No good deed goes unpunished, particularly a good deed offered to someone who views life through the lens of naked greed and ambition. Enter Nebraska Republican Senate candidate Deb Fischer, a woman without scruples, neighborly values, or a moral center. We can talk more – all day, in fact – about the reasons honest, honorable Bob Kerrey should be elected, but this story is about his opponent, Deb Fischer, and a land grab that violates pretty much every rule we’ve ever been taught about human values, honesty and compassion.
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.
Keep in mind, the Kimes didn’t ask the Fischers for anything. They had nothing to gain from their offer to the Fischers to graze their cattle on their land. In fact, as the Fischers’ cattle grazed on the Kimes’ land for free, the Kimes continued to pay taxes on that land, continued to maintain that land, and all should have been well – until the Fischers decided that being on borrowed land wasn’t netting them anything. So they repeatedly urged the Kimes to sell them the land. The 80-year-old couple, Les and Betty, said “no.” And “no” again. Graze your cattle, they said, but this is family land, and we don’t want to sell.
In Nebraska, there’s a legal doctrine called “adverse possession,” which deals with squatter’s rights to land. And the Fischers – Republican Senate candidate Deb Fischer and her equally morally bereft husband – sued the Kimes for their land under “adverse possession.” Apparently, in the Fischers’ mind, the right to graze their cattle on land that didn’t belong to them translated into a right to own that land. For no reason other than that they wanted it, and felt entitled to it. After all, with the arrogance attendant to the type of person Deb Fischer and her husband have shown themselves to be, they wanted the land and they intended to have it, regardless of who, or what, stood in their way.
Fourteen years after their hard-fought battle to regain rights to their own land, Les and Betty Kime passed away, and the heirs of Les and Betty Kime decide to sell the ranch to the Nebraska Game and Parks Department, in the hope that the beauty of the area could be enjoyed by all Nebraskans. 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 Kime land deal. And something else: No disclosure.
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.
Last week, Senators and former Senators expressed dismay, and outright ire, at Fischer’s deception in pushing LB229. Former State Senator Tom White held a press conference, saying, “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.”
White was not alone, as current members of the Nebraska legislature expressed similar pique. “It’s disappointing,” said State Senator Heath Mello, “That Deb Fischer didn’t disclose to me and
our other legislative colleagues her personal and financial stake in Snake Falls when she introduced LB229 . . . Her years of effort in trying to acquire the property should have been disclosed as we worked on the legislation. If she had, the outcome of LB229 may have been dramatically different.”
State Senator Jeremy Nordquist echoed that sentiment, noting, “State Senator Fischer should have disclosed her interest in Snake Falls Ranch to her colleagues when she introduced LB229. This simple procedural gesture would have cleared up the implication that she is not being forthcoming about her colored history with the land . . . .”
Some Senate candidates, such as Senator Bob Kerrey, put the interests of their constituents front and center. But his opponent, Deb Fischer, clearly has an eye on the Senate seat so she can advance her own special interests, her own financial interests, so she can mete out her personal vindictiveness and bully those who thwart her. We don’t need corrupt politicians; we need politicians with a moral center, a set of values that echo those we hold. We don’t need a malicious bully in Congress. We don’t need to fear our elected officials; we need to trust them. Bob Kerrey, Deb Fischer’s opponent, is a war veteran, a long-time Senator, and notorious for working with both parties to accomplish things for those who elected him.
Says Kerrey, “If you want a candidate who will follow the dictates of his political party, I am not your man. You are much more likely to find that in my opponent. For I believe that obedience to the demands of the Republican and Democratic caucuses have reduced the willingness of Senators of opposing parties to work with each other. And I believe this unwillingness is the single most important reason that so few of our most important national problems are not being solved.”
Keep people like Deb Fischer out of office, and put people like Bob Kerrey in. Think about it: The next victim could be your grandparents. Or you.