In chronicles of a great man’s fall, it’s easy to lose sight of what elevated him to such great heights. In the case of Congressman Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska, that life of service can be summed up in four words: “Protection of human dignity.” I saw this firsthand as his director of communications and senior advisor for the past five years.
Fortenberry’s home of Lincoln, Nebraska, is also home to the largest community of Yazidis in America. At the opening of the Yazidi Cultural Center in Lincoln, Fortenberry was greeted as a savior, and rightly so. His unanimously backed Genocide Resolution created the conditions for Yazidis trapped on Iraq’s Mt. Sinjar to escape the advancing ISIS onslaught.
I was with Fortenberry when he welcomed Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad, a quietly dignified Yazidi survivor of ISIS brutality, as his guest of honor at the 2019 State of the Union. It was in part because of Murad’s confirmation of the ongoing security crisis — nearly 400,000 Yazidis remained internally displaced in de facto refugee camps years after the ISIS genocide — that Fortenberry’s Security Resolution for Northern Iraq was advanced in Congress.
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I also was present when persons stricken with the aggressive, debilitating disease of ALS visited the congressman in D.C. Mangled in body but not spirit, they profusely thanked him, in often halting speech, for driving the hope behind his groundbreaking ACT for ALS. Known as “the most popular bill in Congress,” the rousingly bipartisan measure was signed into law late last year, creating new pathways in treatment for those who’ve suffered so much.
The year before, Fortenberry’s Middle East Partnership for Peace Act was also signed into law. By creating the conditions for sustainable cultural and economic rapprochement between Israelis and Palestinians, the bill builds a foundation for peace in one of the most volatile regions in the world.
Due to Fortenberry’s premature departure from Congress, several of his brilliantly innovative bills did not make it over the finish line, including efforts to lower insulin prices for persons with diabetes, proactive upstream solutions to habitat loss for wildlife, the Chief Standing Bear National Historic Trail bill and his Care for Her Act, which provides a community of care for the journey of life — before birth, at birth, after birth. These and other creative initiatives await a future statesperson who can deftly and diplomatically carry forward the Fortenberry mantle.
As a ranking member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Fortenberry also shepherded important funding for the University of Nebraska, Offutt Air Force Base and Strategic Command, and our state’s prodigious ag producers. He was co-chair of the International Conservation Caucus and cofounder of the Congressional Nuclear Security Working Group. In these capacities and more, Fortenberry ensured that Nebraska remains a safe, healthy and prosperous place to live, work and raise a family.
The heart of work in Congress is constituent service. During the pandemic, Fortenberry transformed his multi-office operation into a full-time COVID support center, helping Nebraskans secure needed government help. It was largely because of Fortenberry’s early and persistent outreach to Nebraska bankers, the Small Business Administration and small business owners that the Cornhusker State routinely led the nation in per capita Paycheck Protection Program loans approved.
After the catastrophic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and ensuing death of 13 American service members, Fortenberry stepped up again, quietly working with neighboring nations to ensure the safe exit of Americans and Afghan allies trapped in the Taliban’s grip.
When I witness people taking perverse delight in Fortenberry’s fall, I shake my head. This is not the Nebraska way. Jeff Fortenberry got big things done for Nebraska and America. We should remember that and thank him for his extraordinary service to our state, our nation and vulnerable persons everywhere.
James Crotty was director of communications and senior advisor for Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb, who resigned effective March 31 after a federal jury convicted him of three felonies related to campaign finance violations.
OWH Midlands Voices February 2022
Natasha Hongsermeier-Graves writes: "Human beings are not inherently broken, but we are all fallible. We make mistakes. Yet there is nothing 'correctional' or “rehabilitative” about the current dehumanizing experience of incarceration."
Ashley Howard writes: "As the 20th century progressed, African Americans shifted their gaze from rural expanses to the dynamism of urban communities."
Julie Masters writes: "The question of who will care for people should the need arise requires thought and consideration, especially with the decline in the numbers of children in Nebraska, the United States and globally."
Jo Giles and Elizabeth Barajas-Román write: "Never before have Roe’s protections in Nebraska been so endangered — and never before have they been this necessary and urgent."
Dr. Alan Thorson writes: "Nebraska has many unique determinants of cancer care, including our large rural population (34%), scattered over 67 of our 93 counties. In the case of colorectal cancer, we know that variables within this distribution lead to disparities in early diagnosis with rural areas diagnosed at a later stage than some urban areas."
Julius Schaaf writes: "It will be critical to Midwestern economies to keep ethanol competitive. While electric vehicles are growing more popular with certain policymakers, ethanol will maintain a substantial share of the marketplace for decades to come."
Jed Hansen writes: " For individuals living in our smallest communities, it can be a lengthy drive to a rural hospital for a mammogram or colonoscopy. As a result, many people simply can’t make the trip. That is where exciting new tools, such as MCED tests, could help make a difference."
Dr. Arwa Nasir writes: "While many people believe a child’s academic career begins when they enter school, foundational skills for learning actually are built much earlier."
Scott R. Frakes writes: "In correctional settings, clinical treatment provides a foothold. It lays the groundwork for what needs to continue in the community. Giving individuals a proper environment for initiating that change is the best thing that we can do."
Thomas Martin asks: Is an education for freedom too much to expect for Nebraska’s youth?
Douglas Bereuter writes: "If Putin doesn’t respect the boundaries of any European nation, like Ukraine, it threatens the whole international order that has freed the European continent from international conflict since 1945."
Janelle Stevenson and Megan Lyons write: "Environmental stewardship and hazardous waste remediation are key components for long-term solutions, not Band-Aid shells and leaky liners."
The bipartisan bill includes hard infrastructure plans and addresses clean energy and broadband needs.
Matthew L. Blomstedt writes: "As we face continuing challenges from COVID, our school leaders are not only handling the day-to-day challenges of education but keeping a firm eye on the horizon, building momentum and holding the line against chaotic interruptions with students and the community at the heart of their service."
If Nebraska fails to assert its rights on the South Platte, less water will cross the state line.
Romance scams often originate on dating websites, but these scammers occasionally infiltrate social media. Scam efforts target those who are most vulnerable, and they don’t discriminate by age.
Rebecca Firestone writes: "The future could be darker if state services become even more strained — which would likely happen if lawmakers cut taxes this year."
There is a misconception that the hardships created by a global pandemic have somehow failed to affect Nebraska and Nebraskans.
Danielle Conrad writes: "Imagine the transformational investment we could be making together instead of battling over a massive new prison."
Taxing only consumption and doing away with income, property and corporate taxes will benefit Nebraskans, Hal Daub says.
Nebraskans are invited to join The Unify Challenge — a live, one-to-one, online video conversation program that connects pairs of Nebraskans across political, ideological, geographic and other divides.
Laura Alexander and Cristian Doña-Reveco write that immigrants drive Nebraska's population growth and that their work generated $22 billion in production in the state.
Proposed racetrack and casino projects would solidify Hastings, North Platte and Gering as tourism destinations and draw visitors from a wide geographic radius, writes Sean Boyd.
Loretta Fairchild proposes a program that would train construction workers while it addresses a housing shortage so the state can attract other workers.
Gov. Pete Ricketts writes: "A modern facility will improve the quality of life for inmates and security for our corrections officers."