Newcomer, political veteran compete in 1st District Congressional race
October 9, 2018
The race in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District sees a political newcomer taking on a seven-term veteran as Jessica McClure tries to unseat Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Both are from Lincoln.
Fortenberry, a member of St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln and a Republican, holds a master’s degree in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is a former business executive, first elected to Congress in 2004.
McClure, a Democrat who began her career as a chemist, later moved into the regulatory compliance field, working for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Agriculture, and in customs compliance. She also completed law school.
As the Catholic Voice highlights several key races this election season in light of Catholic teaching and priorities, the newspaper spoke with Fortenberry Sept. 21. McClure did not respond to requests for an interview.
Fortenberry said he views public service as a “noble undertaking” to promote “smart government, rooted in justice and animated by charity.”
“We live in a difficult time that in many ways is culturally fragmented, and deeply stressed,” Fortenberry said. “We’re searching for a narrative for the nation – ‘Who are we as a people, and where are we going as a nation?’
“The strength of the nation is ultimately the strength of family and community, and it is just government structures that set up the ‘guardrails’ that allow society to flourish,” he said.
CHURCH AND STATE
Fortenberry said many people understand the appropriate separation of church and state, but lack an appreciation for their interdependence.
“Government promotes the conditions for society to flourish – through national security and economic conditions that provide access to meaningful work, and by promoting the values proposition of self-responsibility and care for neighbor,” he said.
In its policy document, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” (FCFC), the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) says, “Clergy and lay people have complementary roles in public life … with the bishops having “the primary responsibility to hand on the Church’s moral and social teaching” (FCFC, no. 15).
“In the Catholic Tradition, responsible citizenship is a virtue, and participation in political life is a moral obligation,” the bishops say, urging participation in public life to promote the common good (FCFC, no. 13).
Fortenberry said he sees the institutional church’s role as limited to “matters of the soul,” helping to form ideals of virtue and conscience rather than involvement in secular social activism.
“The state depends upon the church in a broad sense for this formation in virtue that translates into self-responsibility and care for neighbor. Without that, the state must enforce law,” he said.
“The Christian laity are the ones who engage in secular activities in the world in the name of justice so the economy works well, even for the poor, so the government works well and we don’t waste money.
“That’s the distinction, but for a long time it seems we’ve confused those goals,” he said.
In answering a questionnaire sent to the candidates by the “Voter Information Project: Nebraska,” McClure said she supports church/state separation but does not address her religious affiliation or views on the role of religion in society.
She said, “I support the Constitution by supporting the idea that ‘Congress should make no law respecting an establishment of religion’ and agree with the ruling in Everson v. Board of Educ. (1947), that religion and the government do not mix well, and there should be a separation.”
Fortenberry identifies his work in Congress as serving national, economic and family security.
On national security, Fortenberry believes in strong defense, smart diplomacy and sustainable development. “A combination of those three dynamics create the conditions for stability and for human life to flourish,” he said.
“Regarding economic security, we’ve focused on the right kind of governmental reforms so small business and entrepreneurship can flourish – as a source of freedom and dignity for people.
“And finally, family security. When we lose the dynamics of family life and community, we can’t spend enough money fast enough in Washington to fix all the brokenness.
“So I’ve tried to use the platform of the office to constantly speak to those dynamics,” Fortenberry said.
For McClure, universal health care and helping bring direct primary care facilities to underserved areas, standing up for public education and lowering the cost of higher education, and putting Nebraska agriculture and economy ahead of party politics top her list of priorities, according to her responses to the Voter Information Project.
In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” the USCCB says “affordable and accessible health care is an essential safeguard of human life and a fundamental human right … and remains an urgent national priority” (FCFC, no. 80).
McClure said her child’s repeated illnesses led her to consider public service as a way to help provide affordable health care for all.
On her campaign website, she recounts her reaction to Fortenberry’s support of Republicans’ unsuccessful efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA): “… An act that would have left millions without insurance and my family without much needed consumer protections. I took this really personally.”
In deciding to run, “I realized that no one was going to work as hard as I will for our health care,” she said.
McClure said she supports a universal or hybrid universal health care system and preserving the ACA’s consumer protections. She opposes cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.
McClure also proposes requiring drug companies to publicly report financial information that impacts pricing as a means to lower prescription drug costs.
Fortenberry told the Omaha World-Herald (Jan. 13, 2017) that any replacement for the ACA “… has to be fair to everyone – no one gets left behind – but the current system is unsustainable and does not meet the test of fairness for millions of people who cannot afford what has been imposed on them.”
McClure also recognizes a need for accessible health care in rural and underserved areas.
“One idea I’d like to explore is the incentivizing of direct primary care centers in Nebraska,” she said on her website. Such an alternative would include a “fee-for-insurance billing” with patients paying a retainer for many primary care services, she said, “opening up care for more people, while making the care more affordable.”
Fortenberry cited three objectives for improving health care – improving outcomes, reducing costs and protecting the vulnerable.
He cited, as an example, his work with the Nebraska Farm Bureau to write and sponsor language for inclusion in the farm bill to help rural residents obtain affordable health insurance. The Rural Health Insurance Act would provide loans and grants to qualified agricultural associations to help establish agricultural association health plans.
“It’s particularly relevant as the insurance market in rural areas has completely collapsed, to the detriment of farm families and rural communities,” he said.
“What this tries to do is to stimulate new products in the market, such as new agricultural health associations, at dramatically lower prices to protect farmers and ranchers.”
The Catholic Church has consistently defended the unborn’s right to life through its opposition to abortion (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2271). It also opposes contraception (no. 2370), and especially birth control methods that act as abortifacients.
“I am pro-life and do not think tax money should go toward abortion,” Fortenberry said. In 2015, Fortenberry was one of 168 co-sponsors of the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, which barred federal funding from organizations that perform abortions.
“I have a reasoned, consistent life ethic from conception to natural death that says that everything for life is there at the moment of conception, and no persons should ever be thrown away.”
In cases involving the life of the mother, Fortenberry acknowledged the need to care for the mother. “You can undertake a procedure to save the life of the mother knowing that it could take the life of the child, but there should never be a direct attack on the child,” he said.
McClure favors unrestricted access to birth control, with “no religious exemptions for coverage,” according to her website.
“I believe that women deserve fundamental liberties of the due process clause as granted to them by the Supreme Court in Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972),” McClure said.
“This right of privacy means the government should stay out of a woman’s decision whether to bear a child. I believe in adequately funding contraceptive use and educational programs to help prevent unintended pregnancies.
“I believe reproductive health care is health care,” she said. “I disagree with the new Title X guidance issued by the current administration.”
“Title X is a federal grant that should provide reproductive health services to states to fund family planning, including contraceptive information, annual exams, STD testing, STD treatment and HPV vaccinations.”
McClure does not name abortion as one of those services.
“The Hyde amendment does not allow federal funds to be used for abortion services,” she said.
The U.S. bishops emphasize that the “Gospel mandate to ‘welcome the stranger, requires Catholics to care for and stand with newcomers, authorized and unauthorized,” and to work toward comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship, due process, policies to address the root causes of migration, and other protections for immigrants (FCFC, no. 81).
McClure supports continuing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, including congressional action to provide a pathway to citizenship for young people covered under DACA who were brought here as children, according to her website.
“DACA recipients were given clear legal status by the United States … have applied for this program, paid processing fees, and have be (sic) screened via background check, and they pay taxes into our economy. They deserve to continue living and working in Nebraska,” she said on her website.
McClure also said the executive branch’s role in setting immigration policy should be reduced, in favor of congressional action.
“I believe the executive branch clearly needs to focus on national security, and assessing threats,” she said. “But, to have good checks and balances in our US government, US Congress should be setting national immigration policy while executive ensures that those policies meet security requirements.”
Fortenberry supported two recent, unsuccessful immigration bills that addressed several aspects of the immigration debate – to improve border security (including some funding for a border wall), provide some protection for young people in the United States under DACA while addressing the conditions that created the problem, and eliminate the Diversity Immigrant Visa program, also known as the green card lottery.
“It’s fundamentally unfair to ‘pull a name out of a hat’ while other people stand in line,” he said.
Fortenberry said he accepts the need for humanitarian exceptions for people fleeing injustice in their home countries. But he also believes in addressing the problem of illegal immigration at its root by helping countries such as Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador improve conditions that drive people to leave.