School Board Taking ‘Public Be Damned’
Attitude In Speeding Up Superintendent Search?

The Omaha Board of Education’s decision to choose a new superintendent by December 17 borders on the incredible in the face of these facts:

There is considerable public disapproval—anger might be a better word—of the way the board approved president Freddie Gray’s efforts to keep fellow board majority members and the public from learning the true reason—a steaming-hot adulterous love affair with a married man—cost Nancy Sebring her job as superintendent of Des Moines public schools, on the eve of her July 1st date to become superintendent of the Omaha public schools.

Setting an early deadline for choosing a new superintendent, after talking of taking perhaps as much as a year to get it right this time in the search for a new superintendent, produces this ridiculously irresponsible picture:

Six of the 12 seats on the Omaha public schools board are at stake in the November 6 elections.  At least four of the seats will change hands since the incumbents are not seeking re-election.  (The two incumbents seeking re-election are Freddie Gray and Mary Morrissey.  Gray is running unopposed.)

But the board—including four “lame duck” outgoing incumbents—would be making a decision by December 17 that will affect the Omaha School District for years to come.

This in the face of widespread public dissatisfaction with the way President Gray and a board majority handled—or mishandled—the Nancy Sebring scandal.  It would appear to be a figurative thumbing-of-the-nose at the public.

There is, I should add, in the board’s latest “public be damned” decision virtual certainly of an increase in support for abolishing the 12-member board system and replacing with a smaller board—perhaps five or seven members—with a clear legislative mandate to operate more openly, with the opportunity for more public input.

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Fischer Comfortable With An Ally
Who Wants To ‘Drown’ Government?

In the next following column item, my views on last Saturday’s Deb Fischer/Bob Kerrey Senatorial candidates debate, but let me start today with some comments on a problem which State Senator Fischer should deal with, and promptly:

I refer to her commitment to a policy mandated by a dangerous ideologue of the radical right, Grover Norquist, who heads an organization called “Americans for Tax Reform.”

Norquist is an extremist who opposes “all tax increases as a matter of principle,” and favors substantially reducing the size of the federal government.  (He has made the supposedly humorous comment that he is not in favor of abolishing government, “I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Fischer has plenty of company in her joining Norquist’s “drown government in a bathtub” team.  In 2011, 238 of 242 House Republicans and 41 of 47 Senate Republicans signed Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” in which the signer promises to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rate for individuals and business; and to oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”

More Sensible Conservatives Scorn Norquist

But more sensible conservatives don’t affiliate with Norquist, they oppose him.  For example, former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming has described Norquist’s position as opposing tax increases “under any situation, even if your country goes to hell.”

Fischer’s Democratic opponent for the United States Senate seat, former Senator Bob Kerrey, has properly called public attention to Fischer’s joining the Norquist team by signing what is in effect a pledge to oppose any tax increase under any circumstances.

As I see it, Fischer should acknowledge that she made a mistake and while she advocates a no-tax-increase policy and reducing the size of the federal government, she does not wish to be identified with an extremist who has talked of shrinking government down to the size “where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Next, some comments on the Fischer/Kerrey debate last Saturday:

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On Debate Stage With Kerrey
Fischer Handled Herself Well

Republican Deb Fischer, as I believe should have been expected, handled herself well in exchanges with Democrat Bob Kerrey, who clearly has the advantage in knowledge of the way things get done in the United States Congress, having served 12 years as a senator from Nebraska.

As I see it, no words volunteered by the debating candidates or exchanged between the candidates last Saturday changed the prospect that Fischer will prevail on November 6 primarily because she is a Republican in a state where (1) registered-to-vote Republicans outnumber registered Democrats by upwards of 150,000 voters and (2) Kerrey cannot escape identification with President Barack Obama.  He can’t win in Nebraska if a vote for him is equated as a vote for continuing Kerrey’s fellow Democrat Barack Obama in the White House.

On the downside, Fischer continued her unrealistic support of a federal constitutional amendment specifying that federal spending cannot exceed 18% of the nation’s gross domestic production.  She argued that this was being achieved a little more than 10 years ago.

But the national government’s fiscal problems have increased enormously in the past 10 years, and the painful path—the long path—back to something approaching a balanced budget stretches a god many years ahead.

Constitutional Amendment No Answer

Kerrey came up with an even more unrealistic proposal for addressing the nation’s problems by amending the constitution.  He proposed limiting members of Congress to 12 years of service (wouldn’t this have made him ineligible for the third term which he is currently seeking?) and organize the Congress on a non-partisan basis.

Both Fischer and Kerrey know—or should know—that it is totally impractical to suggest constitutional changes—particularly those as controversial as they are proposing—as some kind of solution to the problems currently facing this country.

To persuade both Houses of Congress to submit a constitutional amendment to the states, then expect three-fourths of the state legislatures will approve it—to start down that road is a totally impractical approach to a critical, pressing national problem.

Fischer continued with her unrealistic “no tax increases” campaign theme and went so far as to propose a tax reduction for “the middle class.”

Kerrey was considerably more realistic by declining to suggest that the federal government’s problems can be solved without tax increases.

Both Favor Special-Interest Subsidies

Interestingly but, unfortunately, entirely predictable was supposedly conservative Fischer’s support of federal subsidies for ethanol and wind energy.  As I see it, you either believe in no federal subsidies (“handouts” they are sometimes called) or you admit you are perfectly willing to accept, even work for, federal subsidies which are a benefit to your constituents.

Kerrey’s promise of seeking bipartisan agreement—including a pledge to vote against Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as often as he votes against the wishes of Republican Senatorial leader Mitch McConnell—drew a skeptical reaction from some Nebraskans who watched the debate.

But I do think a bipartisan approach to some basic problems is absolutely essential if we are to prevent the gridlock which currently has, to a large degree, immobilized the United States Congress.

Fischer has said she will agree to no more than a total of three debates, while Kerrey has said he would prefer seven, clearly hoping that his superior knowledge of how things are accomplished in the United States Congress will continue to contrast with Fischer’s record of leadership in a considerably smaller political ballpark, the nonpartisan 49-member Nebraska Legislature.

Stay tuned.

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Silber Leaves Splendid Record As Reporter;
Media Too Often Overplay Trivial Issues

Next, today’s serving of smorgasbord.  Help yourself.

–Howard Silber, who died recently at 91, was an outstanding human being in a number of ways.  But I remember him best as a simply splendid newspaper reporter who was also a valued friend.

Howard and I were fellow employees at The World-Herald for 32 years.  He was our military affairs expert—none better in this country, in my opinion.

Importantly, Howard did not concern himself with political or social commentary, unlike many of today’s reporter/commentators.  He dug out the facts, printed them fully and accurately and let readers draw their own conclusions.

What a splendid journalistic legacy he leaves.

–I can’t imagine a happier combination of televised athletic events than I enjoyed last Sunday.

First there was the telecast of the Nebraska Cornhusker women’s volleyball team three set victory over Notre Dame, putting to rest quickly any concern about a possible letdown after the Huskers’ dramatic come-from-beyond defeat of then-ranked No. 1 UCLA.  (After the weekend’s results, Nebraska is ranked No. 1.)

The victory over Notre Dame was followed quickly by watching the final holes of a tournament in which Tiger Woods shot a final-round 76 and finished tied for 38th with eight other golfers.

The pleasure of watching back-to-back sporting events on television doesn’t get much better than this.

–Why do relatively trivial issues get so much attention in political campaign?  For example:

The media covered extensively and sometimes indignantly a stupid remark by a U.S. Senate candidate in Missouri.

Rep. Todd Akin said:  “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the while thing down.”

Officials in both parties called for the Republican to withdraw as a Senatorial candidate.

Akin declined but apologized profusely, which did nothing to relieve pressure or ease the media attention.

One of those long-haired, head-bobbing female commentators on CNN went so far as to say the incident could cost the GOP the presidential election.

A dumb statement?  Yes.  Did he apologize?  Yes.  Was the story overplayed?  Definitely yes.

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A Dramatic Picture Tells The Story

I customarily try to end the column with an upbeat item, but today an exception—an offering which is upbeat only in terms of high praise for a World-Herald photographer who captured, in a single picture, the impact of the drought on Nebraska’s cattle country, telling the story better than all the news stories and all the pages of drought-related pictures.

My compliments to World-Herald photographer Rebecca Gratz.


(click image to enlarge)

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