Democratic leader and Bold Nebraska cross swords after election

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN, Neb. — The leaders of the state Democratic Party and progressive Bold Nebraska group crossed swords on social media Monday, in the wake of a devastating election for Nebraska Democrats.

GOTV: Members of a Bold Nebraska offshoot, the Cowboy and Indian Alliance, hit the streets of Omaha in November to rally voters.

Democratic Party Chairman Vince Powers questioned Jane Kleeb’s group, Bold Nebraska, for not endorsing the Democratic congressional candidate and taking credit for ousting Republican incumbent Congressman Lee Terry.

Powers questioned why Bold Nebraska endorsed Republican Jeff Fortenberry over Democrat Dennis Crawford, who opposed the Keystone XL pipeline. Bold Nebraska has organized opposition to the proposed oil pipeline in Nebraska for years.

“To see local Democrats pushing the Bold endorsement of Fortenberry – well, if they ever run for office, folks will be free to endorse their opponents,” Powers wrote.

Kleeb replied on Facebook saying Bold Nebraska isn’t a one-issue group.

“It’s never been clear to me Vince why you hate Bold so much,” Kleeb wrote. “It’s pretty silly stuff. We defend our endorsement of Rep. Fortenberry who voted twice against Terry’s fast-track KXL bills and always shows up at wind and solar conferences. He also meets with us when we are in D.C. to listen to our concerns and has a staff in Lincoln that respects voters’ concerns.”

Kleeb also took a shot at the Democratic party’s ability to mobilize supporters, writing, “I would be happy to meet with you to discuss further or even have a public debate on what it means to organize, inspire and turn out a cross-partisan group of Nebraskans since that is why we started Bold and what we are damn good at.”

Powers replied, saying he doesn’t “hate” Bold Nebraska but is going to point out when the group endorses a candidate with a “terrible record on the environment.”

“I don’t hate Bold nor do I think the endorsement of Fortenberry undoes the work they have done opposing the pipeline,” Powers told Nebraska Watchdog in an email.

Powers also disagreed with Kleeb’s claim last week that pipeline fighters ousted Terry from office. Terry has been a vocal supporter of the pipeline in Congress, but Ashford also was among 34 state lawmakers who signed a letter urging federal approval of the project.

FIGHT ON: Jane Kleeb says Bold Nebraska isn’t a one-issue organization, and defended its endorsement of Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry over Democrat Dennis Crawford.

“Pipeline fighters just gave Lee Terry the boot. Terry stood as the top cheerleader in Congress for TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline instead of standing with Nebraskans who care about their land and water, and citizens stood up and voted him out of office,” Kleeb said in a news release last week. “Big Oil should finally get the message not to mess with Nebraska’s land and water.”

But Powers wasn’t buying it.

“There was a hullabaloo by Bold about Brad (Ashford) winning the Second (Congressional District) election but the pipeline was never an issue during the campaign since both candidates supported the pipeline,” Powers wrote. “Seems if you are a one-issue organization, you should support those who are on your side, not those who vote against you.”

In its endorsement, Bold Nebraska said while Ashford “indicated some support” for the pipeline, he “showed tremendous respect and an open mind” when landowners testified before his Judiciary Committee about their eminent domain concerns.

“We believe he would never push for approval of the pipeline without a legal Nebraska route, and with the route still crossing the Sandhills and Aquifer,” they said in the endorsement.

Former left-leaning blogger Kyle Michaelis weighed in on the Powers-Kleeb clash, commenting on the thread that “If anything, looking at the undeniable, long-term challenge of rebuilding the Democratic brand statewide, the NDP has to consider Bold’s accomplishments an illustrative example and potential model for reinvigorating grassroots activism under our own banner. With as few allies as the NDP has, I really don’t understand the logic of positioning Jane Kleeb or Bold as a supposed enemy.”

Michaelis said he took Powers’ comment, warning “local Democrats” who pushed the Bold Nebraska endorsement of Fortenberry, as a threat from the Democratic Party and its chairman.

The post-election dustup fed into long-rumored tension between the party and the grassroots group that generally leans Democrat. In 2001, Kleeb said she started the organization out of frustration with the Democratic party’s sense of hopelessness.

But Powers denied there’s any friction between the two.

“Bold has been a very effective organization,” Powers told Watchdog.

Bold Nebraska had mixed results in the election. Ashford and Fortenberry were the only two of statewide endorsees who won last week, although a number of their endorsees for the Legislature, Nebraska Public Power District board and other lower seats won. Bold also supported the minimum wage ballot measure, which passed easily.

“We’ll celebrate our wins, and reflect on some tough losses,” Kleeb wrote in an email to supporters, urging anyone who feels discouraged to watch the concert video of Neil Young’s song “Stand up.” Young and Willie Nelson held a concert in rural Nebraska in support of the pipeline fighters.

“We move forward knowing our pipeline fighting spirit is now stronger than ever to push for rejection of Keystone XL,” Kleeb wrote.

Follow Deena on Twitter at @DeenaNEWatchdog

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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