When I left my job at the Lincoln Journal Star more than a year ago, I figured I’d try my hand at something completely different from what I’ve done for two decades.
Maybe open a shabby chic store – Funky Junk, I’d call it – or do what most journalists do to make better money, go into public relations.
Maybe run for office – I certainly had learned the ropes after covering government and politicians for so long. How liberating would it be to be able to give my opinion for once?
For sure, I’d be a good mom who had warm brownies ready when the kids arrived home from school, and supper bubbling in the Crockpot every night.
Instead, I found that even when given a whole day to plan supper, I still usually started planning about 10 minutes before 6. I found myself spending most of the day reading and blogging and reporting and writing.
Just the other night I made tetrazzini, and nobody ate it.
I started a blog just for fun, mostly – I figured if I didn’t do it right away, in a year nobody would ever be able to find it. I quickly gravitated toward politics and government and one day my husband pointed out that I was basically doing my old job, except for free. In his mind, this did not make good economic sense, so I took freelance writing jobs to support my blogging habit.
I had to tear myself away from blogging to write a freelance story that paid two to three times per hour what I made at the paper. I found myself going to occasional budget meetings or public meetings on roundabouts — not because I was being paid to be there, but because I truly wanted to be there.
So after a year of contemplation and freedom and experimentation and rest, I am returning to what is clearly my passion: journalism. I have accepted a job writing for a nonprofit, online publication called Nebraska Watchdog. Nebraska Watchdog was the first of what has grown to be a national consortium of government watchdog websites funded by donations.
Its mission is to uncover and analyze the actions of state and local government and ensure good government with unbiased news reporting.
“We will investigate and inform the public about waste, fraud, abuse, ethical questions and safety concerns involving the use of taxpayer dollars,” the website says.
I will be stationed in Lincoln and write about about both local and statewide issues, and you can read my stories online.
As newspapers cut back statehouse bureaus and reporters in general, websites like this have stepped into the breach. They are the future.
Since I’ve long been a watchdog reporter who loves to dig, this is a perfect fit. I join longtime Omaha investigative reporter Joe Jordan, who has worked as a political and investigative reporter on TV and radio for 40 years in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Nebraska. He has been reporting for Nebraska Watchdog for two years now.
I appreciate all the support and encouragement you’ve given me during the past year, and I hope you will continue with me on this journey at Nebraskawatchdog.org.
To all my faithful subscribers: If you haven’t already migrated over to my new home at Nebraska Watchdog, I hope you will do so today. Last night I published a story about the real story behind the breakup of the two most active downtown developers in Lincoln right now — the same developers who are responsible for all of the private buildings that will be built near Lincoln’s future arena.
You can find my story here. And thanks for migrating with me.
Gov. Dave Heineman has called for a special legislative session — beginning Nov. 1 — to deal with the Keystone XL Pipeline, which a Canadian company wants to build from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
Somebody polled Nebraskans over the weekend to try to gauge the best strategies for influencing public opinion of the Keystone XL pipeline that a Canadian company wants to build from Canada to the Gulf Coast.
The pollster asked:
• Whether you’re registered to vote.
• Whether things in the U.S. are going in the right direction.
• Whether things in Nebraska are going in the right direction.
• What kind of feeling people have toward TransCanada, oil companies, environmental organizations, Hillary Clinton, Ben Nelson, President Barack Obama, Keystone XL Pipeline, pollution, the price of oil and food, the quality of public education, the economy and unemployment and access to affordable health care.
• Whether people support business interests, environmental concerns, economic growth and whether Ben Nelson has performed well enough to be re-elected or whether it’s time for a change.
• How much people have heard about the TransCanada pipeline, whether people favor or oppose the pipeline and how interested people are in the pipeline issue.
• Which arguments are most convincing for and against the pipeline.
I could not tell you who is doing the polling — whether it’s Bold Nebraska, TransCanada or a politician eyeing Nelson’s seat. If you have some insight, let me know.
It was front-page news today in the Journal Star: On Monday, the City Council will vote on a 30-year lease with UNL for the arena. But the lease looks pretty much like the “memorandum of understanding” that the city and UNL signed off on last year.
During the arena groundbreaking, it was somewhat alarming to see Nebraska Athletic Director and the UNL mascot missing, and even more alarming to learn the city and UNL had not yet signed a lease. So now, here it is, and it is the same deal we were told it would be before the election.
The upshot? UNL basically gets to have its men and women basketball teams play in the arena for about nothing. Sure, UNL is supposed to pay $750,000 in rent, but they get so many credits that arena program manager Dan Marvin told me long ago that it’s basically a wash for them. The credits are all turnback sales tax receipts the city receives from the sale of basketball tickets (70 percent of the state sales tax), the first dollar of all ticket surcharges on basketball tickets and $300,000 for UNL’s lost concessions revenues.
No news there.
Other nuggets in the lease include: (11164a)
• Just in case you didn’t pick up on this during the campaign, UNL “shall have no responsibility or liability for repayment of the bonds” that were sold to finance the $340 million project. “Except as otherwise expressly provided in this Agreement, the Parties recognize and agree that any Arena components or services identified in this Agreement shall be at the City’s sole cost and expense.” So no matter what, even if we slip into the second Great Depression, repayment is the city’s responsibility, not UNL’s.
• The lease says “although plans and specifications for the arena have not been completed” (really?), “there are certain components of the Arena and the Basketball Space required in order satisfy the needs of UNL.” In other words, they’re gonna build it the way UNL likes it — right down to promising to re-seal the basketball floor every summer and repainting it every five years.
• There will be a minimum of 2,000 student seats — with the location determined by a design working group comprised of city and UNL representatives — and a portion devoted to risers for students to stand on, if UNL wants them. And the risers will belong to UNL — if another event wants to use them, they’ll have to rent them from UNL.
• As expected, alcohol will not be served in the arena during UNL events. But check out this little nugget in the lease: “The city agrees to renegotiate the make-whole provision for concessions in the event UNL eliminates or modifies its restrictions on the sale of alcohol at Home Games and other UNL events held in the Arena.”
• UNL retains all gross income and revenues from sale of merchandise, UNL suites, club and floor seating, UNL ticket sales, naming rights, signage and broadcast rights or other intangible rights in connection with signage and ribbon boards and scoreboards.
• In addition to using the arena for 30 home games per basketball season (15 men’s, 15 women’s), UNL may schedule use of the arena for up to 15 non-basketball events per year (such as commencement ceremonies) without paying additional rent.
• UNL promises to try not to schedule games during state high school volleyball, basketball and wrestling tournaments.
• Somewhere on the exterior of the arena, there will be a big, fat (presumably red) “N” — in an “appropriate location mutually acceptable to the city and UNL.”
• The city intends to charge a $1 surcharge on all event tickets, but may increase that up to $3 if the money is needed.
• The city will have the right to selling naming rights for the arena, and UNL will sell naming rights for the basketball court, locker rooms and other UNL spaces.
• If the city fails to get the arena built in time for the 2013 basketball season, the city will have to pay UNL $100,000 for each of the first two games delayed, $200,000 for each game after. In addition, the city would have to provide UNL the use of Pershing Auditorium free of charge for any women’s basketball game that must be relocated or rescheduled because of the construction delay.
• No “adult-oriented” nor political advertising will be allowed during UNL events (TransCanada, we’re lookin at you) and any casino, alcohol and tobacco ads can only be digital, so they can be removed for UNL events.
Sen. Deb Fischer, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, announced some key members of her campaign team:
Rob Autry, Public Opinion Strategies/Pollster
Autry is a partner at Public Opinion Strategies, a nationally renowned Republican polling firm. POS has 20 U.S. Senators, five governors, and 70 members of Congress as clients. POS has a history of success in Nebraska, including polling for Gov. Dave Heineman, Sen. Mike Johanns, Sen. Chuck Hagel, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, Rep. Adrian Smith and Rep. Lee Terry.
Autry has managed nearly 3,000 quantitative and qualitative research projects for various Republican candidates, Republican Party organizations, ballot initiatives, trade associations and Fortune 500 companies.
Doug McAuliffe, Doug McAuliffe Strategic + Creative – Media Strategist
Doug McAullife is principal, strategist and ad maker for Doug McAuliffe Strategic + Creative. His commercials have won numerous awards and his creative expertise makes him one of the most sought after political media consultants in the country. Doug has helped win 27 U.S. Senate races, nine gubernatorial races, 15 Congressional campaigns, a presidential nomination, and a presidential re-election.
Doug served as media strategist for Mike Johanns’ successful U.S. Senate campaign and Sen. Chuck Hagel’s upset wins over Don Stenberg and Ben Nelson.
Aaron Trost, Deb Fischer for U.S. Senate – Campaign Manager
Trost will serve as campaign manager. Over the last nine years, Aaron has worked on numerous Republican campaigns as a staff member and political consultant. He recently worked as a Senior Associate for the Singularis Group, a political advertising firm. Aaron’s experience also includes managing and consulting on Sen. Jerry Moran’s successful U.S. Senate campaign and serving as a Regional Political Director for McCain-Palin 2008.
Brandon Winfrey, Winfrey and Company – PAC and National Fundraising
Winfrey will handle the campaign’s PAC and national fundraising. Since 1994, Winfrey has played an instrumental role in directing the fundraising efforts of candidates around the country. His client list includes Sen. Mike Johanns, Sen. Jerry Moran, Sen. Thad Cochran, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Rep. Adrian Smith.
“I’m very excited to announce the team of experienced professionals who will assist my efforts to run a winning U.S. Senate campaign,” Fischer said in a press release. “My campaign team, coupled with our grassroots efforts across the state, will help present my vision for common-sense, conservative leadership to the voters of Nebraska.”
This afternoon I talked to the artist who made this — we’ll call it an artistic lean-to — that is outside the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s journalism school, as he began setting up a second tent next to it as the Occupation of Lincoln expanded north from its home a couple blocks away on Centennial Mall.
The artist responsible for this art on plywood wore sideburns, aviator sunglasses and a red and white striped shirt as he began assembling a second tent next to his artsy shelter. He said his name was Troy Davis, but seemed so reluctant to divulge that information I cannot be sure of it. On the inside of the lean-to is a picture of Che Guevara, the Argentine doctor who worked to emancipate the poor and has become a ubiquitous symbol of unyielding resistance.
“I just do art to make the world a better place,” Troy said.
Also working to expand the Occupation was a young man who said his name is Charles Holm. He graduated from UNL two years ago and has struggled to parlay his degree in international studies into a job. He worked for the AFSCME (union that represents public workers) in another state for awhile but returned to Lincoln and now works as a barback (bartender’s assistant). Holm has helped organize Lincoln’s version of the Wall Street Occupation, and said there are now about 60 people on the mall — 30 to 40 of them campers willing to brave the elements. He said they have nightly meetings in their camp, but they’re thinking about moving that meeting to the capitol steps to make more of a statement.
He said many of the protesters are college students, people who work downtown and a couple of families. He said the group is trying to get more students to join the protest (hence, the creep toward campus).
They serve three square meals a day, and yes, some homeless people have been partaking in the free food. He said the protestors went to the local food bank to get blankets for the homeless and when they saw how barren the shelves were, they decided to try to help raise funds for the bank. So far, the city hasn’t hassled them about camping out on the mall.
That’s because city officials can’t find anything illegal about what they’re doing: Centennial Mall is not a park. When it was converted from a street to a mall, it remained a right-of-way, so it’s a public space with no closing hours. Mayor Chris Beutler told radio show hosts Jack & John that the camping protests are a concern, but the city can’t really do anything about it without infringing upon their free speech rights.
Beutler indicated the law “needs further refinement” — but indicated that won’t be done right now, because it would be seen as targeting this protest. One caller questioned the legality of serving three meals a day without any permits, and the mayor said he’d look into that. The caller also questioned where the protesters are, uh, relieving themselves.
To which the mayor said, “You raise pertinent issues.”
State Sen. Deb Fischer — a Republican contender for the U.S. Senate — expressed support for TransCanada’s controversial oil pipeline during a televised meeting with local officials in North Platte.
Fischer said during the meeting that she would tell people concerned about the pipeline running through the sandhills, “We build roads in the sandhills… they recover. It’s how you manage it.”
A campaign spokesman told me today Fischer supports building the Keystone XL pipeline, but hasn’t committed to the currently proposed route that goes over the Ogallala Aquifer.
Later today, Sen. Fischer released the following statement on the pipeline:
As I have stated consistently over the past three years, I share many of the concerns expressed by Nebraskans across the state regarding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. For that reason I have worked with constituents and landowners to find answers to their questions.
At this point I have received Senator Dubas’s proposed legislation and am thoroughly reviewing that bill. I have received additional communication from Senator Dubas that she is also researching questions about her proposed bill.
Today, TransCanada sent a letter to Speaker Mike Flood that offers additional safety measures for the currently proposed route. I will thoroughly review that proposal before making further comment.
New York Times does a nice job exploring the issue of whether TransCanada can legally “take” land in the United States even though it’s a foreign company and hasn’t yet gotten a permit for its oil pipeline from the State Department.
Randy Thompson — of “Stand with Randy” fame — is featured in the photo and lead of the New York Times story, because he’s one of many individuals fighting TransCanada’s use of eminent domain to take their land.
Yes, it’s quite legal for a company — even a foreign company — to come to your house one day and tell you they’re going to take some of your land to build an oil pipeline. Or an oil well, for that matter.
Don’t believe it? The Times explains the issue here.
Lincoln’s own Joel Sartore shares the life-threatening experience he had in Africa earlier this year:
Africa’s Albertine Rift – A Special Essay by Joel Sartore – National Geographic Magazine.