Thursday, November 6, 2008

Religion comes into play for some voters

By Jillian Whitney

Throughout history there is example after example of different political candidates being placed under scrutiny based on their religious beliefs. So it’s no surprise, looking to this U.S. presidential election, that the candidates’ religious beliefs have played an important role.

With such a diverse set of candidates the controversial issues of a candidate’s beliefs about religion and spirituality has already been dissected in this year's campaign. The media buzzed over Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who was removed from Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee in March for controversial sermons he delivered.

The press also analyzed for days on end the YouTube video showing vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin declaring the war in Iraq to be "God's will.” Religion and faith came up again in August when McCain and Obama met at evangelist leader Rick Warren's church for an electoral forum.

In every election in every political office a candidate’s religious beliefs will have some sort of influence on the voter. The question is just how much do a candidate’s religious views truly affect a person’s choice on who to vote for? The religious vote is a very real factor and has played a pivotal role in presidential elections. When polled by the Pew Research Center, 71 percent of Americans claimed to believe in God while 57percent say spirituality is an important and crucial part of their daily lives.

Despite the fact Americans like to claim to belong to one of the world's most religious free, modern nations, a majority of citizens still say religion should stay out of politics, according to an August poll from the Pew Research Center.

The research done this year by the poll shows a shift in the attitudes of conservative voters. Four years ago 70 percent of conservatives said faith should be involved in politics. This year, though, 50 percent now say religion and politics should be separate entities.

The nation’s split in opinions on this controversial subject becomes evident even when polling college students. Cassandra Nielsen, a UNO sophomore, said the candidate’s religious views had no influence on her vote in this or any election.

“Personally, I don’t think a candidate’s religious beliefs should influence my vote because I believe in the separation of church and state. I definitely don’t think a presidential candidate’s personal religious preferences should in any way affect their governing decisions,” Nielsen said.

Cammi Krueger, a senior at UNO, holds the exact opposite opinion regarding religion and her vote.

“A candidate’s religious beliefs affect my vote because religion affects everything. Whether someone wants it to or not, a candidate’s beliefs and morals are always at the back of their mind. I mean look at every staple political issue; abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, ect…someone’s opinion on these issues all revert back to their morals, their beliefs, their religion,” Krueger said.

Church leaders in the community have a difficult time wading through this topic on their own. Though spirituality is important to him, Rodd White, a deacon at Candlewood Community Church, said it’s not the only issue he looks at when considering who to vote for.

“I believe that the candidates need to have a strong set of morals and values but just because a candidate claims to be a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean he or she has my vote,” White said.

Too often a candidate misuses the religious vote and misrepresents their beliefs, White said.

“It’s sometimes hard to even really know for sure what a candidate believes now a day. Being religious almost is just being used by the candidates to get more votes,” White said.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Young professionals oppose Initiative 424

By Jesse Kuhnle

Members of Omaha’s Young Professionals Council, as well as members from other Omaha organizations, met Wednesday at the Magnolia Hotel to voice opposition against Initiative 424.

Initiative 424 would amend Nebraska’s state constitution and ban affirmative action. The initiative would end discrimination or preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

“This piece of legislation is one of the most disgusting damn things ever brought into Nebraska,” said Dick Holland, philanthropist and chairman of the Building Bright Futures board. “Everyone in this room has in some way benefited from affirmative action.”

The Nebraska Civil Rights Initiative Web site said the fear is Initiative 424 would threaten academic and college scholarships, hamper college recruitment and setback gains made in student and faculty diversity. Funding for certain health programs such as women’s health initiatives would also be in jeopardy. The NCRI Web site also said the initiative would not end certain affirmative action programs.

Opponents to the initiative cite the use of “deceptive language” as a way to attract voters who are unaware of 424’s full impact. “A lot of people think that it’s actually to make quotas legal, things like that, but we don’t even have quotas in Nebraska,” Kirsten Case-Penrod, director of the Young Professionals Council, said. “It’s an attempt to change the constitution that shouldn’t be taken lightly.”

Diversity was a theme throughout the night as various speakers mentioned the importance of providing an equal chance for everyone. “When all Nebraskans have a chance to succeed, all Nebraskans benefit,” Danielle Nantkes of Nebraskans United said.

The diversity of the Nebraskan workforce is one area that could be affected by the passing of Initiative 424. “In order to compete in this global market place we have to use the resources that we have, and that’s the diversity of our people,” Omaha City Councilman Jim Suttle said.

Paul Bryant of Wesley House said diversity is a key to continued growth and success in Omaha. Bryant cited Gallup studies offering proof that “diverse teams win more.” Bryant also pointed to the effect diversity will have in the presidential election, where America will elect either its first African-American president or its first female vice president.

Supporters of Initiative 424 said poverty is more important to consider then race and the initiative would not “prohibit or alter affirmative action that identify socio-economic conditions as a factor in determining program status,” according to the NCRI Web site.

Voters in West Omaha choose their candidates for a variety of reasons

By Jonathan Fritz

The Faithful Shepherd Presbyterian church played host a wide array of voters from the 1st and 2nd Precincts of the 6th Ward on Tuesday.

The presidential race weighed heavily on the minds of voters as the doors opened at 8 a.m. Each voter had a different reason for casting his or her ballot.

Dave Davis, a small business owner from Omaha, chose Republican candidate John McCain as his choice for president. Democratic candidate Barack Obama would raise taxes on his company and cause him to lose business, Davis said. In regards to the issues the Senate and House raises, Davis said he “voted a straight ticket.”

A newcomer to Omaha, Jason Bebout registered to vote in Omaha shortly before the election. He voted for McCain because he is honorable and will stick to his word. Obama “changes with the wind,” Bebout said.

Bebout is against gun control and sides with McCain on the necessity of finishing the job in Iraq. “Unfortunately,” Bebout said, “if I was a betting man, I would say Obama will win.”

Not all voters in West Omaha believe John McCain is the man for the job. Anne Tillotson, a registered Republican voted for Obama. Tillotson said she chooses a candidate on the issues, not because of the party.

She is a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose and said Obama’s stance on issues is in line with hers. Tillotson, who strongly agrees with Obama’s drive to enlist the youth of America, said, “If you don’t go out and vote, you don’t have the right to complain about where your tax money goes.”

Education, energy fuel Terry’s campaign

By Heather Nasif

Shortly after 8 p.m. several men, including former Mayor Hal Daub, clustered around a small TV to watch the first wave of results come in. Cheers erupted as early reports had Rep. Lee Terry Jr., R-Neb., taking 52 percent of the vote.

The Firefighters Union Hall at 60th Street and Grover Street, site of Lee Terry’s election night party, is packed tight with volunteers, supporters and multi-colored balloons.

The party is the end to months of careful campaigning and focused strategy. The Terry campaign had an unprecedented mix of factors that significantly changed the face of the campaign, including younger voters turning out in record numbers and the worst economy in decades.

Terry, like many other republicans around the nation, also had to fight against the extremely low polling numbers of President Bush. Senior economic advisor Richard Carter said it has been an additional challenge this year, but they combated that by highlighting Terry’s accomplishments and keeping the campaign positive.

“Lee Terry is very anti-negative campaigning,” Carter said. “Lee just wanted to focus on the issues.”

Terry showed his commitment to positive campaigning when he went to the National Republican Congressional Committee to ask that they discontinue an ad featuring Jim Esch’s arrest for driving under the influence, according to a news release sent out by Dave Brown of the Terry campaign.

Carter said the Terry campaign wanted to focus on the differences between Terry and his opponent. Carter referenced the Republican congressman’s long history of experience in Washington, highlighting Terry’s commitment to energy initiatives. According to, Terry has co-sponsored seven pieces of legislation that increases funding and support for energy independence. Energy independence is a key piece of Terry’s platform.

Carter also noted that the economic situation in Omaha has been better than the rest of the country. According to an AP piece published today on Yahoo’s web site, six in 10 voters ranked the economy as their top concern. No other major issue including Iraq, terrorism or health care were ranked as most important by more than one in 10 voters.

Terry supporter Angie Deck, a 31-year-old teacher at Underwood Hills Focus School at 9030 Western Ave, voted for Terry because she said he is an education focused representative.

“I appreciate that Lee supports education and the betterment of education in our state and the country,” she said.

Learning Community Council selected in decisive vote

By Mike Fischer

The new Douglas and Sarpy County Learning Community will be responsible for setting the standards as well as organizing the Learning Community Council.

Twelve of the 18 members on the council were selected in tonight’s election, and the remaining six will be selected by the council from current school boards, one from each Learning Community Districts.

The Learning Community Coordinating Council was selected by limited voting. Meaning, every voter selected one candidate, but the top two candidates will sit on the council.

The top candidate from each district was decisive. Ernie Chambers received more than 50 percent of the 2nd District’s vote. The 2nd district is mainly North Omaha east of 60th street. Chambers was a state legislature, and was an active proponent of the learning community there.

Rick Kolowski has taken a 2,000 vote lead in the 4th district, which is Maple Street to Cornhusker Street and 217th street to 120th street.

Although the top candidate from most districts is clear, the second candidate is not as obvious. With just over half the votes counted, many districts have two or more candidates within a few hundred votes of each other for second place.

Southwest Sarpy County did not get a representative on the council. The 6th district winners are from La Vista and Elkhorn.

Jim Thompson, of La Vista, was the top candidate from the 6th district. Thompson was not worried about leaving out the areas of southwest Sarpy County.

“I know the superintendent, Dr.[Kevin] Riley, in Gretna very well, as well as many of the school board members in Springfield and Papillion-La Vista,” Thompson said.

In Sarpy County’s only other district, the 5th district, Paul Hartnett has secured second place, and will be Sarpy County’s only other elected member to the council.

With Omaha Public School’s district in five of the six districts, the public’s concern has been a lack of representation by smaller districts, and overwhelming control by OPS’ interests.

Thompson brings 21 years of education experience to the table, and has worked with many of the coordinating council members, including Ernie Chambers.

“All have good reputations. The majority of people in there will be looking at the big picture,” Thompson said. “We have to look out for the kids; it doesn’t matter where they are from.”

Although Sarpy County has only two elected members to the council, it’s possible the number of representatives could grow to four, if the appointments from the 5th and 6th districts are selected from Sarpy County school boards.

“Most of them [council members] care about their own districts,” Thompson said, “but they also care about things across the two counties.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Young Democrats gather at Downtown Hilton to celebrate election

By Jesse Kuhnle

A big smile crossed the face of Alex O’Hanlon, a UNO senior, after being asked about the presidential election.

“I am very excited,” O’Hanlon said. “The whole atmosphere down here is pretty infectious.”

A buzz filled the air at the downtown Omaha Hilton where young democrats made a noticeable presence among those celebrating Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Jim Esch. Countless t-shirts supporting Obama and Esch were accompanied by cheers of “yes we can!”

O’Hanlon, 21, was not old enough to vote in the 2004 presidential election and relished the opportunity to vote in this election. “Being able to vote for this first time in this election is a cool opportunity and might affect my voting down the road,” O’Hanlon said.

For Aaron Rastovski, a 23-year-old pharmacy student at UNMC, Jim Esch’s campaign kept his attention. “I’ve heard Jim Esch speak. He is a good man,” Rastovski said. “It’s going to be close. I hope he can pull it out.”

Cheers erupted as a list of states being declared for Barack Obama scrolled across the screen. Cheers grew even louder as Nebraska was declared “too close to call.” The cheers quickly turned to boos as the TV screen flashed incumbent Republican Lee Terry leading Democrat Esch. Ben Harms, a recent UNO graduate, attended the party two years ago when Esch first ran against Terry. For Harms, the improvement in the crowd size was encouraging to see, he said. “Two years ago it wasn’t quite as big of a rally for Jim Esch,” Harms said.

“Hopefully it will be a great night for Barack, a great night for Jim and we’ll be able to take this country back,” he said.Rastovski seconded the feelings. “Hopefully, it will be a great night to be a democrat.” It won’t be known immediately how big an impact that young voters had on the election, but the enthusiasm at the Hilton was undeniable, Rastovski said.

Nebraska’s flirtation with “purple” status on thin ice

By Scott Stewart

Barack Obama continues to lead in the vote count in Douglas County, according to the latest updated election results from the Douglas County Election Commission.

Obama leads McCain by 3,404 votes in Douglas County, but trails by 5,947 votes in traditionally conservative Sarpy County. Between both counties, the only two composing the Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, Obama is currently down 2,543 votes. Not all of Sarpy County, though, is included in the 2nd District, so it’s unknown whether Obama still maintains an edge in the district.

If Obama wins the race in the 2nd Congressional District, history will be made as Nebraska would split its electoral votes, awarding one of its five electoral votes to Obama. The split would turn Nebraska purple on electoral maps, which traditionally denote Democratic candidates by blue and Republican candidates by red.

Third-party candidates have had a meager showing so far in the Douglas County election results. Nebraska party candidate Chuck Baldwin has 0.2 percent of the vote with 264 votes cast. Green party candidate Cynthia McKinney has 0.1 percent with 163 votes. Libertarian party candidate Bob Barr has 0.3 percent with 508 votes. Independent candidate Ralph Nader has 0.5 percent with 823 votes.

Obama isn’t the only Democratic candidate with hope to win the 2nd District. Congressional candidate Jim Esch, who is challenging incumbent Republican Lee Terry Jr., has dropped behind both counties.

Esch currently trails Terry by 2,325 votes in Douglas County, with 78,290 votes for Terry and 75,965 votes for Esch. Terry has expanded his lead in Sarpy County with 18,886 votes to Esch’s 13,673. Overall, Terry leads the race by 5,213 votes.

The Party Continues

By Meagan Phenix

Ponca Hills Fire Station, Nov. 4 — Republican candidate Kurt Geschwender didn’t stop talking about the issues when it was announced that he was trailing Democrat Tanya Cook in the race for District 13 state senator.

In fact, the energized atmosphere at the legislative hopeful’s party never died down.

Geschwender had high hopes for Nebraska, and had decided to run because he felt so strongly about property taxes. When his own property was re-evaluated at triple the land value, he decided it was time to make a change.

Running for the legislature, though, turned out to be more complicated than he thought.

“You think you know the system, but it’s like taking it straight from the fire hose,” Geschwender said.

His plan for Nebraska focused on making the government more accountable and transparent, which “is how it is supposed to work,” Geschwender said.

Another key issue was education. Geschwender’s plan would include raising teachers’ salaries by 10 percent by reallocating resources instead of raising taxes. “The money’s not going where it needs to go.”

He would also support legislation to funnel more money for first responders in emergencies, in order to better reduce gang violence.

“I’m a big law enforcement guy,” Geschwender said. “We can’t put up with gangs.”

Unfortunately for Geschwender, as of 8:49 p.m., he was down 2,264 votes to Tanya Cook’s 3,132.

Omahans vote for various reasons

By Andrea Barbe

Just a few blocks southeast of the UNO campus, young voters turned up in record numbers to cast their ballot in the 2008 election.

Central Presbyterian Church, located on 726 S. 55th St., saw an increase of voters under the age of 30 this year, said a voting staffer.

“This is my first time voting,” said UNO freshman Gage Maul. “My parents influenced me a lot to vote.”

Others, like 28-year-old Omaha Public Schools teacher Aaron Boloi, are seasoned veterans come election time.

“I’ve voted in every election since turning 18,” Boldi said.

“America is coming to a turning point where if we don’t make the right choice, there’s going to be irrefutable damage.”

Opinion separates youth voters dramatically across the board.

“I’m voting for McCain mostly because of foreign policy,” Maul said. “I don’t think it’s really smart for Obama wanting to sit down and talk to terrorist leaders.”

“I think it’s important to kind of wrap things up the right way and not just cut things off,” he said. “We need to have a solid military and fix things slowly but not change things drastically.”

UNO alumnus Katie Kepler, 25, disagrees.

“I’m voting for Obama. He’s the change that I’ve been hoping for the past eight years,” she said.

“His tax relief stance is the most important issue for me. I’m young and I get taxed to death. I can barely make end’s meet, because I just graduated from UNO with my master’s degree and with student loans, it is unreal.”

While some choose a presidential candidate from the two-party system, others support the third party nominee as a way to shake things up in Nebraska.

“I’m going to be voting for Nader, because he’s a crotchy, old white man,” Boldi said. “I like how pissed off he is about everything. I’m going to vote for Nader just because the country needs third party candidates. The two party system is a joke. It probably won’t do much, but I’m voicing my discontent with my vote today.

Although Boldi acknowledges Ralph Nader’s chance at winning this election is slim to none, he said Obama will be a nice change.

“Actually, I support Obama, but he has almost no chance in the Electoral College here. Is Barack going to be a hero who’s going to save everything? No. But it’s got to start somewhere. Change has to be made so hopefully something will get going.”

Douglas County possibly looking to turn Nebraska purple

By Scott Stewart

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is leading Republican rival John McCain in partial election results released by the Douglas County Election Commission and Nebraska secretary of state.

Obama leads McCain by 6,282 votes in Douglas County but trails by 1,896 votes in traditionally conservative Sarpy County. Between both counties, the only two composing the 2nd Congressional District, Obama is up by 4,386 votes.

If Obama wins the race in the 2nd Congressional District, history will be made as Nebraska would split its electoral votes, awarding one of its five electoral votes to Obama. The split would turn Nebraska “purple” on electoral maps, which traditionally denote Democratic candidates by blue and Republican candidates by red.

Obama isn’t the only Democratic candidate with hope to win the 2nd District. Congressional candidate Jim Esch, who is challenging incumbent Republican Lee Terry, holds a slim lead in both counties.

Esch leads by 1,952 votes in Douglas County, with 64,963 votes to 63,011 votes. Terry has gained the lead in

Sarpy County with an even 10,000 votes to Esch’s 8,824. Overall, Esch leads the race by only 776 votes.

In Lancaster County, which includes the city of Lincoln, Obama is up 7,598 votes, with 47,669 votes for Obama and 40,071 votes to McCain.

Obama Elected President

ALERT -- MSNBC has called the presidential election for Senator Barack Obama. The Democrat will be the nation's first African American president. The senator from Illinois plans a speech to a celebrating crowd in Chicago's Grant Park.

UNO Republicans hope for party sweep

By Kayla Laird

As the electoral votes poured in to the media, the UNO Republicans were eagerly awaiting the results at the Jo McCain office in Council Bluffs.

Not only were they hoping for Sen. John McCain to win the presidency, but they also hoped for a Lee Terry victory in what had become a much-heated and unusually close battle with opponent Jim Esch.

UNO Republicans, as well as the nation, have recognized the importance in winning the 2nd District electoral vote. Nebraska’s Douglas County had the attention of the entire nation, after being named second among the 25 most important counties to watch on

This is because Nebraska is one of only two states that award an electoral vote to the winner of each congressional district instead of awarding them all to the statewide vote winner. In a presidential race expected to be close, the 2nd District could be the deciding factor.

Dayton Headlee, an active member of the UNO Republicans and the student government, said he expected Nebraska to heavily factor into the results of the national election.

"Douglas County now has a higher majority of registered Democrats, but Republicans have always turned out in higher voting numbers,” Headlee said.

With many issues facing nominees, the economy may be the most important, Headlee said. The UNO Republicans are pushing for a president and U.S. representative with experience who can create a prosperous America.

They think McCain and Rep. Terry can provide that.

Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign focus has been on young voters and minorities. “Young people have definitely been a base for Obama,” Headlee said. “He’s seen as cool, popular, charismatic and a good speaker. It’s an easy bandwagon to follow.”

Latest Photos

OMAHA, Neb -- Patrons gathered at Old Chicago, 78th and Cass St., tonight to watch election returns.

At 9 p.m. Senator Obama was inching closer what would be an historic victory over Senator McCain.

Ryan Kronschnabel and Margie Sturgeon relaying recent Douglas county totals to one another
outside the Omaha News newsroom

At 9:45 p.m., MSNBC reported that Senator Obama has a chance to win one electoral vote in Nebraska because of heavy voting for him in Douglas County.

Attacks not approved by Terry

By Andrea Ciurej

(This article represents the opinions of the author, not the views of the UNO School of Communication)

Rep. Lee Terry Jr., R-Neb., opposes the use of personal attacks.

The National Republican Congressional Committee released a commercial that cited Democratic candidate Jim Esch’s drunk driving conviction from February 2001, but Terry Jr. didn’t authorize the contents provided by the commercial.

The commercial argued that Esch “used bad judgment when he endangered our families by driving under the influence of alcohol.”

Lee Terry Sr. said that it’s illegal for his son to even use this information and they weren’t going to use it.

While the NRCC ran the Esch ad, Esch ran an inaccurate campaign ad that stated the younger Terry “voted against extending healthcare coverage for veterans” and he “voted to cut veterans healthcare benefits by $6 billion.”

The campaign released a statement by Gen. Roger Lempke of the Nebraska National Guard that said Terry was in favor of veteran benefits.

“He has always shown interest and commitment to veteran issues, particularly those of the National Guard reserve,” Lempke said.

The elder Terry hasn’t been impressed with the Esch campaign.
“I’m upset with what I’ve seen,” he said.

In the final hours before the election, both campaigns will keep up with their advertisements, but the constant jabs make for a cutthroat campaign.

“It’s good politics,” he said.