Fortenberry faces newcomer Harper in 1st District

2010-10-28T11:00:00Z Fortenberry faces newcomer Harper in 1st DistrictDon Walton/Lincoln Journal Star Fremont Tribune
October 28, 2010 11:00 am  • 

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry is matched this year against a political newcomer who's been on the road campaigning in eastern Nebraska's 1st District for months.

Fortenberry, a former Lincoln city councilman, is seeking his fourth term.

Ivy Harper has been conducting what she describes as "an authentic grassroots campaign," traveling from town to town, attending county fairs and community events and at times campaigning door to door.

During his six years in the House, Fortenberry has emerged as the most independent-minded Republican in Nebraska's congressional delegation, as measured by Congressional Quarterly's annual survey tracking party affiliation votes.

"I vote my conscience in accordance with careful analysis and deliberation," Fortenberry says.

"Nebraskans have elected me to exercise independent, informed judgment on matters affecting them and their families."

Harper, a Democrat, would have voted far differently than Fortenberry on key issues considered by the current Congress.

If she'd been in the House, she says, she would have voted for the health care reform law, the economic stimulus package and financial regulatory reform.

"Where would Nebraska be without the $1.7 billion it received in stimulus funding?" Harper asks.

"Americans are waking up to the fact that the health care reform bill and the stimulus package help middle class Americans and small businesses," she says.

Fortenberry says he supports "the right type of (health care) reform" incorporating measures to reduce costs, improve outcomes and protect vulnerable people.

"While the current law rightfully addresses pre-existing conditions," he says, "it also substantially shifts cost to unsustainable government spending and reduces health care liberties."

Fortenberry says he'd support more collaborative reforms that include new insurance pools for small business, the ability to purchase insurance across state lines and more use of health savings accounts.

Harper, a writer and author who wrote a biography of Bob Kerrey titled "Waltzing Matilda," says she's campaigned in all 180 towns in the district, from Abie to Yutan.

The underdog challenger says "it takes time" to build name recognition and support with that kind of low-cost, voter-by-voter campaign.

And so, Harper vows, "I will run again."

Harper bills herself as "the center pivot candidate," standing in the center of the political spectrum, ready to pivot in either direction on specific issues as she weighs the needs of Nebraska and the nation.

"We need a broader range of voices in Congress," she says.

Fortenberry says the challenge for the coming two years is to "rein in government overreach and spending, and create economic opportunity."

His focus, he says, would center on small business and agricultural entrepreneurship, strengthening national security and upholding family life and culture.

Fortenberry says he supports Obama's "important emphasis on increased energy efficiency and renewable energy development."

But, he says, "massive increases in debt through government spending and overreach have contributed to an uncertain economic climate."

Harper has been particularly outspoken in supporting the Obama administration's student loan reforms and sharply critical of "predatory student loan companies."

The reforms ended private sector origination of some government loans to college students, replacing it with a unitary system of direct government loans.

Earlier this month, a previous dispute with administrators at the University of Nebraska at Omaha created a media buzz when KLIN radio personality Coby Mach reported Harper has been banned from the UNO campus since 2007.

UNO officials and Harper disagree about some of the facts in the case.

The dispute apparently began after Harper was denied admission to UNO's master of fine arts program in writing.

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