Nebraska Votes For Senator And Congressman
Important In Keeping Obama In Check

I write this week’s column with two assumptions in mind:

–A majority of my readers are Nebraskans.  (You none Nebraskans are much appreciated, too!)

–Therefore the facts and opinions which I offer might be of the most help to Nebraska readers deciding how to vote in Nebraska’s Senatorial and Second Congressional District contests.

Too late, of course, for those who have voted under Nebraska’s questionable, but legal, system of voting by mail as much as five weeks before the election.  About 25,000 mail ballots had already been cast in Douglas County 16 days before the election.  For those early voters, I can’t help but hope some would wish they hadn’t voted early with so many debates and campaign news still to come.

So let’s look at the election of a new United States Senator from Nebraska and the Republican/Democrat contest also in the Second Congressional District.

As I see it, in the Republican Deb Fischer/Democrat Bob Kerrey contest to succeed Democrat Ben Nelson in the United States Senate, the choice is not almost automatically for Deb Fischer, as many of my friends have concluded.

A World-Herald editorial endorsing Fischer stressed her eight years of service in the non-partisan Nebraska Legislature.  And Fischer herself has talked of bringing “the Nebraska way” to the United States Senate.

But a freshman senator from Nebraska is not likely to make much impact in her first term–when the major GOP emphasis will be to assure election of enough Republican senators to keep the Democrats from winning a 60-vote majority which can cut off Republican filibuster efforts.  (The larger GOP goal, of course, is to win a Republican majority, but this is a long shot, as I see it.)

Both Fischer and Kerrey have offered controversial proposals—Fischer has talked of a constitutional amendment to require a balanced budget—and Kerrey has offered an even farther-out proposal—amending the Constitution to make Congress a non-partisan body.  And the Kerrey campaign has included some deplorable personal attacks on Fischer and her qualifications.

Bottom line:  Those who want to give the GOP assurance that a re-elected Obama would not be able to push the nation further down the road to national bankruptcy should vote for Deb Fischer.

The same reasoning applies in the Second Congressional District contest between the Republican incumbent Lee Terry and the Democratic challenger, John Ewing, the Douglas County treasurer.  A vote for Terry is a vote to keep Republican control of the House as a barrier in the road to national bankruptcy if Obama is re-elected and the GOP loses control of the House.

The World-Herald’s recent endorsement of Ewing was puzzling in that its bottom line seemed to be the assumption that his record as a former deputy police chief and a credible county treasurer validates the presumption that in the United States Congress Ewing would be of greater service to Nebraska and the nation than would a re-elected Lee Terry, a seven-year congressman whose seniority offers the opportunity for influential committee assignments.

It could be reasoned that Ewing’s election would in effect be a vote for support of Obama and to return Nancy Pelosi to the speakership of the House of Representatives.

The Pelosi prospect alone ought to be enough to make a Second District voter think twice before electing Ewing to replace Terry.

* * *

Time To Allow Longer Terms For Legislators,
Plus Long Overdue Modest Salary Increase

Let’s consider November 6 ballot issues that are of importance to the State Legislature, those who serve in it and the Nebraskans who are served by it.

On the ballot will be a proposed state constitutional amendment allowing legislators to serve three consecutive four-year terms, replacing the present two-term limit.  I think the amendment deserves a strong “Yes” vote.

In nine years of experience as a reporter covering the Legislature, I observed—as would be expected—that veteran legislators brought valuable experience to bear on legislative matters and usually produced the effective leadership which any legislative body requires.

Nebraskans will have an opportunity to vote also on a salary increase for legislators, increasing the annual $12,000 a year-plus-expenses to $22,500.  Such an increase is long overdue.

A salary of $22,500-plus-expenses is certainly not overpayment for a public service job which requires a good deal of effort in annual legislative sessions.

A Modest Salary Doesn’t Create Full-Time Legislators

That level of salary also has the virtue of not being a large enough total that it makes it likely that we would be attracting citizen legislators who can’t make $22,500 a year plus expenses doing anything else.

While on the subject of the Nebraska Legislature:  I read with pleasure that in a legislative district in south central Nebraska, the apparent favorite is a Democrat in an area where the Republican Party is politically dominant.

Good.  The Legislature has, unfortunately, been increasingly covered by reporters as if it were intended to be a partisan body, with a Republican majority assured in Republican-dominated Nebraska statewide politics.

It’s true that the two political parties have contributed to this partisan emphasis but, fortunately, customarily without the resulting predictable split along party lines on controversial issues.  This is at it should be, the way the one-house Legislature was created by popular vote in 1934.

* * *

Another Look At Media Performance,
Print And Broadcast, Good And Bad

These comments have been “aging” for some time, but I hope you will still find them of interest.

I was critical earlier of a recent World-Herald editorial, but now some praise for some earlier World-Herald offerings.

Next a look at news media performance, some of the pluses and some of the minuses as I see them:

My compliments to The World-Herald for its splendid and well-merited nearly two pages of coverage of the remarkable history of The Nebraska Furniture Mart, with focus properly on Rose Blumkin, affectionately known to thousands of customers over the years as Mrs. B, the founder.

Mart Extends To KC, Dallas, But Keeps Its Name

Very interesting details about the way “The Mart” has grown in Omaha and spread to the Kansas City area and is moving now into the Dallas area.  Interesting detail also as to how Rose Blumkin’s descendants carrying on the management of The Mart in ways that she would be proud of.

Appropriate mention, too, of Omaha investor Warren Buffett’s two wise decisions in regard to The Mart:  Purchase of Mrs. Blumkin’s interest for Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. for $60 million in 1983 (to which I would add praise for Warren’s wise decision to let Mrs. B and her descendants continue to operate The Mart).

Compliments, too, to The World-Herald for an editorial which stressed the absolute necessity of “transparency” in the Omaha Board of Education’s search for a new superintendent of schools.

Openness Would Be A Change For OPS Board

Such openness would be a refreshing and important contrast to the way board chairman Freddie Gray and the board’s attorney misled other board members and the public as to the adulterous affair and sexually-explicit e-mails which cost Nancy Sebring her job as superintendent of the Des Moines schools.

The details were known to Mrs. Gray and attorney Elizabeth Eynon-Kokrda kept from the rest of the Omaha Board of Education, with the apparent hope that if the details did not become public, Nancy Sebring would still become Omaha Superintendent of Schools with her contract to take effect July 1.

A positive result of this shabby performance could be legislation to switch from a 12-member board to a more easily monitored five or seven-member board operating under legislative mandate to assure that the public is kept fully informed.

A Look At The Downside

On the less positive side of media performance:

There are too many examples of lazy journalism, stories which seem to me to call for more research, more inquiries, to round them out.  For example:

The front page story carried this headline:  “JULY’S HEAT BLAZED A NEW TRAIL” with a nationwide average temperature of 77.6 degrees, a .02 degree higher than the previous old time highest month, July, 1936.

The locally-edited and written story went on to say that Nebraska and Iowa were near the heart of the worst conditions both in heat and rainfall.  Then the story added this significant fact:

Neither state broke all-time records in either the temperature or total rainfall.  Then the big gap:

What was the driest and hottest year in Nebraska and in Iowa?  Readers are left to speculate that it occurred in the 1930s, many decades before some so-called “greenies” blame higher temperatures on our failure to develop more energy from windmills and solar panels.

Then there is the simple matter of careless writing and careless editing of what reporters/commentators offer to the public either in print or in broadcasts.  The errors are too numerous to list, of course.  But one that particularly bugs me is the repeated references to “planning ahead,” which turned up in a major headline recently.

Is there such a thing as “planning behind”?  Isn’t the simple verb “plan” preferable to the almost laughable “planning ahead”?

* * *

Frank Solich Followed Devaney And Osborne
But Didn’t Extend Era Of NU ‘Greatness’

A reader wrote to say he likes “your take on politics” and then suggests adding Frank Solich to Bob Devaney and Tom Osborne as coaches whom I had described as creating an era of Nebraska Cornhusker greatness which perhaps somewhat spoiled Cornhusker fans.  Let’s look at the Solich record:

Solich followed Osborne who had followed Devaney.  In six season, Solich went 58-19 for a respectable .753 winning percentage.

Solich was the coach of one Big 12 conference champion, far below the conference championship percentages produced by Devaney and Osborne.  And Solich’s 2002 team went 7-7, the first time in 40 years that the Huskers had not had a winning season.

The Solich-coached Huskers came back in 2003 with a 10-3 season but finished only tied for second in the Big 12 North Division.

Colorado, Miami Embarrassed Huskers In 2001

There were embarrassing losses in the last two games of the 2001 season which somewhat surprisingly found the Huskers playing for the BCS version of the national championship against Miami in the Rose Bowl.  Miami won, 37-14.

This followed a 62-36 loss to Colorado after the Huskers had already been picked to play the so-called national championship game against Miami.

Then came the embarrassing 7-7 season and Solich’s final year in 2003 when after five straight victories to start the season, the Solich-coached Huskers won five more games but were beaten 41-24 by Missouri, 31-7 by Texas and—and this may have been the final straw—38-7 by Kansas State in Lincoln in the next to the last game of the regular season.

Defensive coordinator Bo Pelini took over as coach for a victory in the Alamo Bowl and applied for head coaching job, but Athletic Director Steve Pederson chose Bill Callahan, just fired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders.  Pelini moved on to defensive coordinator at Oklahoma and LSU, returning to Nebraska as head coach when Callahan was fired in 2007.

I think the consensus was that Frank Solich had a good number of coaching “ups” but too many big-loss coaching “downs.”

I’m one of a good many Nebraskans who are pleased to see Solich doing very well as a coach at a different level of competition—Ohio University, where his current team is undefeated with a 7-0 record.

* * *

Martinez Will Reach All-Time Record
Before The Current Season Is Over

Surely an upbeat way to end this week’s column is to focus on the remarkable last eight minutes of last Saturday’s 29-28 Nebraska Cornhusker victory over Northwestern.

Taylor Martinez game total of 342 yards passing was, perhaps surprisingly, only his second best performance this season.  He threw for 354 yards against Southern Mississippi.

But I doubt that there have been many—if any—more explosive last-eight-minutes in Cornhusker football history.  Two touchdowns on Martinez passes turning an 12-point deficit into a one-point lead.

Before the season ends, Taylor Martinez, barring injury, with a current career total of 7,577 yards will surely pass Eric Crouch’s all-time record of 7,915 yards in three full seasons.  And, again barring injury, Martinez will still have a fourth year to play.

What a way to finish a critically important Big 10 conference game, particularly a game being played away from home.  I should perhaps add that from the appearance of Husker red as compared to Wildcat purple, it might have been defined as a Husker “home away from home” victory.

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