The election is over. From Lincoln to Washington D.C., new lawmakers have been sworn in and are in office. But one thing doesn’t seem to have changed, and that is citizen frustration with politics and politicians. Last year we heard this frequently from Nebraskans recording their thoughts for our Voter Voices project. Mike Tobias recently talked with some of the people who participated in Voter Voices last year to see what they’re thinking today.
Carlos Barcenas, Levern Hauptmann, Marlene Fey and Patrick Wright share little in common. They live in rural and urban areas. They are young and old. They are students, workers and retirees. They were Obama supporters and Romney supporters. But they do share some common feelings.
- “I really think we have taken a wrong turn.” --Carlos Barcenas
- “Our government is in a sorry state of affairs.” --Levern Hauptmann
- “From what I see, the country’s not moving forward.” --Marlene Fey
- “Politically, I think the country is frustrated.” --Patrick Wright
Dozens of Nebraskans, including the four we interviewed for this story, recorded videos in 2012 for the NET News "Voter Voices" project. You can watch all the videos, and learn more about the project, on the "Voter Voices" web site.
Here are a few of those videos:
Patrick Wright records a "Voter Voices" video in March 2012 at the Broken Bow Public Library. Wright's video on the Keystone Pipeline was used to start this discussion on the issue with U.S. Senate candidates Deb Fischer and Bob Kerrey as part of the NET News "Voter Voices" television special.
“I’m really having a hard time looking at how and when it’s going to get better,” said Barcenas, executive director of a multicultural coalition in Grand Island.
Barcenas said he was disappointed in the direction of the presidential campaign, with not enough attention on the tougher aspects of issues. He said that continues now, in the wake of the Newtown school shootings, with the focus on gun control.
“I think we’re missing the point, for example, on the issue,” Barcenas said. “It’s not guns. I know it’s a broader statement, but that’s not the issue. We really have to work on the mental health and the emotional health of our communities because there are some bad people out there.”
Barcenas doesn’t blame everything on elected officials.
“I would say one of the things that we still need to work on is getting people out and getting them the opportunity to get their voice to be heard, and their questions to be heard and answered as well,” Barcenas added.
Levern Hauptmann is a retired teacher and farmer in Neligh who says he’s slightly more optimistic about government now than last year. But that is only because his preferred presidential candidate, Barack Obama, was victorious. He still didn’t like what all the candidates were talking about during the election, things he believes still aren’t being addressed in a thoughtful manner.
“There was not enough talk about the actual amount of money that was going to have to be raised to keep even the current level that we have of spending on like for the old folks, which we do fairly well with like me,” Hauptmann said. “But we don’t spend enough money on especially education and on the kids.”
Marlene Fey and her husband are retired farmers from Nebraska City.
“(I’m) not any more optimistic about what’s happening than I was when I recorded that in the last year,” Fey said.
She and her husband are retired farmers from Nebraska City. A hardcore Republican, Fey said she was “pretty down in the dumps” about the results of the presidential race.
“I really feel like since he’s been elected, the only thing that he talks about is immigration and possibly gun control,” Fey said. “Otherwise, I don’t think he’s actually moved ahead and done anything; he certainly doesn’t have a budget set. He wants to continue to just spend, spend, spend, and I’ve never heard of a business that has been run on no budget.”
Fey is also disappointed with her own party.
“I think people need to pay more attention to what’s going on,” Fey added, “and I think we got to get some Republicans that stand up and mean what they say.”
“Usually after an election is kind of a honeymoon effect, even after a second term where people feel relieved that it’s over, put the rancor of the campaign behind them,” said Jan Vermeer, a veteran political observer and political science professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University. “But this time around, there was the fiscal cliff discussion. There are other kinds of recriminations that the Republicans were giving each other. I didn’t get the sense that there’s the same kind of air of good feelings in the months after the November election as in past years.”
Vermeer said while post-election public opinion may be harsher now than most years, the trend in this direction may have started with partisan conflict between a Republican House of Representatives and Democratic president in 1994.
“And the division just became sharper and sharper,” Vermeer said. “We don’t know how far up the slope we’re going on this pendulum cycle. Sure, there will be a peak. Whether the peak is close by or not, it’s hard to say.”
Patrick Wright hopes the pendulum will soon swing in a different direction.
“Especially with Congress not being able to really get much passed because it’s just so partisan right now between both sides. It leaves the country pretty frustrated, really,” said Wright, a Broken Bow native and freshman at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who voted for the first time last fall.
“I think one thing that’s going to have to change is Congress is going to have to actually start making some decisions,” Wright added. “Because what we’ve seen them do in this past year is kind of just push everything off, like raising the debt ceiling. I think eventually they’re going to have to start making decisions. It’s not going be pretty either way, but it’s something they’ve got to do.”
That’s likely one more thing our four Voter Voices participants can agree on.
Learn more about "Voter Voices" on the project web site. Here you can watch videos recorded by Barcenas, Hauptmann, Fey, Wright and many others on a variety of subjects.