In America, there is a lack of faith in elected officials due in part to the frequency with which politicians appear to be advancing their own interests above the common good. Yet, the hyper-partisan system results in millions of people voting for "their" candidate regardless of merit or ethics or anything resembling a reliable gauge of leadership. It speaks to the inner FDR in all of us. Roosevelt, when asked about ruthless Nicaraguan President Anastasio Somoza Garcia, famously replied, “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”
In Nebraska, the “social backlash” described by Thomas Frank in What’s The Matter With Kansas? is playing out before Nebraskans' eyes as they are being asked to choose between an aging leader who was once a favorite to become President and a State Senator, Deb Fischer, who has engaged in some brutally unethical behavior of late.
Julie Driscoll breaks it down at Freak Out Nation:
The back story (and this is an awful story): Like many of us whose grandparents farmed, owned land, and lived their lives with sheer love of the land and pride of ownership, Les and Betty Kime’s grandparents, beginning in the late 1890′s, developed the Snake River Falls Ranch, beautiful land which surrounds the Snake River and includes the largest waterfall in all of Nebraska. Republican Senator Deb Fischer and her husband, Bruce, operate a cattle ranch near the Kimes, and – as Nebraska neighbors are wont to do – the Kimes generously allowed the Fischers to graze their cattle on a part of their land near the Snake River and next to the McKelvie National Forest. Nice picture, yes? Neighbors helping neighbors, cattle grazing placidly on beautiful land, with access to water and in the shadow of the picturesque forest. But above that peaceful optic, a dark cloud of conflict was heading toward Les and Betty Kime, in the form of Deb Fischer and her husband.Anybody with a pulse can understand the idea that the land is valuable but not as valuable as family tradition. Deb Fischer, though, turned to the Nebraska legal doctrine of “adverse possession” to declare the land that her cattle were being allowed to graze upon freely (as a favor) was hers. Adverse possession is basically squatter's rights, only Fischer tried to use it for acres of someone's personal history, not an apartment in Brooklyn.
The backstory is damning despite the fact that the courts sided with the Klimes 14 years ago and prevented the land grab from taking place. But Fischer's most recent actions are even worse.
The Klimes passed away and left their beautiful land to the Nebraska Game and Parks Department. They hoped it could become a park. Not so fast! Deb Fischer decided to use her position in the State Senate to prevent the Klimes' dreams from coming true:
The Nebraska Game and Parks Department turned to the Nebraska Environmental Trust for funding – and it was then that Deb Fischer made her move, in a last-ditch effort to acquire land that she had attempted to literally steal from an elderly couple a decade and a half earlier. Deb Fischer decides to introduce legislation in Nebraska to strip the Nebraska Environmental Trust of more than half of its revenue, Bill LB229. She pushed it through, and it passed last year. End result: No bucks, no Klime land deal. And something else: No disclosure.Once discovered, this action drew the ire of Fischer's peers in the legislature. In a press conference, former State Senator Tom White said,
Deb Fischer introduced this legislation without disclosing her conflict of interest, her own personal end game. Deb Fischer introduced this legislation without disclosing her history of attempting to extort the Kime land through “adverse possession”. Deb Fischer pushed this legislation through in a manner that reeks of bullying, corruption, personal greed and deceit.
“There is a basic principle in Nebraska politics, not always followed by the rest of the country but almost always followed here and that is you do not use a public office to advance a private interest . . . When you have a bill that affects a private interest, then you have an obligation to tell your fellow legislators what that interest is. Deb Fischer did not do that with regard to Snake Falls.”
Bob Kerrey has his flaws, but they aren’t the kind that Fischer has been displaying. Regardless, she is likely to win because in Nebraska Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly three to one. The Kerrey campaign has turned the land grab debacle into a talking point through a new wave of ads and a website called FischerLandGrab.com, but the numbers are swinging very far left.
The best predictor of what a person will do with new found power is what they have done with power in the past. In a sane world, Fischer's unethical behavior would disqualify her as a serious candidate. But current polls show that Deb Fischer is leading the elder statesman Bob Kerrey by a margin of 56 to 40.
So goes Nebraska, so goes the nation.