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LINCOLN — A longtime Nebraska legislative tradition — a satirical show targeting lawmakers at the end of the session — is being criticized by some conservatives as tasteless and too kind to liberals.
One video, in particular, at the Sine Die Show came under fire for how it portrayed the wife of State Sen. Charlie Janssen of Fremont, a Republican who is running for governor.
The video, provided to The World-Herald, is in the form of a campaign ad for Janssen in which legislative aides and lobbyists portray him, his wife and others dancing Gangnam Style throughout the State Capitol.
Janssen's wife is shown in a miniskirt and with a wild shock of blond hair. In real life, Janssen proposed to his wife, Ellen, on the floor of the Legislature, but in the video they are depicted dancing and kissing at that spot.
Jordan McGrain, a campaign staffer for Janssen, said the video was “very untasteful” and juvenile.
It was a “completely unacceptable” portrayal of the candidate's wife, who is a partner in running her family's construction business.
“If any of (Janssen's) staff were responsible for something like that, that targeted a colleague's family member, they would be terminated,” McGrain said.
Sens. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha and Jim Smith of Papillion said the video may have crossed the line in satirizing a family member and not sticking to elected officials.
Lautenbaugh, who also is shown in the video, said he was more offended by who portrayed him than how.
“I did lose 40 pounds over the session,” he said. “It would have been nice if they could have found a thinner actor to portray me.”
A lobbyist who lines up donations to rent a hall for the Sine Die party said the flap was overblown and a case of someone taking it too seriously.
“It's political satire,” said Korby Gilbertson. “If someone's feelings are hurt, it's unfortunate. I don't think it's intended. I think they do a fair job of going after anyone who gives them material.”
Some critics of the June 5 show also say that legislative aides who put it together used taxpayer hours to do it, a claim rejected by some senators.
Sen. Greg Adams of York, speaker of the Legislature, said he was confident that aides did it on their own time.
He said the show is a “roast” in which staffers poke fun at lawmakers, who should expect to “take a shot.”
“There hasn't been a year that I didn't wince at the way some issues or people were portrayed,” he said. “But my guess is the staffers who put this together will get a good strong sense that people were unhappy and make adjustments.”
The Sine Die Show and party started in 1978 at a Lincoln bar, a way for staffers and lawmakers to blow off steam and have fun. It's held after the Legislature adjourns “sine die.”
The show is similar to the Omaha Press Club and Lincoln Gridiron shows, featuring a series of satirical skits and songs written by volunteers.
Unlike those shows, it is not a public event designed to raise money. A group of lobbyists pony up the rent for a hall, this year at Pla-Mor Ballroom.
An informal group of legislative aides writes and coordinates the skits.
This year's show sparked an angry blog post Wednesday at the “Objective Conservative” website, as well as complaints from Doug Kagan of the Omaha-based Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom and McGrain, the campaign staffer for Janssen.
The website post was written by Jeremy Jensen, a former campaign staffer for Janssen.
Jensen left the campaign in March after posting a sexually vulgar comment about a female lawmaker on his Facebook page.
Jensen and Kagan claimed that staff time was used to put together the show and that it was especially harsh on conservative senators while liberals mostly got a free pass.
Adams, the speaker, said that he senses the show targets “personalities” rather than parties and that if a lawmaker does something to draw attention he might be the subject of satire in the show.
Adams, for instance, was featured on the cover of the Sine Die Show program as the “Soup Nazi,” a character from the old Seinfeld television show. That was a poke at Adams' admonition several times that senators would have to work through suppertime, without eating, to complete the day's work.
Lautenbaugh and Smith said they don't believe legislative staffers used work hours to produce the show, but they may have lampooned conservatives a bit more this year.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, whose staff is involved in writing the show, said those who work on the show do so at night or on lunch hours.
Lathrop, a Democrat considering a run for governor, noted that the past three hosts of the Sine Die Show have been Republicans lawmakers — Mark Christensen of Imperial, Pete Pirsch of Omaha and Abbie Cornett of Bellevue.
McGrain, the Janssen aide, also objected to posting online a video from a supposedly private event.
No one was taking credit Wednesday for producing the video, which featured about a dozen lobbyists and legislative aides.
The Janssen video and another one were posted Tuesday night on YouTube, then removed Wednesday morning.
Smith, the Papillion senator, said he was upset that “Objective Conservative'' accused his legislative aides of being “liberal,” including one who portrayed Janssen in the video.
Smith said he doesn't hire his staff based on political persuasion but on skill, loyalty and hard work.
He said the Sine Die Show tradition shouldn't end due to the complaints, though writers could be more considerate when tossing barbs.
“Is there a conspiracy out there — I don't buy that,” he said. “Was there adolescent behavior? Yes.”
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The Sine Die Show skit portraying Charlie Janssen and his wife, Ellen.