The Decline And Fall Of Jeff Fortenberry
When Jeff Fortenberry first announced his bid for CD01 in 2004, he was seen as a heavy underdog. At the time, he was a former one term member of the Lincoln City Council and had virtually no name recognition outside of Lancaster County. Speaker of the Legislature Curt Bromm and rancher Greg Ruehle were perceived to be the early favorites. As it turned out, Bromm and Ruehle repelled the voters with their attacks on each other and they selected Fortenberry as the nominee.
In the 2004 cycle, Fortenberry went on to defeat then State Senator Matt Connealy 54% to 43% in the general election. Two years later during a Democratic wave election, Fortenberry turned back a serious challenge from former Lieutenant Governor Maxine Moul by a 58% to 42% margin. The CD01 incumbent didn’t face a serious challenge for his seat again until the 2018 Democratic landslide.
Before the 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 office holder (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.”
During that run against Fortenberry in 2013–14, I perceived him as an ineffectual and extremely conservative party line member of the House GOP caucus. Nonetheless, I saw the CD01 House member as a benign figure and there was nothing personal in my 2013–14 challenge to Fortenberry — it was strictly based upon the issues. When I called Fortenberry on election night 2014, he couldn’t have been more gracious or nice. We had a very pleasant ten minute conversation about our families, the campaign and our mutual love for our country and state.
Subsequently, something changed with Fortenberry. During the 2016 election cycle, Fortenberry held his first fundraiser where he received foreign campaign cash. He did this even though he had been warned about it before hand by his staff and was a shoo in for re-election.
After his 2016 win over Dr. Dan Wik, the voters began to pay more attention to Fortenberry when he backed the infamous Trump Care bill. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, this legislation would’ve taken away insurance from 23 million people and gutted pre-existing condition protections. Fortenberry even voted with his fellow GOP House members to exempt himself from Trump Care. This failed attempt to gut Obama Care most likely cost the GOP control of the House in 2018.
Fortenberry’s support for Trump Care angered many of his constituents. I attended two town hall meetings in 2017 in which Fortenberry was arrogant, pompous and dismissive of his constituents who would get hurt by losing insurance. Several times, the CD01 incumbent threatened to end the meeting and walk out of the room rather than deal with his constituents’ legitimate concerns.
Fortenberry’s overweening arrogance continued to grow during the 2018 election cycle, in which he abused his power as a member of Congress. He called the police on his opponents after one of them altered one of his campaign yard signs. Subsequently, Fortenberry didn’t even have the courage to show up in court to testify. What’s more, Fortenberry, tried to get a professor fired for “liking” a Facebook post that was critical of him.
This was a disturbing incident because Fortenberry used his office in an attempt to punish his political opponents. It was a gross abuse of power and an effort to intimidate his 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.)
Fortenberry’s attempt to jail and intimidate his opponents indicated the man’s hubris and belief he would never face any accountability for his actions. It was this sense of privilege and entitlement that led Fortenberry getting convicted on multiple felony counts for lying to the FBI about his illegal campaign contributions. Due to his long tenure in Washington, he no longer believed the rules applied to him.
Now that Fortenberry has resigned from Congress, it sets up a special election in late June or early July and a general election on November 8. The executive committees of the respective parties will select their nominees for the special election. I predict those nominees will be Patty Pansing Brooks and Mike Flood. The winner of that special election will serve out the remainder of Fortenberry’s term.
The May 10 primary will decide the nominees for the general election on November 8. The winner of that contest will hold the CD01 seat between 2023 and 2025.
Patty will stand up for working families and seniors. She will protect our health care and pensions. As Pansing-Brooks said: “We need health care for all, access to affordable child care, living wages for all workers,” she said. “This includes support for development, for enhanced infrastructure, educational opportunities and economic development for our native people through health care.”
Patty has worked across the aisle with Republican senators on numerous issues. She has worked to expand children’s rights in the juvenile justice system, and passed legislation that reduces the school-to-prison pipeline by reorienting the purpose of peacekeeping officers. Patty tweeted: “Our kids are our future, and they deserve the opportunity to learn and thrive.”
If you want different results out of Washington, you have to vote for different people. Vote for Patty Pansing Brooks for a change!