counts to plan projects, especially when money is shrinking for road projects.
“You try to put the money where it’s needed,” Craig said. And traffic numbers justify widening Interstate80 between Nebraska’s two largest cities, Peters said.
Although it is not likely to be acceptable to some central and western Nebraska legislators and some of their constituents, it seems difficult for me to argue with the Roads Department policy of using traffic counts as the basis for it’s construction decisions. Putting the construction money where the volume of traffic justifies it, especially at a time when Roads Department revenues are under pressure, is clearly a policy which should prevail as against political pressure.
* * *
Turning to the local political scene, I find myself looking at a recent headline with a mixture of surprise and amusement. It read: “A victory for Obama may hinge on Omaha.”
I knew that there would be an effort to gain at least one Obama electoral vote in Omaha because of Nebraska’s ill-advised (Maine is the only other state with similar legislation) provision that presidential candidates can lose decisively in statewide voting but pick up electoral votes in any Congressional districts where the defeated candidate, statewide, carried a majority of the votes.
Omaha has been targeted as such a district, as witnessed by the fact that the Obama campaign has sent 15 paid campaign staffers into Nebraska. But to suggest, as did an Omaha native who now teaches American political history at Stanford University, that Omaha might well decide the presidential election by providing the 270th electoral vote necessary for an Obama victory seems far-fetched, to put it mildly.
Incidentally, the Second Congressional District Democratic candidate, Jim Esch, made clear that he hopes he can ride Obama’s coattails. This may be Esch's best—or only—chance to win(?). Esch has not, to my knowledge, offered a single compelling argument as to why he should replace Republican Representative LeeTerry.
* * *
Still on the local scene:
I think “The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge” is a pedestrian name for that $22 million span, financed primarily by an $18 million “earmark” (some call such earmarks “pork barrel” legislation) arranged by Kerrey shortly before he left the Senate.
In the first place, the bridge was not originally supposed to be for true pedestrian traffic. The principal promoters were those who wanted to link biker/hiker trails on the Nebraska side of the river with the biker/hiker trails on the Iowa side, including the well-known Wabash Trace Trail.
In the second place, the bridge is not likely to attract much pedestrian traffic, except by people who might want to walk out to see the sights from observation spots on the bridge before going back to enjoy the food and drink and entertainment available on the downtown Omaha side of the river. There are no such attractions close to the bridge on the Iowa side.
Why not simply call it the “Bob Kerrey Bridge,” a more attractive and more accurate name. The bridge, as World-Herald columnist Mike Kelly has put it, was redesigned and illuminated in a way that it becomes a “dazzling” link between Council Bluffs and downtown Omaha (which has a good deal of dazzle of its own).
Why burden the bridge’s visual appeal, probably now its most important characteristic, with a “pedestrian” name?
* * *
Turning to the national political scene, a look at a little-mentioned part of the political record which Sen. Joe Biden brings with him as he campaigns as Barack Obama’s vice presidential running mate.
Biden is not, I believe, the sharpest intellect to rise through the seniority system to chairmanship of an important Congressional committee. For example: He laid himself wide open for renewed scrutiny of his record when he made this televised remark about Sarah Palin: “Eventually, she’s going to have to answer questions about her record.”
Biden should be challenged to answer some questions about his record. Wikipedia, the internet encyclopedia, offers a Biden biography which includes these assertions:
In 1987, Biden was seeking the Democratic Presidential nomination. He made a speech in which he borrowed, without giving the source, from an effective passage in a speech that had been made by Neil Kinnock, then-leader of the British Labor Party. This was plagiarism, of course, since Biden did not acknowledge that he was using Kinnock’s words.
It was also discovered that, while a student at Syracuse Law School, Biden had plagiarized a law review article. Biden got a grade of F, which was subsequently dropped from his record, after he was permitted to retake the course.
During his 1987 campaign, Biden also released his undergraduate grades, which were unexceptional, but when questioned by a New Hampshire resident about his grades in law school, Biden talked about graduating in the “top half” of his class when he actually graduated 76th among 85 students. He also said he had attended on a full scholarship and had received three degrees. The truth was that he received a single Bachelor’s Degree, as well as a half scholarship based on financial need.
Faced with these revelations, Biden withdrew from his first presidential nomination race on September 23, 1987.
After Biden declared his second candidacy for president in January, 2007, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen wrote that Biden’s 2008 candidacy might be endangered by his “manic-obsessive running of the mouth.” During the Iowa Democratic caucuses in January, 2008, Biden announced that he would be dropping out of his second presidential race when over half of the precincts were tallied and he had attracted only 1% of Iowa’s national convention delegates.
The New York Times sends columnist Maureen Dowd and at least three reporters to Alaska to look for shortcomings in the political record which Alaska Governor Sarah Palin brings to her role as Sen. John McCain’s vice presidential running mate. Don’t expect a similar liberal news media focus on any shortcomings in Joe Biden’s political record.
* * *
How lucky can John McCain get?
Barack Obama is trying to persuade voters that the GOP favors the wealthy and Joe Biden is talking about his “working class” background.
Obama takes time out to head to California to attend a big-money fund-raiser.
And—more good news for McCain—Barbra Streisand is a featured performer to entertain Obama and the turnout of Hollywood’s liberal—and rich—“glitterati.”
Did Obama consider asking Barbra and her rich Hollywood pals to skip the party and just send in their checks?
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