When two of my daughters were very little, my wife and I enrolled them in preschool. I remember quite clearly the first day of class. We parked in the school driveway, helped our children out of the car, and then watched them walk together hand in hand toward the building. Scared and hesitant, they moved away from us slowly, inch by inch, nearing the school’s front door. The sight was so cute but also just heart wrenching.
Releasing children from hearth and home, where you can keep your arms around them to guard them from fears real or imagined, is no small shift. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences as you first let your children go to school. We nudge our children forward, then hand their care over to teachers and schools to help them become the best version of themselves. For the children, back to school brings anxiety and anticipation, desire and even dread—all common emotions at this time of year.
Despite the current divisiveness in our culture, one area in which we find broad agreement is that proper education is a top priority. The question is who best delivers this important public good. I have met with numerous teachers and administrators who have long lamented the creeping federalization of education policy. Many other citizens also see education policy as the proper and special domain belonging first to the family, and by extension the community. A tendency to homogenize education through centralized bureaucracy and regulation interferes with the source and summit of education excellence found in local control.
While the current cultural and political debate is focusing on the concentration of power in Washington and elsewhere, an important countertrend has taken place in education. Within the last year, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the earlier No Child Left Behind approach. While I certainly recognize the sentiment that federal government should not be substantially involved in education policy, the new law favors flexibility for communities to create the type of environment in which children can flourish.
Beyond the policy discussion, education is often understood to mean the accumulation of more and more knowledge, which translates to more and more homework, more and more schoolwork. An overemphasis on this routine can rob a young person of the joy of learning. To learn is to own the knowledge, not just be confronted by it. A balance of physical exercise, clubs, and well-ordered social time, in addition to the rigors of more disciplined activities such as repetitive math and understanding the grammatical structure of language, allows for a more well-rounded educational experience. On a deeper level, a genuine and holistic education imparts true wisdom to students, along with the ability to think critically and communicate effectively.
On a recent plane ride back from Washington, I quickly learned much of the cabin was full of Nebraska teachers. They were joking, laughing, and filled with excitement to be coming home—clearly it was the end of a demanding week of meetings. Something stood out to me. I noted a natural friendship—a natural community—between these teachers, who shared a desire to help form young children. While we are all still adjusting to these opening days of school, helping a child along the healthy journey of self-discovery—what a gift!
While visiting with my family on the front porch of my home this week, I heard heartwarming music coming from inside. I abruptly left the conversation, drawn by that dignified, complex melody, which signifies history, strength, and values. It was our national anthem. Another American had won Olympic gold. I had to see it.
Like most of you, I find the spectacle of the Olympics mesmerizing and exciting. I love watching as many of the contests as possible, particularly gymnastics and swimming. The entire event is fantastic, relentlessly compelling, a drama of patriotism and human potential that unites peoples across the globe around a shared regard for sport as well as pride for the athletes from their homes.
This uplifting reality is evident in Brazil, the host nation, which in the lead up to the games faced a number of challenges in constructing a successful Olympic environment. The news has periodically featured stories about funding problems, infrastructure delays, and the potential disrupting impact of the Zika virus. Reports of chaotic logistics, crime-ridden conditions, and even terrorist threats generated a great deal of anxiety. Fortunately, in the end Brazil rose to the occasion and is now admirably meeting its hosting responsibilities.
One benefit of the Olympics is seen when countries like Brazil embrace the opportunity to showcase their culture. Globalization is not implicitly wrong. Our increasingly interconnected world can build trust, mutual understanding, and reciprocal exchange. But accelerating integration should not repress individual cultures by rendering them servile to globalized economic or cultural elitism. The Olympics offers the proper model: the ability of individual countries to showcase the best of their own traditions—differences that can exist in harmony and be celebrated when nested within human ideals.
For many of us, though, nothing beats cheering for the home team. One of my favorite contests featured an American swimmer who narrowly outpaced a Russian competitor who earlier had been accused of using doping methods but was then allowed to participate in the games. In the interview after the match, the American who won the race said she hoped her victory demonstrated that “we can compete clean and still win at the Olympics.”
Here at home in Nebraska, we can take additional pride in the games. Several athletes with Nebraska ties are competing in this year’s Olympics, including three volleyball players who attended the University of Nebraska. The former Huskers and their teammates almost lost to the Netherlands earlier this week. The match, which went to a 5th set, propelled the young women into exceptional action. They are now continuing to accumulate wins as they represent our state by excelling in their sport.
No review of the Olympics would be complete without mentioning one of the entertaining commercials. In an advertisement for a new electronic gadget, the narrator, a famous foreign actor, says, “Americans, I don’t understand you. Always working all the time: busy, busy, busy.” He speaks while wearing a variety of costumes that evoke American clichés. Finally, after posing as everything from a president to an astronaut, he has an awakening of what it means to be American.
As the world marvels at the Olympics, we are right to revel in our nation’s achievements. We are facing a great many difficulties, but as I often say, there is nothing wrong with America that can’t be fixed by what is right with America. As our Olympians continue to go for gold, our unique strengths as a country are astonishing persons everywhere with spectacular displays of resilience, valor, and triumph.
With the November general election a little more than three months away, more than 50 people turned out Wednesday afternoon to listen to U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry share his thoughts.
At the town hall meeting at the Norfolk City Council chambers, Fortenberry fielded questions on different topics. But one that often came up was the size of government — a topic that Fortenberry encouraged by presenting charts on the size of government and the the growth of the national debt.
“The size and (rate of) growth of government has grown significantly the last 20 years,” Fortenberry said. “That’s why I present the chart, to actually begin the conversation as to why and what the solutions are. We have an inordinate amount of debt. ... If we don’t deal with it, it will be dealt to us in a way that’s not exactly constructive.”
Click here to read the entire article.Read More
I recently met a member of our military at Walter Reed Hospital near Washington, D.C. who had suffered severe wounds fighting for our country. His trauma was so bad that he had been in the hospital for years, having been revived several times in the aftermath of his initial injuries. He endured a coma for so long the doctors told his wife there was nothing more they could do. His wife said, “I know he’s in there. Stay with him.” So the doctors gave him a little more time.
Eventually came the time when the support systems were to be removed. When the day arrived, the care team gathered in the room unsure of what would happen. Sure enough the soldier awoke and said, “Is my wife here?” She ran to his bedside and said, “Honey, I’m here.” Then the completely unexpected happened. He asked his wife, “Did you pay our taxes?” I burst out laughing when I heard the story. What a dutiful American!
I told this story at the beginning of several town hall events this week. In the midst of all his suffering, here is a soldier who was still focused on his duty. Our time is marked by a yearning for deeper meaning and a need for ideals and vision. During meetings with constituents in Bellevue, Lincoln, Fremont, Blair, Columbus, and Norfolk, we discussed a number of issues including the budgetary situation in Washington, health care, immigration policy, environmental policy, and the dynamics around issues affecting our veterans. The questions I received did not focus as much on pieces of legislation; instead, I believe they indicated a deeper anxiety about the direction of the country: what is at stake for all of us, and how do we find our purpose as a people? How can we regain that sense of duty to one another and our country?
To me one of the best encounters was with a young man who is getting ready to go into first grade. He sat politely with his Dad. I spoke with him after the meeting. Many Americans no longer believe that our country will be better for the children. The challenge is to acknowledge this weightiness and lean into the solutions.
At the end of the meeting, I shared a story about one of those old metal kitchen chairs with two little steps that pull out. My grandmother had one in her house, and when I was young, I sat on it in her kitchen and talked on the phone. When I saw this chair at an estate sale, sentiment overcame me. I bought it, and paid way too much given the condition. I paid a dollar.
My kids took one look at the chair and said, “Dad, we think you have a problem. We think you’re a hoarder.” But, I thought the chair could be repurposed, could be made whole again, and I had a vision for its potential. Beneath the rust, paint, torn vinyl, and twisted parts, I saw a solid structure. It took a lot of effort—rust removal, new paint, and replacement parts—but after about $40 and around 20 hours of work, I think it turned out beautifully. Could that be America?
If you were able to attend the meetings, thank you for participating in this important civic tradition. If you were unable to attend a meeting, I invite you to share any thoughts or comments with my office at http://fortenberry.house.gov.Read More
In one of my past town hall meetings, an elderly woman sat quietly in the front until the audience had asked most of their questions. She raised her hand, and as she began to ask her question, it became clear to me that she was really afraid. Something she heard or read had frightened her. She asked me if her social security was safe. Clearly she depended on social security for her livelihood. I said, “Ma’am, you have nothing to worry about. Your social security is safe. I’m glad you asked the question, and I’m glad you came.” She seemed relieved and thanked me.
Perhaps you have concerns about our nation’s security, fiscal situation, immigration, care of our veterans, or something else more personal to you. It is no secret America is facing many challenges. Next week, I am hosting a series of public town hall meetings. The concept of gathering the community for public dialogue is an important American tradition.
As a side note of history, one of my predecessors who you are all familiar with, William Jennings Bryan, once spoke for three hours in a speech before Congress. I promise you I will not talk that long! The primary intention of the town hall is to hear from you. Please join me for an hour or so at one of my meetings listed below. I hope to see you there.
Monday, August 1
Bellevue Town Hall Meeting
Bellevue Public Schools Welcome Center
2600 Arboretum Drive
Lincoln Town Hall Meeting
Lincoln Southwest High school
7001 South 14th Street
Tuesday, August 2
Fremont Town Hall Meeting
Fremont City Council Chambers
400 East Military Avenue (2nd Floor)
Blair Town Hall Meeting
Blair City Council Chambers
218 South 16th Street
Wednesday, August 3
Columbus Town Hall Meeting
Columbus City Council Chambers
1369 25th Avenue
Norfolk Town Hall Meeting
Norfolk City Council Chambers
309 North 5th Street
I recently read a news story about a mother who dashed into a store late at night, leaving her car engine running and her two young children sleeping in the back seat. Although this was an imprudent decision, neither she nor her children deserved what happened next.
A thief jumped in the car and began driving away with the children still inside. The mother saw the crime in progress, raced from the store, and threw herself onto the hood. She was tossed from the vehicle, but some helpful bystanders pursued until the car crashed. In the end, with the assistance of good citizens, the police apprehended the thief and saved the children. The officers then helped the mother change her tires so she could drive away. Faced with a terrible situation, the community and police worked together to prevent further harm. That’s the America I know.
Probably like you, I watched in stunned disbelief as reports documented the murder of police officers this month in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Earlier in July, a sniper opened fire on Dallas officers, killing five and wounding nine, including two civilians. In a grim replay just last Sunday, a Baton Rouge gunman shot to death three officers in a targeted ambush. These are further warning signs of societal fracture, the rise of lawlessness, and grotesque disaffection.
If we are to rebuild our shattered society, innocent people cannot keep falling prey to the grievances of others. The cases of excessive force by police—and there are some—are extreme and should not be generalized to indict the motives of all police officers. March and protest. Demand answers. That's a part of the American tradition of holding the powerful to account. But killing is not. Retaliation through shootings is a horrific response.
While still reeling and hurting from the shock of it all, the Dallas Police Chief spoke plainly and powerfully in the aftermath of the violence. "We're asking cops to do too much in this country. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve… I just ask for other parts of our democracy, along with the free press, to help us. To help us and not put that burden all on law enforcement… Become a part of the solution. Serve your communities. Don't be a part of the problem."
The Chief added: "We're hiring. We'll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you're protesting about… Give us a job to do, we’ll focus on accomplishing the mission.” All of this from the man whose own son shot and killed a police officer before being killed in turn several years ago.
Police officers are men and women who have dedicated their lives to upholding law and order. They train extensively to try and avoid the situations that can lead to snap decisions and mistakes. Their sacrifice—sometimes at the greatest of costs—helps uphold the good that is common to us all. Although they are now under great duress, they put themselves in danger time and again to protect your life and your rights.
Police officers cannot do everything for us, then be beaten down for everything gone wrong. Society needs a newfound solidarity, a sense of belonging, and a protective shield of shared community values. In this sense, the goal of law enforcement becomes everyone's job—to serve and protect.Read More
In an unusual turn of events for a person my age, I recently bested two much younger guys in a two on two pickup basketball game. Afterward, my opponents introduced themselves. They not only impressed me with their athletic skills as early high schoolers, but more importantly they impressed me with their conversational ease. As we talked about where they attended school and other mutual connections, one of the students said it was not clear how much longer he would remain in our community given some difficulties in his family. His friend also spoke openly about the loss of his father at a young age. In the meantime, the other young man who had been on my team came over to join us. We learned that he was a combat veteran in Afghanistan. He spoke openly about how the experience had impacted him, as well as the adjustments he had to make in life.
This was an astonishing conversation. At their ages I would not have been prepared to openly share such personal details about my life. Difficult topics were not readily discussed in my youth. When I was young, my father was killed in an accident. This happened on a Wednesday, and I was back in school on Monday. At school, not much was said, no support mechanism existed. No one was at fault; the structure and environment just didn’t accommodate this human need. It was not until much later that I recognized the depth of the scar from that trauma.
As confused as modern society is in so many ways, one area in which progress is being made is in the understanding of mental health. A dearth of family and community support is deeply harmful to individuals who might be struggling with trauma, grief, hopelessness, or even some underlying physiological imbalance. The issue of mental health is a spectrum that ranges from temporary needs to deep psychosis.
One of my good friends in Congress is a psychologist. He has worked for years to educate Congress and national leaders about a better way to address our society’s mental health infrastructure. Last week, after years of work, The Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act passed the United States House of Representatives. I was an early supporter of the bill. The legislation overhauls the nation’s mental health system by better focusing federal funding to treat people with serious mental illness. The bill also enhances requirements for private insurers to cover mental health care on an equal footing with physical health. One in four Americans suffer from a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression, and one in eighteen suffers from more serious mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. Persons with mental health issues are three times more likely to live in poverty. The impact on government is already significant. Twenty percent of all Medicaid patients have a significant mental health difficulty and account for about fifty percent of expenditures.
There is a TED talk on YouTube that has been viewed by more than 25 million people. In it a woman named Brené Brown speaks to the power of vulnerability. She says: “It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is—neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired—it’s why we’re here.”
The truth though is that legislation and the mental health system can only do so much. The young men who honestly discussed their situations on the basketball court demonstrate the power of vulnerability and social interaction in alleviating some of the burdens and pressures in lifeRead More
Whenever a serious issue impacts our nation, Congress usually gathers for briefings in what is called a classified setting. Sensitive information is then shared by Executive Branch officials. The topics range from national security issues to details about ongoing investigations of individuals, but at all times, we are reminded that the information discussed is to be considered classified. This is a legal way of protecting the general welfare of the United States. We also leave any electronic devices outside.
In other meetings or congressional hearings, conversations sometimes bump up against firewalls of classified information. The discussion then ceases, or the participants agree to meet at another time in a secure setting to more deeply explore areas of sensitivity. Even at my church, someone recently asked me about one of the more speculative aspects of the Orlando shooting. Instead of providing further details, I said, “I can’t talk about this because I received a classified briefing on the topic.”
I provide these examples to give you a window into how classified intelligence is integrated into responsible processes on Capitol Hill. I’m sure you are familiar by now with the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email practices during her tenure as Secretary of State. This week FBI Director James Comey, a dedicated public servant who is held in high regard on both sides of the political aisle, spoke to the American public about the results of that investigation. Unfortunately, after characterizing Hillary Clinton’s use of emails of private servers as “extremely careless,” he dismissed any consequences. This begs the question: would any other American be treated the same?
Take the case of a Marine who mistakenly took classified documents from his workplace. He was found guilty, busted in rank to the lowest enlisted grade, sentenced to confinement, and had to forfeit pay for three years. The Marine was convicted of “gross negligence," the standard under the law. The distinction between Director Comey’s chastisement of Secretary Clinton for "extreme carelessness" and “gross negligence” remains murky.
Although avoiding politicizing the issue will be difficult, especially during an election season, the heart of the matter now before us is one of fairness, equal treatment, and institutional trust. When there is a perception that position, power, and politics overcome the demands of justice, we have lost a sacred space in America.
There is an ancient Russian expression: “riba gnyote s'golovey,” which means “the fish rots from the head.” We rightly expect our leaders to be held to very high standards—and this is weighty for those of us entrusted to lead. When there is slippage, the implications go way beyond individual failing—it tears at our sense of unity, fosters distrust of institutions, and robs of us of collective dignity. Recall that scene in the movie Braveheart when William Wallace discovers that he is betrayed by the leader of the Scottish. He can’t breathe.
The source of America's strength is the lived reality that everyone has rights, everyone has a chance, and everyone must take their share of responsibility. We do not tolerate double standards well and perhaps our sensitivity to these values is a cause for hope in our country. Remember Nebraska's motto? Equality Before the Law.
I addressed the problem this week on Lincoln radio, and I invite you to listen by clicking here.Read More
Fortenberry discusses Secretary Hillary Clinton and the FBI with Kevin Thomas on DriveTime Lincoln.
Click here to listen to the radio interview.Read More
A friend of mine works part-time at a hardware store. He is retired from several other careers, but continues to enjoy helping people with retail service. Recently, he kindly offered to give me some hosta plants from his home. As I drove through his neighborhood looking for his address, I suspected his house was the one flying the large American flag. I knew Mike had served in Vietnam, but as we spent some time digging and visiting around his garden, I learned a lot more about his harrowing service as a Marine.
Mike’s squad was assigned to protect an area in the northern part of South Vietnam. They were a pesky bunch as Mike put it, and the North Vietnamese, tiring of the constant haranguing, launched an aggressive counterassault. Outnumbered 10 to 1, Mike’s squad was hit hard. A call for help went out, but the first helicopter to arrive was blown apart. Mike sustained severe wounds: a bullet to the chest that collapsed a lung, shrapnel that tore through a foot and a leg, and another bullet that grazed his head. To breathe he had to keep clearing his throat with his finger from the gurgling blood. At the point when he could no longer physically fight, he crawled to a slightly more secure place and propped himself up on his sack. He said he remembered two things: the wind blowing through his hair, and his mother. Who would tell her how he died? Only three Americans survived the battle.
Fortunately, another helicopter quickly landed and a Corpsman came to Mike’s rescue, stabilized him, and helped return him to safety. A doctor performed precision surgery, and the medical personnel nursed him back to health, for which Mike was very grateful. But something always nagged him. He never had the chance to thank the Corpsman who risked his own life to save him. Finally, in 2001, he went online, did some research, and found the man thirty years later. Mike told him: “I’ve not forgotten you.”
It is no secret that our country’s economic, political, and cultural settlement is straining under a number of harsh realities. Concentrations of economic and political power, coupled with signs of social collapse, are contributing to a growing sense of vulnerability and anxiety. Amid a divisive and often disorienting political season, terrorist attacks in San Bernardino and Orlando have reminded us of grave threats to life and our cherished liberties.
But take a moment to notice how many Nebraskans like Mike proudly fly our flag. It means something. The flag stands for an ideal, for a value, for the proposition that all persons have dignity, and when that dignity is safeguarded, a people can flourish. That’s America.
And to those who like Mike have sacrificed so much for our nation: We have not forgotten you.
I wish you all a happy and safe Independence Day!Read More
1514 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Jeff Fortenberry was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2004 to serve Nebraska’s First Congressional District. His work in Congress is rooted in the belief that the strength of our nation depends on the strength of our families and communities. Jeff is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which appropriates United States government expenditures. He serves on three subcommittees with importance for Nebraska: Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Jeff previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he placed particular focus on human rights concerns, Middle Eastern affairs, and nuclear weapons non-proliferation. He also represented Nebraska on the Agriculture Committee, where his work on two Farm Bills advanced opportunities for young and beginning farmers and promoted agricultural entrepreneurship.
Prior to serving in Congress, Jeff worked as a publishing industry executive in Lincoln, where he also served on the Lincoln City Council from 1997-2001. Jeff also has significant personal experience in small business, and early in his career he worked as a policy analyst for the United States Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations. Jeff earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and two master’s degrees, one in public policy. He and his wife Celeste live in Lincoln and have five daughters.
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@BoysTown offers a remarkable model of academic and spiritual engagement. On Dec 12, 2017, it celebrates 100 years of saving children.
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One area in which we find broad agreement is that proper education is a top priority. https://t.co/NXx12E2xRl
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Retweeted by jefffortenberry
As the world marvels at the Olympics, we are right to revel in our nation’s achievements. https://t.co/9J1a8WDPjN
Wishing the Huskers and Coach Riley a successful week of preparation before next Saturday’s kick off.
Nestled here in the Heartland, Boys Town offers a remarkable model of academic and spiritual engagement. On December 12, 2017, it will celebrate
Despite the current divisiveness in our culture, one area in which we find broad agreement is that proper education is a top priority.
Excited for the start of Huskers' volleyball season today with red/white scrimmage. Looking forward to another championship season. Go Big Red
Great to be with the Lincoln Independent Business Association today. So many good people, working so hard caring about their community.