Fortenberry Is A Thin Skinned Bully
Before the current Trump presidency, Representative Jeff Fortenberry enjoyed a reputation as both a nice guy and a moderate. The local press treated him with kid gloves and the voters didn’t pay much attention to him. Fortenberry generally kept a low profile and tried to avoid controversy. Shortly after I announced for Congress in the fall of 2013, a prominent Democratic activist (who should have known better) told me I would have a tough race because Fortenberry “wasn’t as bad as the rest of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation.”
The reality is that Fortenberry compiled an extreme voting record before 2017 but it was barely noticed. In 2013, Fortenberry voted for the GOP government shutdown in a reckless attempt to deny health insurance coverage to 20 million Americans. That shutdown cost the American people $24 billion and 120,000 jobs. Two years later, Fortenberry voted to shutdown the Department of Homeland Security when the Mall of America in Minnesota was threatened by terrorists. On immigration, Fortenberry voted with the likes of Steve King against the Dream Act and the DACA program. Moreover, the 1st CD Congressman voted to repeal Obama Care without a replacement plan over 60 times.
Fortenberry’s extremism wasn’t really noticed by most voters until after January 20, 2017. After Trump was inaugurated, the Louisiana native voted to take away insurance from 23 million people and to gut pre-existing condition protections. He even voted to exempt himself from Trump Care! After posturing as a fiscal conservative during the Obama years, Fortenberry voted for the $2 trillion deficit funded Trump tax cuts for the wealthy and returned us to the days of $1 trillion annual deficits as far as the eye can see.
For the first time in his lengthy career in Congress, Fortenberry began to face real scrutiny from the voters after flying below the radar screen. Protesters gathered at his office and place of business. In the 2018 cycle, Jessica McClure carried Lancaster County and picked up 40% of the vote even though she was out spent by a margin of $645,000 to $77,000. It was the best showing for a Democratic nominee in CD01 since 2006.
Fortenberry has not responded well to the increased criticism his extreme record has generated. During the course of the 2018 campaign, some prankster altered a couple of Fortenberry yard signs by inserting googly eyes and some low brow humor. (The image can be seen above.)
In October 2018, UNL professor Ari Kohen “liked” this picture on his Facebook feed. Fortenberry’s office responded with rage. Long time Fortenberry chief of staff Reyn Archer contacted Kohen’s boss and demanded to speak with him over Kohen’s job status with UNL. Kohen took that as a threat to his job and said the following: “He told me they could put this out publicly that I liked vandalism, and essentially, that that would be bad for me. To have people in this position who are ready and willing to abuse their authority like this, to bully people and push people around and threaten to call down retribution over something that maybe hurt somebody’s feelings,” he said, “we’re all poorer if that’s what’s happening in this country.”
Unfortunately, the threat to Kohen’s job wasn’t the end of Fortenberry’s vindictive retaliation. Shortly before the 2018 election, Forteberry filed a complaint with the Lincoln Police Department over the two altered yard signs. This was an over the top reaction by Fortenberry. When I ran for Congress two times, I never filed a report with the police when my yard signs were presumably stolen by over zealous Fortenberry supporters.
After conducting a six month investigation into this episode, the LPD has cited a UNL professor for misdemeanor vandalism. This investigation and citation raises some serious questions that the police chief needs to answer. When was he contacted by Fortenberry or his staff? How many hours were used in this investigation? How many officers? What resources were used? Is this the LPD’s normal reaction to property crimes of less than one hundred dollars?
This is also a disturbing incident because Fortenberry is using his office to punish his political opponents. It is an abuse of power and an effort to intimidate would be critics. It turns out that Fortenberry is a thin skinned bully. (When I ran for Congress in 2014, well connected GOP insiders told me Fortenberry is indeed thin skinned and my criticism was bugging him.)
The intense backlash against Fortenberry receiving preferential treatment from the LPD has guaranteed that Fortenberry will forever be linked to this abuse of power. It could very well endanger his grip on the CD01 seat. It is reminiscent of when Lee Terry self destructed during the 2013 GOP shutdown when he said he was going to keep his paycheck. Terry said: “Dang straight. Whatever gets them good press. That’s all that it’s going to be. God bless them. But you know what? I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it.”
The 2018 election results are evidence of Fortenberry fatigue in CD01. The long time Congressman has been a back bencher and has no real accomplishments. His vengeful response to his opposition in the 2018 cycle indicates he is genuinely afraid of losing his seat. Already, there is talk that a top tier contender may take on the long time CD01 Congressman in 2020. I expect 2020 to be a good cycle for the Democrats. Trump is an historically unpopular president and the Trump/Fortenberry trade war has devastated Nebraska farmers. This is our time! Let’s repeal and replace Fortenberry!