A Big Blue Wall

While running for President, Donald Trump promised to build a wall. Well, there is going to be one. Just not between the United States and Mexico. The wall will be an ideological wall. Democrats will do their best to take back the House of Representatives, the Senate, state legislatures, and governor’s mansions. This wall will prevent the more noxious parts of Trump’s agenda and for that matter, the conservative agenda.

I do not have the pull as an organization such as Daily Kos or many other places. But I do have an endorsement portfolio. I have structured my endorsement portfolio similar to Daily Kos’s endorsement page. Which by the way, you should check out.

Offices

I am going to focus on state legislative races and the U.S. House of Representatives. Primarily, those are my biggest interests and less expensive races than statewide races for U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections. Although, this could potentially be changed if I ever had enough of a reach that would make a difference. The main statewide office that I would focus on if I did believe I could make a difference would be Secretary of State. The Secretary of State in various states have more control over voting rights and increasingly have a bigger effect on their priority legislation. If there was another statewide election, it would be Attorney General. Attorney Generals have some control over legislative priorities. There may be some other offices that I would potentially look at to endorse. The local offices would be city council and mayor for certain cities.  It would depend on other factors as set forth, largely below. Over the next year, I will be rolling out endorsements for candidates for various positions. I wanted to be transparent with how I was going to roll out my endorsements.

Political parties

I don’t want to make it a 100% rule that I will only endorse Democrats. As a general rule, in an open seat, I would endorse the Democrat over a Republican. But in a red seat, where a material change could take place, I would endorse a more moderate Republican. If a moderate Republican is the best person that could win a seat and the other option is insane, I would endorse the moderate Republican. If it is a Democrat who doesn’t fit into my endorsement criteria, I would not endorse the Democrat.

Choosing a candidate

  1. The most important thing that I am looking for is a winnable candidate. I am looking for someone who can win if they get the right resources, attention, and information about the candidate. So what I am looking for is the right district, the right state, or the right precincts to be able to determine if someone can win.
  2. I want my endorsement to stand out and to make a difference. Part of why I am only choosing smaller races is that I want an endorsement or a small influx of cash to be able to make a difference in a race. So drilling down from choosing the right races to get involved in, I want to see how much the funding is for the opponents in the seat to be able to try and make a difference and how expensive the media.  market is for the seat.
  3. The district or the precincts matter. What matters, inherently, is that I am choosing the right person for the job. I want my candidates that I am endorsing to hold favorable positions but I do not need them to necessarily follow a checklist for my endorsement. I have two non-negotiables: (A) the candidate cannot support vote suppression policies. A candidate cannot support mandatory voter id bills. Or any other bill that would impose id requirements on voters who are merely attempting to vote. Candidates who oppose automatic voting rights restoration for felons will never get endorsed. In an ideal world, my endorsed candidate would support automatic voter registration either by co-sponsorship of legislation or by vote. They will also support the restoration of voting rights to felons. (B) I support pro-choice policies. I understand that pro-life Democrats or even pro-life Republicans will sometimes need to be endorsed at various times and need to be elected for the greater good. I also understand that in some positions these opinions on abortion will not even come into play, such as Mayor of cities. But there are some places where a pro-choice Democrat cannot be elected. So I do not necessarily view support of pro-choice policies as absolutely critical. But if you do vote or support traditional pro-life policies, you have to support policies such as Medicaid expansion or policies to expand healthcare access to all. Further, I would like to see the care of children expand beyond the unborn to the entirety of a child’s life.

 

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Some NDAA Amendments

Here are some of the NDAA amendments. I will get back to the rest of them shortly.

The Conaway Amendment

This amendment would prohibit the Department of Defense from entering new biofuels contracts while sequestration remains law. If sequestration expires or is repealed, current law would be amended to require the Department of Defense to include calculations of any financial contributions from any other federal agencies. Under the Obama administration, the Department of Defense began a new policy to increase the use of biofuels. Since 2000, the Air Force had been leading the lead role in Department of Defense efforts for biofuels. The Air Force was supposed to be prepared by 2016 to acquire alternative biofuel that would equal 50% of its domestic requirements for aviation fuel. According to a 2011 Rand Corporation report, there is not a direct military benefit to switching to biofuels. The Heritage foundation was quick to point that out in their dismissal of using biofuels in the military. However, the Rand Corporation also pointed out that there were indirect benefits. I will quote them at length:

“If the Department of Defense were to encourage early production experience, government decisionmakers, technology developers, and investors would obtain important information about the technical, financial, and environmental performance of various alternative fuel options. If favorable, that information could lead to a commercial alternative-fuels industry producing strategically significant amounts of fuel in the United States. Once established, a large, commercially competitive alternative fuel industry in the United States and abroad would weaken the ability of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to assert its cartel power. Lower world oil prices would yield economic benefits to all fuel users—civilian and military alike. Lower prices would also decrease the incomes of “rogue” oil producers, and thereby likely decrease financial support to large terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hizballah.”

Heritage points out that the Department of Defense tries to mitigate the risk of cartel power and from getting oil from enemies, by saying that they receive oil from a number of different countries. Practicality is the driving factor, the Department of Defense tries to purchase fuel from the closest geographic location to where it is needed to help limit the risks. If the biofuels are needed to be produced domestically, there is some salience to the argument Heritage makes about the biofuels negatively impacting the military.

For those representing more rural areas or areas where they could grow more crops or agriculture for use in biofuels, it might make more sense to advocate for biofuels and more contracts from the Department of Defense. As the Rand corporation points out and I quote above, the military using more biofuels would be able to create more biofuel resources and a bigger biofuel economy which would be immensely positive to the economies of those communities. It is probably using this logic where Don Bacon came up with the idea to vote against the Conaway amendment. He joined 39 other Republicans in opposing the amendment. Nearly all Democrats who voted on the amendment voted against it. It failed 225-198.

Recommended vote: No

The Polis Amendment

Rep. Polis’s amendment was to reduce the Department of Defense’s budget by 1%. The amendment would exclude military, reserve, and National Guard personnel. It would also exclude the Defense Health Program account. While a lot of people like to say that there are “no sacred cows” when it comes to reducing the debt and deficit, there are very few members of Congress who do actually vote to reduce the spending for the Defense Department. Of course, the point of this NDAA was to greatly increase the spending for the military. The Polis Amendment would have done quite a bit to dismantle the other actions of the NDAA. Voting in favor of the Polis amendment, one that had no chance of passing, invited a number of criticisms of not supporting the troops. There were 4 Republicans who voted in favor of the amendment, there were 69 Democrats who voted in favor.

Recommended vote: Aye

The Nadler Amendment

The Nadler Amendment would strike a section from the NDAA. This section prohibited the use of funds appropriated to transfer or release prisoners at Guantanamo Bay to the United States. Transferring prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to the United States and trying those they wish to prosecute, is part of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)’s steps to closing Guantanamo Bay the correct way. For many Republicans, the closure of Guantanamo Bay should not happen.

As of January 2017, 41 men were still imprisoned, according to the ACLU. 5 of those men were cleared for release by the government but are still being imprisoned. 26 of the prisoners imprisoned have not been charged with a crime but still have not been cleared for release. The vast majority of the prisoners who have been released were released by the Bush administration (73%). According to the ACLU, it costs more than $7 million/year to imprison a single detainee in Guantanamo.

There is quite a bit of a disagreement with the rates of recidivism for released Guantanamo prisoners. The New America Foundation found that of the 620 Guantanamo prisoners released abroad there were 54 who were confirmed or were suspected of engaging in militant against the US or non-US targets. The House Armed Services Committee released a report in January of 2012 that 27% were confirmed or suspected to have been engaged in terrorist or insurgent activities. They noted that five of 66 detainees who left Guantanamo between February 2009 and October 2010 are confirmed or suspected of involvement in terrorist or insurgent activities. Perhaps I will write more at a later time about the transferring of prisoners to federal prisons instead of releasing them outright. But to close Guantanamo the correct way, there should be actual trials to determine if they should be prosecuted.

This is, perhaps, not surprising then that Republicans overwhelmingly voted against this amendment but then bragged about it on social media. Despite all of the norms that have supposedly changed in politics in the past two years, it is still a popular position for conservatives to be against closing Guantanamo Bay or transferring prisoners to have their day in court and for liberals, the opposite.

Recommended vote: Aye

The Jayapal Amendment

The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) fund is, according to the National Priorities Project, “a separate pot of funding operated by the Department of Defense and the State Department, in addition to their ‘base’ budgets.” This funding has very little oversight and is commonly referred to as a slush fund. In addition, the OCO fund is not subject to sequestration. It is not out of the question that lawmakers would put additional money into the OCO fund to shield it from oversight and to provide the Department of Defense with money that sequestration is not supposed to allow.

Pramila Jayapal proposed an amendment that increases to the budgets of OCO and the National Defense Budget should be matched dollar-to-dollar in non-defense discretionary budget. She highlighted money that could be spent on infrastructure projects or for research. She argued on her speech on the House floor that this money would be put to good use by providing for domestic national security. Despite widespread beliefs that infrastructure spending would be good and its high polling numbers, almost no Republicans joined Democrats in voting in favor of this amendment. The amendment was rejected 245-179.

Recommended vote: Aye

Blumenauer Amendment I

Blumenauer Amendment II

Rep. Blumenauer proposed two separate amendments to the NDAA. The first one was H. Amendment 166. This amendment would have limitations on the development of an INF range ground-launched missile system. The second was H. Amendment 170. This would provide spending limits on the Long Range Standoff weapon until a Nuclear Posture Review is submitted to Congress including an assessment of the weapon.

Results – both amendments failed. H. amendment 166: 173-249. 1 Republican voted in favor. H. amendment 170: 169-254. 2 Republicans voted in favor.

Recommended vote: No recommended vote

Aguilar Amendment

This is amendment numbered 168. This would extend the CBO cost estimate on fielding, maintaining, modernization, replacement, and life extension of nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons delivery systems from covering a 10-year period to covering a 30-year period. This would provide a longer range cost estimate of the nuclear weapons. For many, whatever the cost of the nuclear weapons, it is justified for the United States to maintain our status as a nuclear superpower. The CBO cost estimates will simply be a waste of time. Even worse, if the cost estimates show that it will be cost prohibitive for certain nuclear weapons or facilities, then there might be a push for closing of these facilities or reducing nuclear weapons. There might be a large reduction in weapons or jobs. This amendment failed 188-235. 7 Republicans joined with Democrats voting in favor of the amendment.

Recommended vote: Aye

Garamendi Amendment I

Garamendi Amendment II

The first Garamendi amendment is H. Amendment 169. This amendment would modify and expand the annual report on the plan for the nuclear weapons stockpile, nuclear weapons complex, nuclear weapons delivery systems, and nuclear weapons command and control system that was called for in the 2012 NDAA. Perhaps not surprising, it failed 192-232.

The other Garamendi amendment is H. Amendment 177 which would strike section 123 from the NDAA regarding icebreaker vessels. This amendment likewise failed.

Recommended vote: No recommended votes

Don Bacon: Pro life

When Rep. Don Bacon announced his candidacy, one of the ways he decided to attack Brad Ashford was on the issue of the Pain Capable Unborn Child Act. He released a statement regarding his support.

“I strongly support The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. I’m pro-life and I’m encouraged that Congress acted last night to help protect the unborn. Moreover, scientific evidence is overwhelming that an unborn child past 20 weeks has the ability to feel pain and the vast majority of the public believes that aborting a child at a late stage during pregnancy is flat out wrong.”

Of course, Bacon is just relying on the idea that the science is overwhelming because he is regurgitating the talking points of the National Right to Life Committee. The Journal of the American Medical Association based on a summary of the research makes the case that pain is not felt until nearly 30 weeks. But even if you accepted the National Right to Life Committee’s statement of the evidence, you would accept that pain is felt around 12-16 weeks. Most doctors that the National Right to Life quotes in their report argue against the position of the National Right to Life. For instance, Dr. Nicholas Fisk who was quoted 27 times, argued that until 24 weeks gestation, fetal pain is not possible at all. Even the argument that anesthesia is used to dull fetal pain is questioned, Dr. Mark Rosen and Dr. Scott Adzick argue that anesthesia is used to limit the dangerous movements of fetuses. The scientific evidence is not overwhelming, by any stretch of the imagination.

What is more important to many of the Republicans who support such a bill is the polling data. In a 2014, Quinnipiac University Poll, they found that 60% of respondents would support a 20 week ban. The National Right to Life Committee cited polling numbers repeatedly as to why such a bill would be passed. They found that 64% of respondents would support similar legislation.

It should be noted, that nowhere in Rep. Bacon’s statement on 20 week abortion ban does he state that life begins at conception. He argues that it is unpopular and that the fetuses feel pain after 20 weeks based on “overwhelming” scientific evidence.

Rep. Bacon also co-sponsored H.R. 681, Life at Conception Act. The Life at Conception Act would provide “equal protection under the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution for the right to life of each born and preborn human person.” The text of the bill goes further to say that human person and human being includes each member of the species at all states of life “including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being.” Rand Paul who introduced similar legislation said that this would give every fetus the same right to life and is entitled legal protection. This would effectively outlaw abortion and provide a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

In a recent poll in May of 2017 by Gallup, 79% of respondents agreed that abortions should either be always legal or sometimes legal. This is consistent with what we have seen for the last 13 years, about 80% of Americans believe abortions should be legal, at least in some cases. Over 60% of respondents, according to Quinnipiac believe that abortion should be legal in most cases. Only about 10-15% think that it should be illegal in all cases. Again, this is fairly consistent over the years. This legislation argues that abortion should always be illegal. About 70% of respondents in a Quinnipiac poll agree with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

Rep. Bacon cites, as part of his reasoning, the need for the 20 week abortion ban because of public polling numbers without referring to what he is thinking morally. But both him and the National Right to Life Committee run away from the polling numbers when the polls show that most Americans support Roe v. Wade.

Moreover, The Life at Conception Act does not have any exceptions for those who are rape victims, incest, or to protect the life of the mother. This legislation would effectively ask women who were raped and impregnated to bring to term the child who was the product of that rape. Or in circumstances where the mother would have a critical issue, the doctors would have to weigh which person has more of a right to live. This may delay necessary lifesaving procedures for either the mother or the child as they have to sort out the legality of their actions.

 

 

 

 

Repealing the estate tax

Deb Fischer and Don Bacon both co-sponsored legislation to repeal the estate tax. In an effort to make it sound more appealing, they use the language of calling the estate tax, the “death tax.” This gives Bacon and Fischer conservative credit. The estate tax is only levied on those above a certain threshold for their estate’s value, $5.45 million per person or $10.9 million per couple. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, there were 2.6 million deaths in the United States in 2013 and there were 4,700 estate tax returns filed.

Fischer and Bacon would likely argue that family farms and small businesses are unfairly attacked by the death tax. The Tax Policy Center estimated that 80 small farms and businesses will pay an estate tax in 2017. They further estimate that the total paid by these farms and businesses will be $30 million in 2017. The Congressional Budget Office noted that a family farm could lower the amount of estate tax owed by a special method of calculating the value.

According to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, repealing the estate tax would reduce revenues to the federal government by $270 billion over 10 years. Both Fischer and Bacon campaigned heavily on fixing the debt and deficit. They both think that this should be a top priority to fix. However, fixing it would now require an additional $27 billion per year for each of the next 10 years.  While both Bacon and Fischer have endorsed and voted for spending cuts for the federal government, most of it is not enough to completely fix the budget. Even if there wasn’t a need for an additional $27 billion cut/year.

 

 

 

The Moral Courage of Don Bacon

Rep. Don Bacon’s statement when he decided to run for Congress cited his moral courage as something that Nebraskans in the 2nd District needed to help fix Washington. In his announcement that he was running, he said,”To change Washington, we need new leadership with moral courage to make tough decisions. That’s why I’m running for Congress.” Much like his vaunted calls for civility, Rep. Bacon was faced with decisions that required moral courage and he failed.

While we will take a deeper dive into the policies and bills that Rep. Bacon supports or opposes, I’m using examples from his campaign in this piece.

Endorsements

In May of 2016, Rep. Bacon received an endorsement from Congressman Steve King which he bragged about citing King’s “strong moral courage and deep devotion to serving our nation. He is one of America’s great Constitutionalists…” Two months after the endorsement, King went on MSNBC on All-in with Chris Hayes. The transcript from The Washington Post is what follows:

“This ‘old white people’ business does get a little tired, Charlie,” King said. “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

“Than white people?” Hayes asked, clearly amazed.

“Than, than Western civilization itself,” King replied. “It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.”

To be fair to Rep. Bacon on accepting the endorsement, this did happen after he accepted it. There could have been no way to predict that King would say something like that…if you had never run a cursory Google search on Steve King in your life or even remotely paid attention to politics.

In 2013, Rep. King had a comment on immigrants coming from Mexico, claiming that for every child of illegal immigrants “who’s a valedictorian, there’s another 100 out there who weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.” John Boehner, then Speaker of the House, called King’s comments “deeply offensive and wrong.” But King still continued on. He doubled down on his statements noting that nobody has debunked his numbers. When ICE deported a DREAMer, he sent a tweet with a picture of a beer, saying

One of King’s hobbyhorses is to effectively repeal the 14th Amendment by declaring that in order to obtain citizenship through birth, one of your parents must be a citizen. Birthright citizenship which is enshrined in our Constitution in the 14th Amendment and followed through with citizenship laws since the beginning of our country’s founding. It is hard for me to say that someone who wants a direct assault on the 14th Amendment can be a great Constitutionalist.

During a recent controversy, King had a photo taken at his desk where the Confederate flag is visible. The Confederate States of America, although often romanticized by those on the right, were a collection of states committing treason against the United States in defense of slavery as an institution. Even for some who recognize that argue that the Confederate flag represents their heritage or state’s history. Iowa, the state where King resides and where his district resides, was not one of the states in the Confederacy. Iowa sent 76,000 men to fight for the Union. The Union, I guess I should remind people, was the army of the federal government trying to preserve the United States and end slavery. 13,000 Iowans were killed in the Civil War by the Confederacy. King proudly displays on his desk a flag celebrating treason in defense of slavery in a state that fought for the Union.

Again, perhaps Rep. Bacon had no idea that King was a Confederate supporter. King’s moral courage also showed when he was casting doubt on Barack Obama’s birthplace.

In September of 2015, King lamented the culture of America that we used to have. He placed the blame for this change on immigrants changing the culture of America.

Rep. Bacon could have repudiated the endorsement from King but he refused, citing it prominently and praising King for his strong “moral courage.” This phrase is used for King is also used to praise Rep. Bacon.

Another endorsement that Bacon had on his website was from State Senator Bill Kintner. Luckily for Bacon, I have not been able to locate where he cited Kintner’s strong moral courage (hopefully it never happened). Kintner posted on Twitter that Muslim refugees should be forced to eat bacon before they enter the country.

That wasn’t his only comment on refugees

His use of social media also included posting a picture of a beheaded woman on Facebook; claimed that Jesus was ok with the death penalty because he didn’t stop his own execution; attacked the city of Cincinnati for hosting a Pride celebration; referred to his colleagues in the Unicameral as prostitutes; called for a restoration of the guillotine with Nancy Pelosi and Ruth Bader Ginsburg pictured and labeled as guys; claimed Obama was importing Muslims; and made fun of homeless people.

In the Unicameral, Kintner claimed the NCAA was carrying on economic terrorism, introduced a bill to prove that refugee resettlement agency can pay up to $25 million or otherwise face a $1,000/day fine for each refugee they’ve resettled in the past five years, called Latinos “wetbacks” on the floor, and also flung a pen at the Speaker of the Unicameral after a vote didn’t go Kintner’s way.

That was all prior to the sex scandal that eventually led to his expulsion. Prior to that sex scandal though, he was part of an investigation for impersonating a police officer to get discounted car washes.

A simple thanks, but no thanks, from Rep. Bacon would have shown some moral courage instead of accepting the endorsement and placing it on his website.

Donald Trump

In October of 2016, the “Access Hollywood” tape leaked. The tape had Donald Trump confess that he sexually assaults women and that he gets away with it because he is a star. Trump denied that he ever acted the way he confessed to saying that it was just locker room talk. Sensing that Trump’s confession of sexual assault would not be a winning thing to tie himself to, Rep. Bacon joined other members of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation to call for Donald Trump to step down. The Omaha World Herald ran that story showing how Bacon was asking Trump to step down. Bacon’s press release on the subject was rather forceful

“Donald Trump should stand down for the good of the country,” says General Don Bacon. “His comments were utterly disgraceful and disqualifying. Trump should allow a strong conservative candidate, like Mike Pence, from the GOP to win in November. His continued candidacy guarantees a Clinton victory and four more years of higher debt, more regulations, higher taxes, and failed foreign policies. Regardless of who is our next President, I will go to Washington to be an independent voice for Nebraska’s 2nd District, not a partisan politician.”

As we will see in later posts, it’s probably a good thing that Rep. Bacon removed this press release from his website without announcing it. Only a few Republicans continued to believe that what trump said was disqualifying and would not support Trump, Bacon lacked the moral courage to do so. He pulled the press release from his website. His staff reaffirmed on Facebook that Bacon would support the nominee but only in response to comments. While early voting was happening in the 2nd District, it is extremely likely that some voters were misled by Rep. Bacon’s stance on Trump and decided to vote for him. If Trump’s comments were disqualifying and disgraceful, they did not become less so because he had a chance to win and Bacon had a chance to ride the coattails.

Rep. Bacon, however, did not live up to any part of that promise. His independent voice, much like his moral courage his calls for civil behavior, is merely a stance that he likes to take and much like this press release, he removes it when he has to make a tough choice.

 

 

 

 

Being civil and respectful: A lesson from Don Bacon

On March 24, 2015 a mere 2.5 months into the tenure of Representative Brad Ashford’s tenure in Congress, Don Bacon announced his candidacy to run against Ashford in the 2016 election. In his announcement, he said, “Nebraska does want our elected officials to be civil and respectful, and I promise to be that way…To change Washington, we need new leadership with moral courage to make tough decisions.” Bacon was able to defeat incumbent Democrat Ashford 49.4 – 47.3 thanks in large part to the conservative Sarpy County.

Unlike Fischer, who I covered previously, Bacon did not hold an elected office prior to running for federal office. So the extent that we know about his public stances and ideas is the record of public statements that he has made, the bills he has supported, and to an extent constituent mail. Each member of Congress does respond to constituent mail through their staff. In theory, the responses that you receive via mail or e-mail are vetted by staff. The staff sign off on their respective issues. So a healthcare staffer will sign off on the position of the member of Congress for healthcare. Of course, this may not always be the case. In numerous instances in the office, we had letters held up because we were waiting on approval of positions taken in these letters. If you send an e-mail, the system that is used to reply to the e-mail, is generally filtered by category sending out a response for that particular category. They are essentially canned responses to try to limit the time taken by staff and interns in responding to constituent mail, where they can help it.

Again, while this piece will touch on certain policy aspects, I want this to serve as an introduction to Rep. Bacon so I will leave a number of the heavier policy areas to subsequent posts where I can touch on all of the people in Nebraska running for office in 2018.

Civil and respectful

Bacon has touched on this idea of being “civil and respectful” multiple times. He even went so far as to make a speech on the House floor to the same effect. Unfortunately, he does not follow through with his own advice. His own press releases throughout the campaign uses “Democrat Party” or “Democrat establishment” instead of the grammatically correct phrase, “Democratic Party” or “Democratic establishment.” Oxford noted in 2014, that “it is in keeping with a longstanding tradition among Republicans of dropping the -ic in order to maintain a distinction from the broader, positive associations of the adjective democratic with democracy and egalitarianism.” The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage states “do not use Democrat as a modifier (the Democrat Party); that construction is used by opponents to disparage the party. It is a pet peeve of mine because saying as Bacon does when he says “the Democrat Party”, he is being grammatically incorrect to score rhetorical points with his base of support.

Criticism of Rep. Bacon is almost always perceived as a personal attack and he, or rather his staff, counter that the other person is lying. On February 21, 2017, The Omaha World Herald published an article about Rep. Bacon not wanting to hold town halls. They wrote

One member who rejected the idea of in-person town halls was Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., who said he has no plans to hold any this week – or ever – citing the potential for some people to hijack the session. Bacon represents the Congressional district including Omaha.

On February 23, after I reached out to Rep. Bacon’s office as a concerned constituent, I received an e-mail from his staff

Recently, it has been reported that I will not be holding any town halls as the Representative of Nebraska’s Second District. That is simply not true. I made a promise to do town halls across the district, and I stand by that…I have been working with my staff, alongside groups throughout the district, and we have established a schedule for our town halls and will continue to add more to the list.

A tele-townhall was announced on March 7 with the understanding that if it went well, there would be a live townhall at a later date.  The editorial staff at The Omaha World Herald held to their reporting on the issue writing in an editorial on March 13

New U.S. Rep. Don Bacon now says he plans to hold town hall meeting with his Omaha-area constituents, softening his previous position that he never would.

Just noting that on March 9th, was the first time that he said publicly that he was willing to hold public town halls (although in his March 1 newsletter, he stated that he would hold an upcoming town hall) and The Omaha World Herald stood by their earlier reporting then, too.

Unfortunately, this was consistent with Rep. Bacon’s campaign which offered misleading statements, highlighted policy platitudes, and offered personal attacks on both Rep. Ashford and Hillary Clinton. If you blindfolded me, I could read a press release from Rep. Don Bacon. Off the top of my head, the press release would read

My opponent is a career politician who votes for failed leadership of Obama/Pelosi. A vote for him is a continuation of the Democrat establishment. We have a $19 Trillion debt that we need to address. Thanks to my 30 years in the Air Force, I understand the national security issues facing our nation and my opponent does not.

If you do not believe that is representative of the press releases, you can read a number of them. Ashford Wrong on ISIS; Ashford Continues Pattern of Misleading Constituents; Clinton Email FBI Recommendation A Disappointment; Don Bacon: Clinton Speech Continues The Failed Obama/Pelosi Policies That Brad Ashford Embraces; Response To Ashford’s Demands on Denouncing Attacks on Gold Star Families; Fact Check: Ashford Starts Campaign Season By Misleading Nebraskans.

On August 2, after Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump attacked a Gold Star family, Bacon issued a press release concluding with

Both presidential candidates, as well as Brad Ashford, should focus on critical issues such as our national security and the massive debt crisis and less on personal attacks on each other and their supporters. In my nearly 30 years in the Air Force it was important to make one’s point in a civil way, and focus on the key issues at hand.

The previous paragraph in the press release said that Clinton “lacks integrity.” Less than a week before that Bacon had attacked Clinton for her mishandling of classified information and calling Ashford a career politician. These are also personal attacks and not at all focused on the key issues at hand. Saying someone lacks integrity is a brazen personal attack.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership means being able to admit you were wrong: an introduction to Deb Fischer

As we launch our coverage for the 2018 elections, we are going to pay particular attention to the races in Nebraska since that is where I have the most knowledge. We’ll kick it off with our senior Senator, Deb Fischer who is running for re-election.

2012 election

The Senate election of 2012 in Nebraska actually had quite a bit of national eyes. Ben Nelson because of the Cornhusker Kickback and providing a crucial vote for the Affordable Care Act declined to run for re-election. Former Nebraska Governor and Senator Bob Kerrey decided to run for the open seat. On the Republican side, Deb Fischer was able to pull an upset in the Republican primary and was the nominee. During a fairly contentious election, given the eventual result, Fischer portrayed Kerrey as a carpetbagger moving back to Nebraska just to run for office. Her campaign was very critical of the Kerrey campaign for accepting money from out of state contributors and challenged the assertion that Kerrey was a Nebraskan. Fischer repeatedly said that she would focus on a positive message in defeating Kerrey. She even told the Beatrice Daily Sun:

Fischer said she’s made no changes to her campaign strategy since winning the primary election and will continue to stay positive, rather than take “personal attacks” as she says her opponent has done in multiple television advertisements.
“We’re continuing to work hard and stay positive,” Fischer said. “People appreciate that and like to see the discussion on the issues and not personal attacks.That’s what we did in the primary, we stayed on the issues and that’s what we’re doing now, too.

“It’s disappointing when you have those personal attacks on you. People don’t like it. I think we showed that in the primary. They want to hear who you are and what you stand for.”

Of course for those who were watching the primaries in 2012, many would be confused about Fischer’s attack on out of state spending and running a positive campaign. A late ad in the Republican primary from a shady group called “Ending Spending Action Fund” was used bashing Attorney General Jon Bruning, saying “for character, anyone but Bruning.” Another ad was used to positively portray Fischer using some of the same footage of Fischer that her campaign used. The ad concluded that the voters should choose “one of us.” The ad buy was about $200,000 – $250,000 to run statewide. The ad came as the momentum was shifting and was “double the amount [Fischer] spent on ads for herself.”

Republican Vice President nominee Sarah Palin also endorsed Fischer. This was a big endorsement for Fischer. You may note that Palin is not from the state of Nebraska. Palin who was quite popular with Nebraska primary voters also recorded robocalls for Fischer, playing over the final days of the campaign.

Ending Spending Action Fund was a super PAC funded by Joe Ricketts. Ricketts, the wealthy patriarch of the largely conservative rich family, also spent money in other Republican Senate primaries. The super PAC had received some notice for the money spent in 2010 against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid but arguably spent it better in the Republican primary for Senate in Nebraska. This super PAC was a large driver of funds for Fischer spending about $850,000 in support of Fischer and $650,000 in opposition to Kerrey. American Crossroads, a super PAC by Karl Rove spent nearly $1 million against Bob Kerrey in the race. Club for Growth Action spent $714,000 opposing Jon Bruning.  Overall, Fischer had $1.5 million from outside spenders supporting her and $1.8 million opposing Bob Kerrey. To put that in perspective, Kerrey had $250,000 supporting him in outside spending and $1.8 million opposing Fischer.

Fischer tried to ignore the spending of super PACs on her behalf saying that she could not control outside spending. Some of the ads implied that Kerrey cut a secret deal with the menacing Harry Reid to run for Senate. Kerrey for his part, often complained that the outside ads had more influence than his campaign. I know from experience from talking to Nebraskans that the ads of Kerrey as a carpetbagger and trying to ruin Nebraska with his New York values were a big motivator for them to vote for Fischer

Fischer and her team would likely direct me to the OpenSecrets page where I can view the in-state contributions compared to the out of state contributions for each candidate. Kerrey did receive a substantial amount of support from outside of Nebraksa, raising nearly $2.6 million from out of state and only $1.17 million in-state. Fischer did receive $1.7 million in state compared to $1.16 million out of state. But you can see where the attack on Kerrey from raising money from the outside is more than a little misleading.

On election day, despite some notable endorsements from key Republicans including Chuck Hagel, Kerrey lost handily 58-42. Fischer who ran primarily on Republican party talking points had been able to defeat a fairly strong candidate.

State Senator

The stated reason that Ending Spending Actinon Fund had supported Fischer was in part because it was her first statewide run compared to both Bruning and Don Stenberg. Fischer had been a State Senator serving the Unicameral from 2005 – 2013. Throughout the campaign, Fischer tried to appeal moderate voters  and those upset with gridlock by talking about her bipartisan appeal. In an NPR interview, she said “like most Americans, I find it very, very frustrating to watch…[In Nebraska] we have a unicameral legislature…so we have experience with working with Republicans and Democrats.”

This is a common theme with Nebraskan politicians. If you are a Republican, you make overtures about how you will work across the aisle to find solutions but once you are elected you can coast without doing so. Democrats do the same thing except they are often serious about working across the aisle and do support a number of Republican policies only to be attacked as a figurehead for Democratic leadership.

During her campaign for the primary, her ads tried to portray her as a true Nebraskan conservative.

One of the highlights of her conservative voting record were her votes against undocumented immigrants in Nebraska. LB239 which would allow undocumented immigrants who graduated from a Nebraska high school, who have lived in Nebraska for at least three years, and pledged to seek permanent legal status to pay in-state tuition for college instead of the more expensive out of state. Deb Fischer voted against the legislation and voted not to override the Governor’s veto.  Fischer also voted against LB599 and not to override the Governor’s veto. LB599 would provide child health assistance, pregnancy, and prenatal care for all children regardless of the mother’s immigration status for those making less than or equal to 185% of the federal poverty line.

It is, perhaps, not surprising that Fischer also voted for a series of bills that most would consider to be pro-life. She voted in favor of LB 675 which would require a physician to display an ultrasound prior to an abortion. She co-sponsored LB 1103 which prohibits abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. She voted in favor of LB 594 to go through a screening process for women who are seeking an abortion. She also voted in favor of LB 22 which prohibited insurance coverage of abortion. Undocumented immigrants or immigrants who are not in legal status who find themselves pregnant are in a situation where they cannot access the prenatal care that they need and seemingly low on options thanks to votes by Fischer. Pro-life often only means pro-life for certain subsections of our population.

Pro-life legislation is framed around abortion. Those who take on that banner have won the rhetorical war. Fischer takes on that banner, as she said on her campaign website “I am proud to be pro-life and have a 100% pro-life voting record in my 8 years in the Nebraska Legislature. I will continue to support a culture of life by supporting pro-life policies in U.S. Senate.” If you believe, as many people do who are pro-life, that life begins at conception then any bills regarding prenatal care or that have impacts on pregnant women should be considered for the mantle of pro-life policies. Even moreso, they should be considered for the idea of a “culture of life.”

In 2008, the Nebraska Unicameral passed a bill that would ban smoking from public spaces including restaurants and bars. Omaha and Lincoln, the two major cities in Nebraska, had already passed a smoking ban. Deb Fischer voted against the smoking ban being implemented statewide. Nebraska became the 16th state to enact such a ban. For those, who do not remember, when you used to go to restaurants you had to specify whether or not you wanted a table in the smoking or non-smoking sections. If you went to a bar, the fog of smoke prevented you from seeing far and the smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the air. Workers in restaurants and bars were most likely to feel the ill effects of secondhand smoke but all patrons to those places would be exposed to some degree of secondhand smoke.  Since the passage of the smoking ban, the number of smoke-free homes have increased from 77% in 2004 to 89% in 2012.  The percentage of Nebraskans who reported that smoking in the family vehicle increased from 76% in 2004 to 85% in 2012. The smoking ban changed norms for people of Nebraska where they no longer felt obligated to allow smoking in their car or home and adopted voluntary smoke free rules for their personal property.

Despite overwhelming scientific consensus, there is a bit of a generational gap of the dangers of secondhand smoke. This is something that I have come into contact with, with those in their mid-50’s who dismiss the health problems of secondhand smoke with a wave of their hand that people are upset about the smell of cigarettes while downplaying the significant health problems with secondhand and even thirdhand smoke.

According to one study, the authors found that women that were exposed to secondhand smoke while pregnant had a decrease in 153.1 grams in birth weight.  This may not seem significant but low birth weight (LBW) is associated with “fetal and neonatal mortality and morbidity, inhibited growth and cognitive development, and risk of chronic diseases in later life.” The authors of the study note that while the exposure is less in secondhand smoke than in active smoking the “potential for biologic action is expected to be similar.” The Surgeon General’s report celebrating 50 years of progress on cigarette action noted that nicotine

is a pharmacologically active agent that has acute toxicity and that readily enters the body and is distributed throughout. Beyond causing addiction, it activates multiple biologic pathways that are relevant to fetal growth and development, immune function, the cardiovascular system, the central nervous system, and carcinogenesis. Nicotine exposure during fetal development, a critical window for the brain, has lasting adverse consequences for brain development. Nicotine exposure during pregnancy also contributes to adverse reproductive outcomes, such as preterm birth and stillbirth.

The CDC notes that mothers who are exposed to secondhand smoke or babies exposed to secondhand smoke after birth are more likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than are babies who are not exposed. The Surgeon General report claims that 100,000 babies have died of SIDS or complications from prematurity, low birth weight, or other conditions caused by parental smoking. In another study, researchers found that exposure to secondhand smoke increased a non-smoking pregnant woman’s chances of having a stillborn by 23% and increased the risk of delivering a baby with birth defects by 13%. 

More common is the dismissal that thirdhand smoke is just an irritation to smell but does not cause any health problems. Thirdhand smoke is the toxins from tobacco smoke that are on furniture, cars, clothing, and other surfaces. It’s essentially aged secondhand smoke. In the study, published in the American Journal of Psychology, the researchers at the Los Angeles Biomedical Research Institute at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, found that prenatal exposure to thirdhand smoke “can have as serious or an even more negative impact on an infants’ lung development as postanatal or childhood exposure to smoke.” The exposure can lead to “prenatal disruption of lung development can lead to asthma and other respiratory ailments that can last a lifetime.”

Simply put, exposure to smoke, whether firsthand, secondhand, or thirdhand leads to harmful prenatal development and increases the likelihood of stillborn, low birth weight, SIDS, and long standing respiratory problems for children. The culture of life seems like an odd thing to hold onto when being unwilling to take positions to help protect children’s lives outside the scope of abortion.

Lifetime tenure

Fischer was able to defeat the one candidate who is likely to be her strongest challenger for however long she wants to stay in the U.S. Senate. The Nebraska Democratic Party does not have a very strong bench, especially for a statewide run. This does not seem like something will change in the immediate future. Of course, we all know how something like the 2012 Republican autopsy report becomes outdated. So I’m ambivalent about making about making concrete long term predictions. Fischer co-sponsored, not once, not twice, but three times a resolution calling for term limits in Congress. The resolution called for a maximum term limit of 2 terms in the U.S. Senate, all three times. S.J. Res. 2 introduced in 2013 by David Vitter among others, S.J. Res. 1 in 2015 introduced by Vitter, and S.J. Res. 2 introduced in 2017 by Ted Cruz.   In theory, this will be her last election in 2018. But there are weasel words in those bills. Section 3 states “no term beginning before the date of the ratification of this article shall be taken into account in determining eligibility for election or appointment under this article.” Thus exempting themselves from needing to take the resolution seriously going forward. At this point, we expect nothing more.

I do not want to spend the entire introduction to Senator Fischer as a discussion of our disagreements of policy because I want to cover that in tremendous detail in subsequent posts focusing on policy not just for Fischer but all of Nebraska’s candidates. The rest of this section will focus primarily on Senator Fischer’s opposition to Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense under Barack Obama and particularly a line that she wrote in her op-ed about leadership.

As I previously noted, Republican Chuck Hagel supported Democrat Bob Kerrey in the general election. 2013 was in the middle of a tectonic shift in the Republican Party where it shifted from a party willing to work with the Democratic Party to a party grounded in outright opposition. To many, Hagel supporting Kerrey in the general election was worse than what many Democrats could do. Some Republican groups and leaders held their nose about the Presidential nominee in Mitt Romney because they feared a second term of Barack Obama. After the election, they did not see a point to hold back any longer. To provide just one example, the Log Cabin Republicans endorsed Mitt Romney for President in 2012 (and later deleted their endorsement page) despite his support for the Defense of Marriage Act and don’t ask, don’t tell. He also signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge to support a federal marriage amendment enshrining the right to marry to be reserved for a man and a woman. They had previously endorsed George W. Bush in 2000 but not 2004 (due to Bush’s support for the same amendment Romney pledged to support) and endorsed John McCain in 2008. But when Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was nominated for Secretary of Defense, the Log Cabin Republicans took out ads opposing Hagel. One reason was because he joked that an ambassador was “openly, aggressively gay”. The other two reasons were because of his stance in favoring don’t ask, don’t tell and his support for the Defense of Marriage Act. Nevermind that Hagel wrote a letter expressly saying that he supported the repeal of don’t ask, don’t tell. The opposition to Hagel was intensely personal. Even if those opposing tried to dress it up in terms of policy disagreements. When Hagel endorsed a Democrat in the 2012 Senate election, he should have known that he was going to face a tough confirmation if he was nominated for anything.

Fischer wrote an op-ed for the Omaha World Herald about why she could not support Hagel for Secretary of Defense. In it, there is a lot of criticism for Hagel as Secretary of Defense. But what is most striking to me is something I agree with quite a bit, she writes, “I understand no one has all the answers or is correct 100 percent of the time. But as an elected official, I also believe leadership requires the humility to admit being wrong.” One of the areas where Fischer criticizes Hagel was his opposition to the Iraq surge. She wrote

Similarly, when pressed by Sen. John McCain about his opposition to the surge of troops in Iraq, which helped to turn around an unsuccessful war, Sen. Hagel refused to acknowledge his incorrect judgment.

A popular narrative around Iraq is that the 2007 Iraq surge was the force that led to a stabilizing effect in Iraq. Hagel opposed the Iraq surge in 2007. During confirmation hearings, Hagel noted how his experience in war informed his opinions about how to handle wars.

 “I saw [war] from the bottom. It directly formed me and goes to Sen. McCain’s question about the surge. I have one fundamental question that I asked myself in every vote I took, in every decision I made – was the policy worthy of the men and women we were sending into battle, and surely to their deaths?”

Hagel went on to concede that the surge helped in the objective of the Iraq War. But also noted that there were other factors at work. He argued that history should be the ultimate judge of the Iraq surge. John McCain retorted back, “I think history has already made a judgment on the surge, sir, and you are on the wrong side of it.” Doug Olivant, an Army planning officer in Baghdad, told NPR that the stabilization of Iraq was “more to do with deep political and social forces inside Iraq.” He concluded that Iraqi Sunni leaders decided to work with the Americans prior to the surge which helped but the real change came from inside Iraq. Alex Kingsbury wrote in the Boston Globe about themyth of the surge in 2014, noting that in 2008 only 4% of Iraqis said additional US forces were responsible for the decline in violence. A 2011 article in the Small Wars Journal found that the Sunni tribes turning against Al Qaeda and stand-down by militias had a greater effect on security than the surge. The grander strategy of political reconciliation as a result of the surge was an abject failure. Hagel struck a courageous stance with regards to opposing the surge. Over one thousand troops during the surge, as Hagel said in his confirmation hearings.

The surge was not a smashing success as Fischer likened to in her op-ed and certainly does not talk about Hagel’s certainly correct assessment of the situation while he was sitting for his confirmation hearing. Fischer, to my knowledge, has not indicated that she was mistaken or should not have spoken with such certainty about the success of the surge.

Roughly 2 years ago, Senator John McCain and Dianne Feinstein introduced the McCain-Feinstein amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment would strengthen the prohibition on torture and ensure the United States does not engage in torture. The amendment would use the Army Field Manual the single standard for U.S. government interrogations.   In 2009, a special task force on interrogations which included the CIA concluded “the practices and techniques identified by the [Interrogation] Manual or currently used by law enforcement provide adequate and effective means of conducting interrogations.” In 2014, when a report about the CIA’s interrogation program was released showing that the CIA misled the effectiveness and extent of certain interrogation techniques, Fischer criticized it as partisan.

“We need to look at what information is brought forward when you use those techniques, and if it’s proved to be valuable, we have to have all options on the table. We need to protect citizens of this country.”

Protecting citizens of this country and the military personnel is exactly why so many people in the military and intelligence warned against the use of torture and the expansion of it. JPRA prepared memos for the Bush administration warning against the use of torture because the information may be unreliable. They wrote in one memo “the unintended consequence of a U.S. policy that provides for the torture of prisoners is that it could be used by our adversaries as justification for the torture of captured U.S. personnel.” Retired Lt. General Mark Hertling, after Donald Trump stated that torture works, simply said there’s no indication that torture works.  He went further saying “there are much better ways to get information through proper interrogation techniques.” Ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern also wrote that torture does not provide reliable information. Ex-CIA chief David Petraeus also opposes torture saying that you’re more likely to get information from a detainee by becoming his best friend. Petraeus opposes the idea that information from torture led to the killing of Osama bin Laden. I could go on with a number of retired military and intelligence officials willing to talk about how torture does not produce reliable information and provides justification for the torture of American troops or soldiers.

Fischer joined 20 other Republicans in opposing the McCain-Feinstein Amendment on torture. Fischer has yet to say she was wrong for doing so.

What’s next

I have no ill feelings toward Fischer. I wish she was more willing to admit that she was wrong on a number of issues and willing to break with Republican orthodoxy. But I don’t think she will. She has not been arguing that she is an independent voice for Nebraska or claiming that she works in a bipartisan manner. The pretext is gone. She’ll probably run as a strong conservative. I have no illusions that she will be defeated but I would rather her own up to her policy shortcomings and provide leadership, as she defines it, which is to admit she was wrong. When she finds that humility, it will be greatly appreciated.

To contact the writer: omahapoliticsblog@gmail.com