LINCOLN — Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning said Tuesday that he regrets comparing welfare recipients to scavenging raccoons in a recent speech made while campaigning for the Republican Senate nomination.
"It was an inartful statement and one Jon regrets making," Trent Fellers, Bruning's campaign manager, said in an email. "As attorney general, Jon's been a strong supporter of welfare reform and giving welfare recipients a hand up and not just a handout."
A tracker for a liberal political action committee, American Bridge 21st Century, made a video of the speech in which Bruning draws a comparison between welfare recipients and raccoons that scavenge for an easy meal of dead rats and beetles.
"The raccoons, they're not stupid," he said. "They're going to . do the easy way if we make it easy for them. Just like welfare recipients all across America, if we don't incent them to work, they're going to take the easy route."
The video clip was posted Tuesday by Talking Points Memo, a left-leaning website that focuses on politics across the U.S.
It marked the second time in a week Bruning has had to backtrack on the campaign trail. Last week, he apologized after a member of his staff sent an email implying that outdoor retail giant Cabela's had endorsed the candidate. The company does not align itself with candidates or political parties.
Paul Johnson, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson's campaign manager, called Bruning's welfare statement inappropriate and mean-spirited.
"It does not reflect the better nature of Nebraskans," Johnson said, insisting that the Nelson camp had nothing to do with capturing or posting the video.
Many candidates employ trackers to electronically document the public appearances of their opponents. They typically draw attention to embarrassing or candid moments, confrontations and controversial statements uttered by candidates.
Nelson's campaign does not use a tracker because one is provided by the state Democratic Party, Johnson said.
Bruning's statement was particularly unfortunate because it perpetuates an unfair stereotype of lazy welfare recipients, said Kate Bolz, policy analyst with Nebraska Appleseed, a Lincoln-based public interest law firm. The three primary welfare programs contain strong work, education or job training requirements.
"It's a misconception that folks who access public assistance aren't working," she said. "It's a requirement for those programs unless someone is disabled or facing a crisis of domestic violence."
The welfare statement came as Bruning was talking about endangered species regulations. He said a roads supervisor told him how the discovery of the federally endangered American burying beetle near Sargent brought a construction project to a halt.
Biologists were called into to trap the beetles in five-gallon buckets baited with dead rats, which would allow the endangered insects to be relocated. Except there was one problem: A local farmer videotaped a raccoon raiding the traps and eating the rare beetles.
So is there any truth to the story about the beetles and raccoons? Strangely enough, yes.
Because burying beetles feed and lay eggs on carrion, wildlife biologists indeed bait buckets with dead rats to capture them. And while they place lids over the traps to keep them dry and ward off scavengers, raccoons and opossums have been known to thwart the lids and feed on the beetles, said Bob Harms of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Grand Island.
The service works closely with both state and federal roads departments to minimize delays in construction projects, he said. But sometimes when an endangered species is found, especially in a unexpected location, delays can't be avoided.
Mary Jo Oie, spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Roads, confirmed that burying beetles were found during the Sargent project. She said it's likely that they caused some sort of slowdown.
She could not, however, confirm the story of the intrepid farmer and his video camera. But she was aware that beetles have been lost to masked marauders with ringed tails.
"That's one of the wild things of the wild kingdom," she said.
She meant raccoons and beetles, not politics.
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