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April 14, 2011

14

Why it’s incumbent on journalists to be fair

by Deena Winter

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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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Publius
    Apr 14 2011

    Thanks for pointing these things out. And thanks for posting the challenger’s statement.

    Reply
  2. Jane H Kinsey
    Apr 14 2011

    Of course, LJS is biased as noted in my oped letter. They have to be in alignment with the powers to be so they can stay in business. They are on the fringe of bankruptcy and don’t need negativism from the wealthy power brokers. The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, Chairman of Douglas County Commissioners , G.I. Mayor all testified that LB 397 be changed or
    defeated. Yet, the Mayor of Lincoln testified for it. When are the citizens going to realize that he does not represent the taxpayers of Lincoln?

    Reply
  3. Gene
    Apr 14 2011

    Did anyone else notice that Tammy Buffington’s points are really similar to the Platte Institute’s report? Like, the word-for-word kind of similar?

    Also, these are either the remarks that Tammy prepared for the hearing where she “tried to testify at the hearing and didn’t get a chance” or they are “the remarks Buffington made at the hearing.” I remember when Mark Fahelson said that she would march right up the capitol steps and demand real change. Good to see that’s working out well.

    Reply
  4. Kris
    Apr 14 2011

    Unfortunately Ms. Buffington did not have the opportunity to actually testify. There was virtually NO time given to those with opposing views. What time was given was taken up by Senator Haar badgering, and I do mean badgering, David Nabity of the Omaha Business Alliance. 2 hours and 15 minutes and no time to hear from concerned citizens. Senator Lathrop really had no interest in hearing from anyone opposed to his grand plan. It was not a public hearing it was a dog and pony show. Sad.

    Reply
    • Gene
      Apr 14 2011

      What’s his grand plan? Would you like to enlighten us?

      Reply
  5. ej
    Apr 14 2011

    By the same token, Buffington’s attempt to testify was nothing but political maneuvering. She wouldn’t have been there had she not been running for mayor. And then, she can’t even come up with an original statement, so she repeats the Platte Institute’s talking points. Personally, I think the CIR is a crock and should be eliminated. Beutler’s wrong on this. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I ever would vote for Beutler, but Buffington as mayor simply is scary. Not to sound mean. I’m sure Ms. Buffington is well-intentioned. But shame on the Republicans for not finding a candidate.

    Reply
  6. Roberta
    Apr 14 2011

    Well, maybe it’s time for a write- in candidate. Deena you up for that? Make the Mayor spend some money out of his war chest, dilute or reduce it so he has less to run for Governor.

    Side note: Where is it written (in law) that only a republican and a democrat can advance from the primary?

    Reply
  7. Kris
    Apr 14 2011

    Gene: Sen. Lathrop’s plan, at least for the public hearing, was to hear only from those who supported his bill and amendment. I can say that because I was there. This was not the typical set up or ground rules for a public hearing. Even though he ‘graciously’ got extensions from Speaker Flood to delay start of the afternoon general session to hear more testifiers, there was no interest in hearing them. Those in support went first, including Senator Lathrop himself. These folks were followed by those who were neutral. Then those opposed were invited to speak, at an hour long past the scheduled end time for the hearing.

    Reply
  8. good luck
    Apr 14 2011

    Thanks for a story that’s not one-sided.

    Reply
  9. Jane H Kinsey
    Apr 15 2011

    The rumor is that Senator Lathrop wants to run for governor and has lots of donations from labor. In attending his two hearings, I can say he does not conduct his hearings fairly.

    Reply
  10. Jane H Kinsey
    Apr 15 2011

    Tammie Buffington is better than Beutler any time. Beutler thinks it is all right to have debt which the last three Democrat mayors have run up. Johanns had a surplus. The day of reckoning is coming to Lincoln and I hope for it sooner than later.

    Reply
    • Gene
      Apr 15 2011

      Jane, do you like the way the 48th and O intersection is now or the way it was after Husker Auto moved out?

      Reply
  11. Andrew
    Apr 18 2011

    “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.”

    Yes, I was astounded. I had to drive by a polling place to make sure it was Election Day! When the city paper cannot notify the citizens of that city that it is Election Day, then how far are we away from fascistic regime? OR… the collapse of that paper?

    Reply
    • ej
      Apr 18 2011

      If — after all of the coverage leading up to the election — you don’t know when Election Day is, I’m not sure you’re informed enough to vote.

      Reply

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