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"Nosy Congress Makes
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"Stop Trying To Make God A Republican" - 10-6-07
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October 7, 2010
I can’t recall a major political campaign in Nebraska in which both candidates have worked so hard to avoid being identified with the political party whose voters nominated them.
I’m referring, of course, to the contest between Republican Lee Terry and Democrat Tom White, who seeks to unseat Terry after his six terms as Nebraska’s Second Congressional District Representative in Congress.
On the ballot, of course, Lee Terry will be identified as a Republican and State Senator Tom White as a Democrat. No longer any place to hide.
In his early campaign advertising, Terry did not identify himself with his party. This has changed—slightly—in that a recent Terry mailing once mentions his Republican party affiliation but stresses descriptions like an “independent” and “bipartisan” congressman who puts “the American people above partisan politics.”
I commented earlier on White’s Democratic-party-dodging strategy as emphasized in his television advertising blaming both parties for piling debt on succeeding generations. The ad finishes with a large “independent” label under White’s picture.
Distancing himself from party affiliation in his pitch to the voters has, of course, been more difficult for White than for Terry. You can’t hardly be a closet Democrat when Vice President Joe Biden comes to town to be the speaker at a fund-raiser to help finance your candidacy, as happened last week.
Adding to the difficulty of keeping your public distance from the National Democratic Party and its performance in the White House and in Congress are the campaign contributions report which must be filed with the Federal Election Commission.
The first “committee contributions” to Tom White’s campaign were two $2,000 checks from the “Nancy Pelosi for Congress” committee, received December 31, 2009. (Not the most auspicious start, considering the animosity which Pelosi has generated by her conduct as Speaker of the House.)
Other committee contributions in the grand total of $676,126 through June 30, 2010 included what you would expect in the way of support for a Democratic candidate—a couple of $5,000 contributions from the Nebraska Democratic State Central Committee, three $5,000 contributions from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a number of $5,000 contributions from consistent Democratic candidate supporters like the United Steel Workers Political Action Fund and the National Education Association.
In contributions from individuals, White’s report listed 48 pages covering 956 individual contributions. A good number of individuals chose to divide their support into a number of contributions, so the report did not list contributions from 956 individuals but rather a total of 956 separate contributions.
Not surprisingly, 253 of the 956 contributions from individuals came to attorney White’s campaign from fellow attorneys. A number of substantial contributions came from well-to-do Omahans well known for their liberal political views. (No, Warren Buffet was not among them.)
Lee Terry’s report to the Federal Election Commission listed contributions totaling $1,302,361 through June 30, 2010, compared to Tom White’s reported total of $676,126 in contributions.
Surprising (at least to me) was the fact that Terry’s report listed only a miniscule $32 in “contributions from party committees.” Nearly all of contributions to Terry’s campaign came from what was described as “Non-Party (e.g. PACs) or Other Committees ($731,876) or “Individual Contributions” ($506,325).
There were more than 500 contributions from political action committees and 641 contributions from individuals.
The majority of individual contributions were at the $250 or $500 level, although there was also a goodly number of $1,000 or $2,000 gifts. The great majority of individual contributions came from Omaha.
A variety of national corporate and professional political action committees were big givers to Terry. For example, a total of $18,000 from a group of medical professional groups ranging from the American Hospital Association to the American Podiatric Medical Association. Another $11,000 came from a different group of medical practice political action committees.
So labor unions and political party (Democratic, of course) contributions prominent among committee support for Tom White, and corporate political action committees and professional medical association PACs prominent among committee supporters for Lee Terry—a predicable pattern.
Perhaps the most interesting of the contributions listed on Terry’s campaign finance support: $1,000 from the Indoor Tanning Association.
* * *
My first reaction was that the University of Wisconsin had damaged its image by welcoming President Barack Obama to the campus for not a Presidential visit but a Democratic political rally.
The president—or the Democratic National Committee in his behalf—had asked university officials if the president would be welcome on campus for a stop on a campaign swing through the Midwest.
After a brief period of what I suppose was calculated to leave the impression of careful consideration of the campaign rally request, University of Wisconsin officials said yes.
I decided that the university’s image as a bastion of liberal/left advocacy would only be enhanced by a purely political visit by the president. (Obama, of course, took off his coat and tie, opened his shirt collar and half-way rolled up his sleeves, which he seems to feel makes him appear to be a likeable and sincere guy who doesn’t talk down to his audiences.)
After all, the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus long ago began building its reputation as a home for promotion of liberal social and political issues, not particularly interested in using academic freedom to promote open-minded consideration of both sides—or a variety of various viewpoints—when the subject is an important social or political issue.
Thus, I concluded, to welcome a blatantly political visit by a president who emphasized only the Democratic side in the current battle for control of the House of Representatives would actually enhance the image which University of Wisconsin administrators and faculty and students seem so to so enjoy.
In another case where a campus appearance was involved, the American Civil Liberties Union certainly didn’t do its image any good.
A Nebraska ACLU official had threatened to bring some kind of action if a speaker named Keith Becker was allowed to appear to be promoting religion in his appearance at Lyons-Decatur Northeast High School last week.
The 75-minute program was marked by Becker’s dramatic narration of the poor choices that led to the death of his brother, Todd, in a car crash. Becker stressed the danger of abuse of alcohol. There was no religious proselyting in his one quote from the Bible and an anecdote about a church-going man’s brief encounter with Todd Becker in a Kearney grocery store.
A junior student, Jesse Smith, attended the Becker program and said afterwards that he didn’t feel Becker was preaching. “I really think that’s ridiculous,” Smith said. “He wasn’t trying to teach us his religion or telling us his one was the right one.”
Amy Miller, legal director for ACLU of Nebraska, said Becker’s remarks were not enough to trigger the legal challenge which she had threatened to bring against the school district. But Miller couldn’t resist the temptation, apparently, to say she was disappointed that Lyons-Decatur chose to allow a program by the Todd Becker Foundation when schools can pick from a variety of other presentations on the danger of drunken driving.
The legal director for ACLU of Nebraska, in her pre-Becker appearance warning to the Lyons-Decatur School District, had also targeted assistant Husker football coach Ron Brown, a deeply religious man well-known for giving inspirational speeches but not known for promoting any particular religion.
Miller went so far as to send a letter to all Nebraska public school superintendents, advising them they could be inviting a lawsuit if they allowed Becker or Ron Brown to speak to students.
A foolish threat, intimidating school officials without knowing what the content of Becker’s or Brown’s remarks to students would be and laying the ACLU Nebraska leadership open to the charge that it doesn’t believe in freedom of speech.
* * *
I close today with another Journalism I lecture, a reminder of some of the fundamentals which are too often overlooked by some of today’s journalistic practitioners, as I see it:
Consider the assertion by a sports commentator that other Big 12 teams are “giggling” with pleasure over the poor performance of the Texas Longhorns in consecutive losses to UCLA and Oklahoma. He indicated Nebraska in particular should be enjoying the Longhorns’ drop from the ranks of the unbeaten.
I think it is presumptuous for a sports commentator to assume that he knows that Nebraskans will react with glee to the fact that Texas will have suffered two consecutive losses when they come to Lincoln October 16 for what had been foreseen as a potential grudge battle showdown between two undefeated nationally-ranked teams.
(There is, of course, the possibility that even more of the significance of the game could disappear if the Huskers lose to Kansas State in Manhattan Thursday night.)
A very quick and informal poll of a few Nebraskans (including me) showed them more apprehensive than gleeful about the prospects for Nebraska October 16. The Longhorns will be coming to Lincoln with an even greater incentive to beat the Huskers and prove that they are a better team than they looked the past two Saturdays.
For Nebraska, a loss to a fired-up, twice-beaten Texas team would be even more damaging to the Husker’s national ranking than a loss to an unbeaten Texas team.
The Journalism I lesson, as I see it, is that a journalist should beware of presuming to know the minds and emotions of readers or viewers when the issue at hand involves more than one plausible scenario.
My interviewees and I are not giggling. We’re apprehensive over what a wounded Longhorn might do in Memorial Stadium October 16.
Let’s focus next on a story about forthcoming Environmental Protection Agency regulations to reduce the amount of ozone, which in some cases is an air pollutant, did not mention until the 18th paragraph that there may be a call for these voluntary actions by individuals:
Driving vehicles less often, mowing lawns less often and then only in the evening. Also topping off vehicle fuel tanks less often and fueling the vehicles at night, so the vapors dissipate before the sun comes out.
Quite newsworthy proposed voluntary actions, I would say, worthy of mention before the 18th paragraph—and also very unlikely to be widely adopted on a voluntary basis, as I see it.
Finally, a look at a 28-paragraph story dealing with the rising price of ingredients which go into coffee, whether it’s a plain cup of coffee or one of those productions which cost up to $4.00 or more.
The eighth paragraph of the story said that price changes, if any, vary from place to place—without mentioning a single example of price changes.
On an inside page, the story said that a supplier of three major coffee brands has raised prices about 10%--but no mention of specific prices.
Then we read that an Omaha-based chain of coffee houses “slightly raised prices on some products.” Again, no figures were cited.
Students should learn in Journalism I that specifics beat generalities every time.
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