Fear vs. Sanity


Lee Terry Party: Republican Current title: Representative, U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd District Professional background: U.S. congressman, 1998-present; Omaha Omaha City Council president, 1995-1997; vice-president, 1993-1995; councilman, 1991-1993; Attorney, 1987-1999 Personal background: Born in Omaha; B.A. political science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln; J.D., Creighton University; Active with American Diabetes Association, Millard Jaycees, Omaha Public Building Commission Promises: 1. “I hold true to my conservative beliefs of limited government, less spending, lower taxes and reducing the [federal budget] deficit.” — Omaha World-Herald, Oct. 17, 2010 2. “I have a plan that can make our nation energy independent… This is an American solution to our energy needs.” — on an energy plan touting ethanol, natural gas, wind power and domestic sources of coal and petroleum. LeeTerry.com 3. “We need to strengthen Social Security, not cut it. That is why I oppose any cuts to Social Security benefits, including increasing the retirement age. I also oppose any effort to privatize Social Security, in whole or in part.” — in a pledge signed at an AARP event on Aug. 15, 2010 Analysis: Terry entered Congress 12 years ago pledging to serve three terms. He’s currently seeking his seventh in a bad year to be the incumbent. “Terry is facing a pretty significant anti-incumbent wave,” says Paul Landow, political science professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “A lot of voters are angered, not just at Democrats, but Republicans as well.” But Landow says incumbents still retain a built-in advantage. The so-called “incumbent rule,” coined in a 1989 article by public poll expert Nick Panagakis, says incumbents with fewer than 50 percent of the vote in the last poll prior to the election generally go on to lose. The latest New York Times projection shows Terry with more than 56 percent of the vote and a 97 percent chance of winning the seat. Since February, Terry’s projected percentage of the vote has never fallen below 55 percent. Tom White Party: Democrat Current title: State Senator, Nebraska Legislature, 8th District Professional background: State Senator, 2007-2010; Civil Rights Attorney, 1983-present Personal background: Born in Columbus, Neb., B.A. philosophy, Regis University (Denver); J.D., Creighton University; Active with 4-H, Field Club of Omaha, Nebraska Horse Council Promises: 1. “We will always protect them, but I will not rebuild nations — medieval Muslim nations — at the cost of our citizens at home.” — on pulling out of Afghanistan. Terry-White debate, Omaha Press Club, Oct. 14, 20102. 2. “[Terry] will protect the corporations while I will hold them accountable.” — on Terry’s vote for the bank bailout. Lincoln Journal-Star, Oct. 14, 2010 3. “Washington doesn’t work. Lincoln does work. We balanced the budget in the worst economy since the depression.” — on his history of bi-partisan collaboration in the Nebraska legislature. WOWT, Sept. 3 2010 Analysis: “White is facing not just a national wave but a national tsunami in terms of voter backlash to Democrats because of Obama’s unpopularity,” Landow says. “That makes it tough for him.” White has tried to head off some of that anti-Democrat sentiment by branding himself as a moderate, progressive and conservative at various stops on the campaign trail. Landow says it’s a smart strategy. “Voters in swing districts are not interested in tense partisanship,” he says. “They want to know who can work across the aisle. I think that’s a good approach. Ludlow says both candidates face unusual circumstances, “but I think both of them can claim to be in a pretty good position.” Healthcare Fear: In an ad released last week, Terry points to White’s support of federal health care reform, saying the new bill “raids Medicare” of $500 billion. Sanity: It’s hardly a “raid.” The actual reduction in future Medicare spending — $555 billion according to the latest estimate — is about a 7 percent cut over the next 10 years, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Social Security Fear: A White ad claims Terry wants to privatize social security, risking retirement plans by placing a portion of funds in the stock market while sending billions to Wall Street investors who have supported Terry with more than $370,000 in contributions. Sanity: As recently as two years ago, Terry did want to do that, but he reversed field in August, publicly signing a pledge to oppose privatization. Terry told the Omaha World-Herald he changed his mind based on feedback from his constituency. The ad, a virtual rerun of a 2008 attack ad by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, continues to run. The Center for Responsive Politics lists the total amount of contributions over Terry’s career from the securities and investment industry at $137,825. Government Spending Fear: In a debate last week, Terry branded White as “$2 Trillion Tom” based on his support of the federal stimulus package and health care reform. Meanwhile, White has blasted Terry for supporting the bank bailout while opposing tax cuts for “95 percent of Americans.” Sanity: White hasn’t spent anything yet, but he touts that he’s only voted for balanced budgets in the Legislature. State law requires the state senate to approve a balanced budget. Terry did vote for the bank bailout — one of 91 Republicans to do so — but so did 172 of 235 Democrats. He also voted against the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but explained that vote as one of urgency not opposition, saying on his House website “… we need [tax cuts] now, not two to four years from now.” —Brandon Vogel Dave Heineman Party: Republican Current position: Governor Relevant professional background: Fremont City Council, 1990-1994; Nebraska state treasurer, 1994-2001; lieutenant governor, 2001-2005; governor, 2005-present Personal background: Born in Falls City; graduated from Wahoo High School; served five years in the U.S. Army, reaching the rank of captain; married, with one son. Promises: 1. Create more jobs for young people and middle class families. 2. Grow the economy. 3. Invest in the education of Nebraska’s children. Analysis: Heineman defeated Democrat David Hahn in 2006 by the largest margin in recent history. He has 100 times more money than opponent Mike Meister, who first started campaigning about three months ago. The latest Rasmussen poll had Heineman leading 66 percent to 24 percent. While actively collecting donations, Heineman has only two paid staffers and no campaign manager. He’s Republican in a state where the last three gubernatorial elections were won by his party. As an incumbent, he also has high name recognition, says Randall Adkins, chair of the political science department at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. “The other thing about the governor is that Nebraska has been able to weather the economic storm the country’s going through much better than other states have,” he says, referring to the state’s below-average unemployment rate. “When you look at the governor’s approval ratings, they’re actually fairly high. And those ratings are always tied to what’s going on economically in the state. “After all, voters are often pocketbook voters,” he adds, “and what they see is, we’re doing a lot better than other places in the country are.” The latest New York Times analysis predicts Heineman will receive 66.1 percent of the vote, give or take 8 percentage points, with a 100 percent chance of winning the election. Mike Meister Party: Democrat Current position: None Relevant professional background: Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2002; six years’ experience as an officer in the military; trial attorney in Scottsbluff Personal background: Meister was born in Omaha, but from second grade on he lived in Scottsbluff; separated from his wife of 23 years, has three children; graduated from Creighton University with a bachelor’s of arts and sciences and a 2nd Lieutenant commission in the U.S. Army; received an education deferral and graduated from Creighton University College of Law in 1986 with a juris doctorate. Promises: 1. Invest in tourism 2. Invest in roads and infrastructure 3. Rework relationship between state government and public schools, including state school aid formula Analysis: Meister entered the race later than late, in July, giving him about three months to campaign instead of the standard year or more. He was a replacement candidate after Omaha businessman Mark Lakers dropped from the race amid campaign finance controversy. Fundraising has been an issue for Meister in the race – his opponent has $100 for every $1 of his. His most recent ad is stuck on YouTube, as the campaign doesn’t have the funds to air it on television. While the most recent poll has him with a mere 24 percent of the vote, Meister says the poll setup was biased — he estimates his true rating at about 40 percent. “Democrats have faced a big challenge this year because after the primaries, they made a switch in candidates, putting them at a greater disadvantage than they usually face,” Adkins says. “And we all know in this state, Republicans outnumber Democrats pretty widely.” Meister says he would have more money than Heineman if his fundraising rate had been extended over the full campaign, but Adkins wasn’t sure if that would have been enough. “It’s hard to tell. It’s really hard to tell,” he says. “Democrats have to nominate very good candidates, very well-known candidates, and then get behind them very early. …They have to be able to reach out and get all the Democrats, and then reach out and get almost all the independents, and then reach out and get a few Republicans. It takes months and months and months, and millions and millions of dollars.” Immigration Fear: Heineman has done his best to deny benefits to undocumented immigrants, including vetoing a bill that provides in-state college tuition for children who grew up in Nebraska but are not citizens (it was overrided by the Legislature). He ended a program that provided pre-natal care for illegal immigrant pregnant women, and he supported 2009’s LB403, which requires state and local agencies to verify the immigration status of applicants. Most recently, Heineman has voiced support for an anti-immigration law similar to Arizona’s, which makes failure to carry immigration papers a crime and gives police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally. He says he expects every state in the country to introduce “an Arizona-type law” by next January, citing stolen jobs and added government costs. Sanity: Arizona’s law, and the similarly-written Fremont ordinance, are both being challenged in court. The city of Fremont voted to delay implementation until court battles are decided, while key provisions of Arizona’s new law were blocked by a federal judge in late July. A challenge to a 2007 Arizona immigration law will be presented before the U.S. Supreme Court in December. The Pew Research Center estimated Nebraska’s undocumented immigrant population at about 2.7 percent of the population, compared with 8 percent in Arizona. Heineman says he doesn’t want a law that encourages racial profiling, but anti-ordinance group One Fremont, One Future has collected documentation of numerous incidences of Latino citizens being harassed. Fremont has estimated the ordinance will cost it $1 million per year. A study conducted by the University of Nebraska-Omaha found that immigration positively benefits the state financially. Nebraska’s Budget Fear: Meister has criticized Heineman for railing against stimulus funds but still accepting them, and he blames the governor for the projected $751 million shortfall in the state budget: “Heineman has the worst fiscal record of any governor in the state.” Sanity: It could be argued that Heineman’s 2007 tax cuts, including $100 million in property tax credit relief, added to the shortfall, as well as using stimulus funds to pay state school aid. Health care reform costs are also on the rise, and 15 percent of the shortfall can be attributed to state retirement plan funding problems. The libertarian Cato Institute gave Heineman a low C grade in its 2010 governor fiscal policy report card, in part because Nebraska general fund spending increased while in many states it decreased. At the same time, however, the state’s cash reserve grew from $274 million in 2005 to 2006 to a record $578 million in 2008 to 2009 under Heineman’s watch, and in his first budget proposal, in 2007, Heineman proposed a 3.8 percent increase in spending over the next two years — not quite half of the 7.1 percent spending growth recorded the two previous years. Unemployment in the state has also remained very low compared to the rest of the country. Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Fear: Meister has called Nebraska HHS “horribly, horribly broken,” pointing to consistent upheaval in the state’s child welfare privatization process and the deaths of four patients at the Beatrice State Developmental Center in February 2009, which led to decertification and the loss of tens of millions in federal funding. Sanity: Three of five original providers for Nebraska’s child welfare have dropped out because of financial burdens. On Oct. 15, the state announced it would redirect case management duties to the remaining two contractors, as well as several million each in emergency funding. Child advocates from places like Nebraska Appleseed and Voices for Children have long criticized the reform process. However, gains have been made in terms of the number of children receiving in-home care, one of the reform’s major goals. As for the Beatrice Center, federal regulators warned the state in 2008 that there were serious problems. Heineman agreed to improve care. In a letter from December of that year, he assured State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, who headed a special committee that investigated the Beatrice Center issues, that conditions were improving. One month later, a patient died following a seizure. Heineman has argued that while change might have been slow, the problems have been addressed and the center has a solid future. Health Care Reform Fear: Heineman says health care reform doesn’t address rising costs and is a multi-million dollar unfunded mandate. He wrote state educational associations in August asking them to support repeal of federal health care reform or face a reduction in education spending. Sanity: Cost estimates for health care vary widely. Milliman Inc., an independent actuarial and consulting firm, released a study in August that predicted Nebraska would pay $526 million to $766 million in Medicaid costs over the next 10 years. A 2009 White House Council of Economic Advisors study estimated statewide costs for uninsured Nebraskans at at least $36 million, while a study by the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured estimated the state would only have to fund 5 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid. The Milliman study estimated costs at about $26 million over the next two years. — Hilary Stohs-Krause


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