Top 10: Overlooked in Nebraska Election 2014


By observing the number of visitors to the GiN site during election seasons, it’s easy to see that a lot of Nebraska voters not only seek out a sample ballot some time before they head to the polls, but they are especially interested in more in-depth information about candidates and ballot items.

Noting these trends, we’re motivated to do more each election, if at all possible. I hope we met that objective for this election by undertaking two major research projects, the results of which have been published on our site:

  • Candidate Profiles for EVERY candidate on the ballot for state legislature, statewide constitutional and federal office. That means I looked at the career and elective office histories, campaign finance filings, campaign websites, and responsiveness to two surveys of more than 100 candidates. In the case of incumbents, I also looked at vote ratings indices and/or voting records.
  • A report on lesser known offices – “obscure stuff”, such as taxing authorities like Natural Resources Districts and Educational Service Units, explaining their basic functions and sources of legal authority. These individual reports provide maps and links so citizens can find their particular districts and include a link to the official sample ballot so voters can determine whether their districts have offices up for election this year.

After undertaking these two projects, as you can imagine, I’ve learned a lot. When I started, it didn’t occur to me that I’d discover patterns and trends, but, in retrospect, it’s so obviously an additional benefit of doing such work.

Putting these patterns and trends together in the context of both ongoing issues and those particular to Election 2014, I’ve realized there are many which haven’t received the attention (or scrutiny) they deserve. With that in mind, I’ve put together a “Letterman” style Top 10 list of the most overlooked issues and principles this election season.

Note that I normally “link and reference the daylights” out of my articles before I ever publish them so readers can poke around information for themselves. This time, due to the volume of work in the past couple of weeks, I have to make an exception in this case and will work on updating this with citations as time allows.

10. Vast amounts of money – nearly $1.3 million – have been spent advocating FOR an increase in the minimum wage (Initiative Measure 425), BUT:

  • Nothing like that kind of money has been invested in opposing the measure, and in fact, it’s difficult to find any visible opponents at all, even though there is ample evidence upon which to build effective opposing arguments. The obvious question is: WHY no effort to oppose?
  • The media does not:
    • Seek out reasons for the lack of opposition, indirectly supporting the idea that measure must be a good idea
    • Dig around for opposing arguments
    • Scrutinize JUST WHO IS behind the support, including the funding sources, nor do they inquire into what the supporters might have to gain from their support and “investment”, thereby indirectly supporting the notion that supporters are, therefore, simply completely altruistic

9. Nebraska faces yet another budget shortfall for the upcoming two-year budget cycle, despite at least five years’ worth of indicators that government spending must be curtailed. Just a few reasons why:

  • Acceptance of $1.7 billion in federal stimulus funds to generally plug budget holes, bail out the Department of Health and Human Services and assist in implementing the health care law (instead of fighting it), bail out state employee retirement funds, avoid cuts to and actually increase education spending, and promote green energy programs.
  • Overall spending by state government has increased every year, with only one year showing “just” tens of millions in increases, instead of hundreds of millions.
  • The economy, both on the national and state level, has been, to be charitable, less than robust since the meltdown in 2008, meaning the state’s revenue forecasts should be trimmed and a priority made to at least consider whether Nebraska’s higher tax burdens might be a contributing factor to an erratic economy.
  • 34.9% of the state’s budget comes from the federal government, and with those funds, tremendous strings, yet officials repeatedly point the finger at the federal government for its mandates, its over-regulation, and its failures. The acceptance of these funds, however, continues unabated.

8. Nebraska has a disturbing number of government institutions which don’t exist anywhere else in the United States, which means at least one, if not several or all of the following, is true about those institutions:

  • Power is significantly centralized
  • Government has control of industries left to the private sector elsewhere
  • Property rights are significantly impacted
  • Taxers are higher than need be

7. Few candidates say much of ANYTHING about where they actually stand on the most important issues of the day, meaning what statements they have made give no real idea of how they might actually behave (advocate / vote for or against) on an issue should it come before them.

This is especially true of candidates for the Unicameral, which should cause major concerns for Nebraskans, because, for starters:

  • The Unicameral itself is unique as a single-chamber legislature, making legislation easier to pass
  • All law-making power within the state is (supposed to be) vested in the 49 member legislature
  • See #8: the Legislators are responsible for creating these unique institutions
  • See #9

6. The health care law (a.k.a. Obamacare) has not been the HUGE issue it should be in the election generally, either in the country as a whole or in Nebraska, specifically, nor for all of the candidates whose stance on it is indeed vital, despite the following facts:

  • 42% of Nebraska’s budget is ALREADY spent on health care
  • According to every opinion poll available, Nebraskans have always opposed the health care law by some of, if not the largest, majorities in the country – by at least 60%, usually nearing 70%.
  • Congressional incumbents across the country who voted for both the health care law (2009, 2010) and cap and trade legislation (2009) were voted out of office in 2010 and 2012, including Nebraska’s Ben Nelson.
  • Nebraska’a progressive legislators – Republicans and Democrats – have been pushing very hard to pass the optional Medicaid expansion, which IS THE BIGGEST PART OF OBAMACARE and THEY WILL TRY AGAIN IN THE UPCOMING SESSION

5. Nebraska politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, receive astonishing amounts of money (the majority, actually), not from a wide array of individual citizens, but from the following sources:

  • Outside of the district in which they are currently running
  • From sitting elected officials’ campaign funds, local, county, state, and federal
  • From current officeholders who aren’t running for anything
  • From former officials’ campaign funds, including Ben Nelson, Bob Kerrey, and Tom Daschle
  • From outside of Nebraska
  • From a short list of the same individuals and organizations, including the following few illustrative and/or important examples:
  • Unions, most especially the teachers’ unions (state NSEA and local LEA, etc.)
  • Richard Holland (and his foundations, such as Children)
  • Pete Ricketts (and one of his firms, Drako, LLC)
  • Radcliffe & Associates (Walt Radcliffe, the most well-known LOBBYIST at the state legislature)

4. Candidates talk about what they will DO when they get into/continue in office, but rarely, if ever, do they talk about what they intend to UNDO.

How did we get to the point where GOVERNMENT DOING is a positive test for whether candidates should be elected to office?

While still incredibly vague (see #7), politicians talk about “creating jobs”, “improving education”, “helping workers”, “prepare children for the jobs of the future”, and “protecting the environment”.

In order to DO any of these things, officials have to, for starters:

  • Overlook whether or not an action is CONSTITUTIONAL (within enumerated powers, protecting life, liberty, and property)
  • Pick winners and losers: choose which industries and jobs, which workers are more worthy than others and provide benefits and or advantages to them, while others are left out
  • Treat theories, projections, and predictions as the equivalent of undeniable facts and make decisions with impact decades into the future

This emphasis on DOING has been with us for a very long time. How’s it working out for us?

3. Zero Discussions About Ethics, Character, Morality or Personal Responsibility (Vague references to “Nebraska Values” or “Family Values” Do Not Count)

I will simply provide a list of questions to ponder, since it seems they are so little discussed:

  • What should be the qualities of character in a legislator, a governor, a county commissioner, a U.S. Senator?
  • What are the ethics of legislating, of governing?
  • What constitutes a conflict of interest?
  • When should officials recuse themselves from involvement in legislation?
  • What are the personal responsibilities of citizens?
  • How does government policy promote or discourage personal responsibility?
  • Are our officials doing all they can to protect citizens whose moral principles are dictated by faith?

2. Candidates are Bizarrely Obsessed with (Status Quo) Education

Almost every candidate for almost every office emphasizes education as a high priority, even if they only choose to list two or three issues or policy priorities, total. Since most candidates’ statements are vague (see #7), if there’s any elaborating at all, almost universally, pledges are made about “improvements to education” or, “increased funding”.

The obsession and pledges are predictable in every Nebraska election, despite the fact that education couldn’t possibly be a higher priority for elected officials since it’s so frequently cited as #1 – among Republicans and Democrats alike. Maybe they’re decrying the #1 spending position of health care?! (see #6) Otherwise, education already has vast state resources allocated to it:

  • 18%+ of the entire state budget excluding allocations to the University of Nebraska
  • The lion’s share of property taxes
  • Additional taxing authority in Educational Service Units
  • Foundations
  • Additional fundraising and supply drives

AND despite the fact that there are multitudes of elective bodies, unelected boards and commissions overseeing it.

What none of the candidates ever seem to focus on:

  • The rights of parents to choose the best education or even school for their children – school location is dictated by zip code, attendance compulsory – which is anathema to any basic idea of freedom
  • Ongoing prohibition on charter schools
  • Outright hostility toward homeschoolers1The hostility to which I refer has a long history, dating back to the 1980’s, when the legislation which still governs today, was passed.
  • Disturbing trends in schools to indoctrinate students. Just to name one recent example, Lincoln Public Schools conducted training for teachers to discourage the use of gender-based labels, recommending phrases such as “campers” and “purple penguins”, and to react “punitively” to students whose statements might hurt the feelings of the gender “confused”

1. State Officials’ Failures Regarding Illegal Immigration

We all know that headline items about illegal immigration have been a periodic focus in Nebraska’s races. These periodic episodes mostly regard the failures of the federal government, the need for “immigration reform” and “border security” and a lot of ranting about the looming “Obama Amnesty”.

Of course the list of federal government’s failures on this subject are legion – the flouting of rule through the law is ongoing and will apparently get worse. What federal candidates (Congressmen, Senators) will do regarding this issue, if elected, is very important.

However, I’m not aware of any Nebraska federal candidates listing how they might work with, or at least support, Nebraska’s state officials to protect the state’s citizens from the ongoing and looming problems.

Further, I’m not aware of discussions regarding the many ways in which our state officials have failed to do what is in their power regarding the impact of illegal immigration OR, perhaps even more importantly, exacerbated the problems by their deliberate actions.

One of the reasons this issue is the #1 most overlooked is because it runs the gambit of most of the issues which proceed it. By examining this issue, you gain insight into problems with the way state government has been functioning for too long.

Here’s an example list, not ordered by importance:

“Nebraska has the 10th-largest and fastest-growing immigrant population in the nation,”

Does such a revelation not provoke a number of questions, starting with: Do we really know how how many of these immigrants are here legally?

  • Nebraska’s progressive legislators – Republicans and Democrats – worked for several years to provide prenatal care Medicaid benefits to illegal immigrants – and ultimately convinced enough of their colleagues to override a governor’s veto in 2013.
    • Immigrants DO migrate to obtain better welfare benefits, into Nebraska specifically2Previous analyses by Governor Heineman’s policy research staff showed migration patterns into the state to take advantage of Nebraska’s already more generous Medicaid program. I was informed of this directly by one of the members of the policy research staff involved in multiple analyses..
    • Governor Heineman’s veto should not be construed as valiant opposition. His ineffective opposition, considering his historically high popularity, is simply inexplicable. We here at GiN literally attempted to help him through our submission of a lengthy local view column that was published in the Lincoln Journal Star before the veto override.
  • Our legislators had the opportunity to pass a Voter Identification bill in 2012, but failed to do so.
    • Standing law doesn’t require any actual proof of citizenship to register to vote, but relies upon people’s honesty in checking a box and the presentation of “valid photo id or other dated personal government document”.  The statute which defines which such federal, state or local documents are acceptable includes those which acknowledge, “entitlement to a government service or program”.  (see prenatal care benefits issue, above) see also
    • There is no current requirement to present ID when voting.
  •  On-going election practices in Nebraska (and schools3According to information obtained a couple of years ago, but for which I can’t locate a reference, some Nebraska schools provide materials in Spanish beyond the ESL program.), seem at the very least, open to legal challenge. The Nebraska Secretary of State and some County Election Commissioners provide sample ballots and other materials in both English and Spanish, despite the Constitutional requirement:
    • “The English language is hereby declared to be the official language of this state, and all official proceedings, records and publications shall be in such language, and the common school branches shall be taught in said language in public, private, denominational and parochial schools.”
    • Further, what seems like a basic, common sense question: Shouldn’t you have to read and understand English in order to vote?
  • Governor Heineman made a lot of noise (and national news) when he learned that 200 illegal immigrant children were sent to Nebraska without any notification to himself or, as far as he knew, any state government entity. He was right to be outraged, of course. However, as Nebraska’s Chief Executive, methinks he does protest to much in his cries of helplessness in discovering who those children are. Is he saying he has no power over his many executive branch agencies? If there is ever a time for an executive to make legitimate use of their pen and phone, this would be one of them. In addition, don’t we have an Attorney General whose job it is to file legal challenges when the Feds overstep or fail?
  • What did school officials do regarding any of the children sent to our state? Did they ensure the children had all of their immunizations, had a proper health screening before entering schools with Nebraska’s children? There is growing evidence that the enterovirus D-68 outbreak that begin sweeping across the country late this summer is linked to the huge influx of Central and South American immigrants in the past year. Cases have been reported in Nebraska. Their have been deaths and paralysis associated with the infection.

For me, what this top ten list inspires is careful pondering of my votes, of course. But more than anything, recognizing that I’m not “thrilled” about a lot of the choices on the ballot, it inspires me to do the following going forward:

Monitor officials more closely in the future and share that information with others

Start earlier and do more research and reporting for upcoming elections

In discussions with others, point out the issues which too often are overlooked

References & Notes   [ + ]

1. The hostility to which I refer has a long history, dating back to the 1980’s, when the legislation which still governs today, was passed.
2. Previous analyses by Governor Heineman’s policy research staff showed migration patterns into the state to take advantage of Nebraska’s already more generous Medicaid program. I was informed of this directly by one of the members of the policy research staff involved in multiple analyses.
3. According to information obtained a couple of years ago, but for which I can’t locate a reference, some Nebraska schools provide materials in Spanish beyond the ESL program.

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