NEGOP Tried to Capitalize on Grassroots Candidate Loss & CIR Reform Failure

Updated Editor’s Note: This is the sixth article in a series about Nebraska politics, particularly as pertains to the Nebraska Republican Party and closely connected groups and their relationship to the “tea party movement”. We recommend starting with the article “Nebraska’s Ruling Class and the Perils of (Assisted) Political Suicide” which includes links to all other articles in the series. Nebraska’s collective bargaining statutes truly cried out for reform leading into the 2011 legislative session. I will not rehash here all that we have written about this very important subject. (See the bottom of this article for a list.) If you read the past articles about this session’s activities regarding CIR / collective bargaining reform, it is readily apparent that the end result is a “cure” that promises to be worse than the “disease”. We’re working on an article which we will publish very soon that details the problems with the final version of the bill. For now, we’re focusing on some shenanigans that occurred which guaranteed that the toxic cure, referenced above, would be the result. The nonsense detailed here shows how a legitimate concern about how the CIR operates in Nebraska was leveraged by politicians to create the impression that “substantial, meaningful reform” would occur. That was all a charade that allowed Nebraska’s ruling class to pay off their union supporters, consolidate their own power, derail grassroots public support for real reform, keep Nebraska off the national map of states like Wisconsin, and gin up faux political polarization just to raise money for the Party and for the candidates and campaigns that have the Party’s rubber stamp of approval. From a political perspective, it’s very important to understand a particular power coalition that exists in Nebraska. That coalition of power includes:
  • Labor unions, both public and private (SEIU; Teacher’s unions, LEA, NSEA; Police and Fire; AFL-CIO; AFSCME; IBEW; UFCW; and others)
  • State and local government and school board lobbying groups
  • Elected officials
The union and lobbying group members of that power coalition…
  • Donate large sums of money to and organize volunteers and workers for political campaigns by supportive candidates from both political parties
  • Work to block reforms to collective bargaining statutes
  • Advocate for such government power grabs as the health care “reform” law
  • Work together to obstruct caps on government spending, at all levels, including a spending cap ballot initiative in 2006
Republicans decry the existence of this coalition in private, expressing dismay at the difficulties it presents, especially at election time. For example, GiN met with several Republican candidates during the 2010 election cycle. One candidate was very skittish when asked questions about homeschooling in Nebraska. He later explained his reluctance to respond favorably towards homeschooling, even though he himself was a homeschool graduate, because he was afraid some of the people in the room might be members of the teachers’ union. That candidate and others portrayed themselves as having to fight an uphill battle against the power coalition as led by the teachers’ union that ostensibly paid “volunteers” $20 per hour to canvass their districts prior to the election.  How credible is that claim when this is largely a state that elects Republicans at every level, except in particular Democratic strongholds in Lincoln in Omaha? The CIR legislation provided a golden opportunity to rein in the public employee union contingent of that coalition along with the lobbying groups for state and local governments and school boards. NOW A few questions - If you were a Republican – a constitutional, conservative one anyway – wouldn’t you…
  • Like to bust up this coalition of power if the opportunity arose?
  • Reduce the size and cost of government and save taxpayers money by reforming the laws?
  • Elect a conservative Republican to the position of Chairman of the legislative committee that would convene hearings about this issue?
  • Use the fact that your party has a SUPER-MAJORITY in the State Legislature to ensure solid legislation is passed?
  • Take EVERY available opportunity to point out a sham process that played fast and loose with required procedures necessary for the full and fair consideration of any piece of legislation?
  • Use national, nearly 24/7 media coverage about the issue to generate support for reform in YOUR state?
Further… If you were the State Chairman of the Republican Party – and you were again, presumably a constitutional, conservative Republican – wouldn’t you… Use your bully pulpit and e-mail list to gin up support for all of the above? BUT… I am just SOOOOO silly. It didn’t take me long to feel like this guy… Yes, how silly I was. You see, by mid-April, my mind had already been blown after witnessing over six months of useless drama play out regarding the whole subject of collective bargaining reform. Unfortunately, it seemed clear that all of the talk regarding the many grand schemes to really get some “substantive, meaningful reform” was definitely just that – TALK. By the time I received the email below, I didn’t believe much of anything I was hearing. Anyone walking through the same six month stretch, if they had a conscience and a brain, would have been outraged by the following email I received: (Note, this is a snapshot so the video will not play. And, no, I am NOT linking to it.)  
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Several things to note:

I’m on the NEGOP e-mail list and regularly receive messages, yet I had not received anything from the NEGOP about the collective bargaining issue prior to the message above. Apparently, the only time it is worth sending out an e-mail is when some genius at the NEGOP sees a fundraising opportunity.

Burke Haar was amazingly buffoonish at the hearing referenced in the message, that is undeniable. SO WHAT? Even if he hadn’t been there, all signs indicate the result would have been the same. Was the NEGOP saying that buffoonish Burke Haar was the only thing standing in the way of any actual reform? Before the session was over? Before the final bill hit the Unicameral floor?

But there was actually a specific part of this email which I found very bothersome and extremely frustrating. I decided to label the email as seen, above, load it up to my Facebook profile and put together a brief “Note”, which was a few paragraphs of text about the whole matter, tagging four other people who are my “friends”. I decided to handle the matter by Facebook, NOT by:
  • An article on this website
  • A mass email to the GiN list
  • Mass message to my “friends” list on Facebook
  • A broadcast on the GiN Facebook group
  • Any tweets
The bottom line, in other words, I used the most quiet form of media available to me other than private, direct e-mail. Because I believed I had a fairly firm grip on the facts, I was not concerned about accuracy, I merely wanted, out of courtesy, to communicate, primarily, with the person who was alluded to, but not named, in the NEGOP e-mail message. I wanted to make that contact because I knew the candidate. I knew him to be a grassroots person and not a GOP insider.  Consequently, I didn’t want to loudly broadcast information about the NEGOP email without talking to him first. Here’s what I wrote below the NEGOP e-mail image in my Facebook Note:
John Comstock was the candidate who ran against Burke Haar. He came within in just a few dozen votes of winning. He did that on his own steam and with the help of motivated supporters, and little to none from NEGOP until the 11th or 12th hour. Why not name him? “Our candidate” the email says. Really? If he’s “your candidate” and came that close, naming him would help for the next round, I would think. But maybe it’s better to keep it generic if you’re not planning on supporting that particular fellow again. But why wouldn’t you? Maybe because he IS NOT “your candidate”? “The saddest thing about this sorry episode?” the email asks. Wow…difficult to say. I can’t quite rank it, so these are in no particular order: Using an issue to raise money but doing nothing of substance about it. Only talking about an issue when you want to beat up on the other party. Using a guy now to raise money when you didn’t help him before. Not naming a guy who you are using to raise money. I could go on…
The time stamp on my Note was: Friday, April 15, 2011 at 3:39pm I don’t fancy myself so important that a Note  on my Facebook profile would be of all that much interest to anyone. But it took fewer than twenty minutes for me to receive the following reply: If this seems familiar to anyone reading our articles it’s because it is. DCRP Executive Director Patrick Bonnett came to the GiN site within a couple hours of our posting an image of an e-mail sent out by the LCGOP forwarding information about an AFP-NE event. The tone and content was curiously similar to the one from Taylor Gage, above. Our reply to him has led to the series of articles about Nebraska politics of which this one is a part. Once I received the message from Taylor Gage, I called John Comstock to let him know about my Note and the quick response I received from the NEGOP. He confirmed that my statement about “11th or 12th hour” was accurate; he had received some assistance later in the race, in the form of calls, some walkers, and some mailers had been sent out. He did not diminish that support and accepted it, but it was later in the game. John noted, however, that the NEGOP had not notified him in advance that it was going to use his race in a fundraising effort. He also noted that his wife did not appreciate the following characterization of the Comstock family:
“our candidate was broke”
Note that Mr. Gage, much like Mr. Bonnet recently, did not address much of the substance in my statement. What substance he did mention was addressed in a contradictory and nonsensical way. Chairman Fahleson’s fundraising appeal states “NEGOP efforts were dramatically underfunded”. Yet Mr. Gage’s defense of the GOP states “thousands of dollars were spent on Comstock’s race”. WHICH IS IT? WHY didn’t they name John Comstock in the message? Has he, as the parlance goes, “softened up” the district now, so the GOP can run its own hand-picked candidate? Besides all that I’ve already mentioned here, Mr. Gage’s obviously burning desire to set me straight, included a statement that is worth examining:
“The NEGOP spent thousands of dollars on Comstock’s race as did Americans for Prosperity
My note had nothing to do with Americans for Prosperity. Why would Taylor Gage defend my charge that the NEGOP did little to help John Comstock by mentioning, not only the NEGOP, but Americans for Prosperity1? Specifically, why would any contribution or assistance from Americans for Prosperity support Mr. Gage’s contention that the NEGOP helped John Comstock? What exactly is the relationship between the NEGOP and AFP-NE? (E-mail subscribers, here is a link to the video included above).
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References & Citations
  1. While we will address additional issues about AFP-NE in Nebraska politics very soon, it is a fact that there have been a number of issues raised about AFP-NE activities in recent elections in Nebraska, as reported, in part in a March 20, 2011 article in the Lincoln Journal Star.