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Posts from the ‘Nebraska government’ Category


Leavenworth goes after the Don

Do those guys over at Leavenworth Street have any idea who they’re messing with?

The Don — as in, Don Walton, the esteemed, 50-plus-year veteran political reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star.

The Republicans on Leavenworth Street are ticked at Don for writing a couple of weeks ago that the Nebraska Republican Party was listed as a client of Maptitude, a company that sells software that presumably helps make gerrymandering easier on the brain — the better to buttress Democrats’ contention that Republicans played politics with district boundaries. Well. The GOP was a client… in 2001. But not now.

Once the error was pointed out to Don, he Tweeted about the mistake and changed the item in his online column. That was not enough for Leavenworth, who spanked Don for merely enlightening the electronic readers, but not informing those poor people who still just read the actual newspaper.

So the ever-affable Don tried to appease Leavenworth yet again yesterday, with a column item (third one down) clarifying that his original column was unintentionally misleading, since the GOP is not actually a client of Maptitude anymore. Leavenworth is still not exactly happy.

I remember a few months after joining the Journal Star, I learned a story of mine had not one, but two mistakes in it. That was the day I learned of the Journal Star’s rather draconian correction policy: If you made five or more mistakes within a year, you were basically put on suspension. And then if you made another mistake within three months, you were hanged by your toenails, or fired. Or something along those lines. They didn’t mention that until I made two mistakes in one day. That was not a good day.

I had never worked for a paper with such a policy, and it was a frequent source of irritation to the reporters who did not cover Rainbows and Butterflies. Like political reporters who wrote stories with all kinds of numbers in them, stories that required the reporter to actually do math, or stories that attempted to explain something like Tax Increment Financing. In addition, those same reporters were often crankers: They wrote one or two stories per day, on average, as opposed to those on the more relaxed one-column-a-week schedule.

So on top of the fact that certain reporters write a much bigger volume of words per year — thereby increasing the chance they’d make a mistake — they were covering much more complicated subjects. But no matter: The rules were the rules and they applied to everyone, uniformly. Oh, and if you made a mistake and didn’t correct it, you could be fired. Didn’t matter whether it was an error that “substantially changed the meaning of the story” (the World-Herald standard at the time — although they so rarely printed corrections we doubted that was even the threshhold). And clarifying the mistake in a subsequent column was never acceptable when I worked for the LJS.

A reporter actually told me she avoided ever using numbers in stories to avoid making a mistake. Another young, brazen reporter told me she simply did not report her mistakes — that was a risk she was willing to take (she got by with it, by the way). That was the kind of hysteria the policy fostered.

But getting back to the Don-Leavenworth fight: I am surprised Don didn’t run a correction right away, in the paper, but then I’ve seen a lot of mistakes in recent months and no corrections. So either nobody noticed, nobody cared, or nobody enforces much of a correction policy at all anymore.

More interesting to me is the back story: I was out of state when I got the same tip Don apparently got: That the Republicans were clients of Maptitude. I knew I didn’t have time to call the GOP about it, so I didn’t mess with it. A political operative tipped me off, and I’d bet a subscription to Leavenworth Street that the same guy tipped off Don. Don just made the mistake of not calling the GOP for comment, where he would have undoubtedly learned they were no longer customers. Happens to the best of us.

But then Leavenworth gave Don one final blow, with this:

And we are also very cognizant that this sort of “mistake” would not have been made against Ben Nelson. It just wouldn’t have. And if it had, it would have been corrected and retracted until we were all sick of it.

And we all know that. But every once in a while, it needs to be said.

Being a political reporter is not always fun — you make a mistake, you’ll be hanged. If not by your boss, by the bloggers.


LPS spends $275,000 lobbying lawmakers

Wow. That’s a lot of dough.

Once again, the Lincoln school district leads the pack in spending money to lobby state lawmakers, according to a recent story by the Journal Star’s new state capitol reporter, Kevin O’Hanlon (whose recent column about dumb bills I loved, by the way — LJS could use more gritty, bold reporting like that).

This is not the first time this story has been told — Lincoln’s school district has been spending a lot of money on lobbying for some time. It’s just that despite negative publicity about it, they’ve continued undeterred.

Over the past three years, LPS has spent $275,000 on lobbyists — with a staffer who lobbies plus an outside firm. That’s more than Omaha Public Schools — which has 12,000 more students and 25 more schools than Lincoln but only spent $212,000.

And only 16 out of the 253 Nebraska school districts even have lobbyists. Why do the big districts needs lobbyists? To make sure the state aid formula works in their favor, primarily. So they spend Lincolnites’ tax dollars trying to get more tax dollars out of state coffers. Small districts that can’t afford to hire lobbyists are just out of luck.

Superintendent Steve Joel told O’Hanlon it’s critical that the district have lobbyists to (no I am not making this up) help administrators read bills, take positions and line up testimony.

Sen. Bill Avery said schools would be better represented by their own superintendents, rather than paid lobbyists. He added that LPS headquarters is only about 10 minutes away from the capitol. SNAP!

The city, by the way, also spends tax dollars on lobbyists on both the state and national level. The city has hired O’Hara, Lindsay & Associates to lobby state lawmakers since 2006. The county also spent about $53,000 on lobbying last year.


Want to know how much state employees earn?

The Platte Institute has a cool new website they call Nebraska Transparency, which allows you to search for any state employee and see what their salary and retirement benefit was in 2009.

Gov. Dave Heineman, for example, makes $109,000 and gets nearly $8,000 annually in retirement benefits. Attorney General Jon Bruning earns $95,000 and gets about $7,000 in retirement funds.

You can also see how much vacation they’ve accumulated.

You can search by department, by salary range, even by vacation hours or retirement compensation range. The website is still a work in progress, which is why you can only see 2009 data for now and the University of Nebraska is not there yet.

Berk Brown of the Platte Institute says eventually, they will have city and county salaries on the website, too. It takes time to get the data from all of these entities and get it in the right format.

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