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Why it’s incumbent on journalists to be fair

We all know incumbents have like a 90+ percent chance of getting re-elected. Today’s paper offers an example of why.

Mayor Chris Beutler is quoted in a story about Sen. Steve Lathrop’s bill reforming the CIR — or more accurately, the state laws dictating how public employees’ salaries are set. (The CIR has become a bogeyman, when all it is is a bunch of gubernatorial appointees carrying out the law as best they can. Don’t like the law? Change it.)

So anyway, by my count, this is the third story in which Beutler has sung the praises of the legislation proffered by his fellow Democrat (ah, yes, of course the story doesn’t mention party affiliation though, does it?). You may recall that at the same time as the news came out that a city union had negotiated 7.5 percent pay raises (retroactive to last fall, since they were the last union to come to a deal), the story was mixed in with the first details about Lathrop’s proposal.

It smacked of political maneuvering to me: The news of yet another huge pay raise for city employees was dilluted, maybe even overshadowed by, Lathrop’s long-awaited bill. I’m telling you, these people are good at packaging and shaping and controlling the message.

As if that weren’t enough, on the day before the primary election, the mayor shows up at a pre-council meeting to lay out more details of Lathrop’s bill. His comments, and some of the council members’, gets media coverage — even though it has always been Lincoln Journal Star policy NOT to have any more campaign coverage on Election Day. But you see, this wasn’t clearly campaign coverage. So evidently, it passed muster. And the mayor and some incumbents were quoted giving their take on the bill, on Election Day.

By the way, did any of you see anything in the paper on Election Day reminding people that it was indeed Election Day? I didn’t. Don’t know what happened there.

And now, today’s coverage of the legislative hearing included a comment from Beutler calling the bill “a very meaningful piece of legislation” and “real reform.” Many conservatives see it differently, and Beutler’s opponent, Republican Tammy Buffington, tried to testify at the hearing and didn’t get a chance, but also put out a press release yesterday with her take on the bill. Did it make the story? Nope. It may show up deep within the bowels of the paper eventually — since the paper tries to print most campaign press releases — but Beutler made the local section front.

This is just one example of how difficult it is for a challenger to compete with the weekly press conferences (such as those Beutler has year-round) and nonstop coverage an incumbent gets. So in the interest of fairness, here are the remarks Buffington made at the hearing:

Taxpayers are here today because you, Mr. Chairman and the members of this committee have held Nebraska taxpayers hostage in not making any helpful changes or improvement to this CIR law. Our cities are struggling with paying their employees and our schools are running out of money for our children because they are bound by the CIR. How is this fair? You are picking winners and losers as Nebraska goes broke. If there was a reasonable change in this CIR law, we would be able to align wages and benefits of our public employees with that of the private sector.

I would ask this committee to protect the limited tax dollars of this state and give the people substantive change to the CIR legislation. The people and their elected officials are asking for “meaningful and significant” reform yet this committee has NOT listened to the people. That is why the CIR is wrong! The CIR is not an elected body. Historically, the original statue was never really debated on the floor of the Unicameral. The people have been left completely out of the process. Their voices have not been heard!

· LB 397 subjects private business to intrusive subpoenas

· LB 397 opens the door to mandatory collective bargaining

· LB 397 rewards failing teachers

· LB 397 does not cut spending give local government the ability to control their own budgets

LB 397 is neither significant or meaningful. The Business and Labor Committee has failed with this bill! On behalf of the people of Lincoln and all of Nebraska, please apply meaningful and significant reform to this bill. “

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