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Jane Kleeb: What’s Next?

By   /   November 14, 2011  /   News  /   16 Comments


Kat Buchanan for Nebraska Watchdog

PIPELINE FIGHTER: David Druding traveled from Arkansas to testify against the Keystone XL pipeline with Bold Nebraska in April, 2013. Druding’s pictures show the area near his Arkansas home where an Exxon-owned pipeline spilled more than 10,000 gallons of oil.


This is part two of Nebraska Watchdog’s closer look at the most outspoken critic of the controversial and now delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN – After marrying Scott Kleeb and moving to Nebraska, Jane helped run her husband’s U.S. Senate campaign in 2008 (he lost to former Gov. Mike Johanns) but by 2010, she was running her own campaign.

She ran for the Hastings School Board. This dual threat did not go unnoticed by the Nebraska Republican Party – which took the unusual step of getting involved in the Hastings race, robocalling voters to tell them “East Coast liberal Jane Kleeb is using your children to further her political agenda. Her values are not our values. Jane Kleeb is more concerned about organic school lunches and rewarding big labor unions with your tax dollars than providing our children with a quality education.”

She won the seat — but was later fined $50 by the state for not properly filing her campaign contribution reports.

She ran for the school board on a “healthy lunches, wise minds” campaign — and got school lunches on a new program within months of her election. Her interest in healthy eating stemmed back to her own lengthy battle with an eating disorder. She gained weight in the fifth grade, and was teased by classmates in her small Catholic school. She began dieting, and it spiraled out of control for the next eight years. She was in and out of treatment and her family – who owned a couple of Burger Kings where she’d chop vegetables on weekends – struggled to pay the medical bills. Her weight dropped to about 70 pounds when she was 16 years old. One day, her heart stopped. She nearly died.

She says her father was an alcoholic and she was always trying to control the situation, organize the house and “make things good and peaceful.” He died when she was 19.

After seeing her family struggle to get health insurance to cover mental health the same as physical health, she became a fierce advocate for medical reform. She saw other patients who couldn’t stay in treatment because their insurers wouldn’t pay for it.

She says she got her activist spirit from her mother, who was president of the Broward County Right to Life and always helping teen moms or volunteering at events while caring for Jane, her sister and two brothers.

“I feel it’s only natural that I would have kids and be raising a family and be outspoken,” Jane says.

She’s also hard-wired to organize: As a child, she’d go into organizing mode when a game of hide-and-seek would break out – suggesting her team come up with a name like the Butterfly Club and make membership cards.

“I was not a fun kid to play with,” she says, laughing.


One of the first things Jane noticed after moving to Nebraska was that while most people professed to be Republicans, when they’d start talking issues, they were actually quite progressive. Especially farmers and ranchers.

By 2008, she had concluded there was no “good progressive voice in the state not attached to either party.” For a couple of years, she kicked around the idea of starting an independent group to work on issues – but didn’t want it to be a “shadow for the Democratic Party.” The Democratic Party disappointed her.

“For too long in Nebraska, Dems have just kind of thrown up their hands and said, ‘We’re never gonna get any traction,’ ” she says.

Some Democrats viewed her with suspicion, too – wondering if she would try to take over the party or its donors. And she did consider running for chair of the party. Vic Covalt, chairman of the state Democratic Party, says while he and Jane don’t always agree, they talk to each other; they email each other.

“You’re just trying to start a fight,” he said after being asked about past tension between the two. “I’m not a god or a demigod. I love anybody who’s… trying to help find solutions.”

Ultimately, Jane says she decided not to run for the position because she wouldn’t like sending out nasty press releases and torching Republicans at every turn.

“I didn’t want to be that person,” she says. “I don’t find that fun. It’s lame and people see right through it. It doesn’t move people.”

She says people need to be engaged on core values. So instead, she, Scott and a few others launched Bold Nebraska in early 2010. Jane is comfortable with the media – she did her first TV interview with Fox in 2004 as head of the Young Democrats and has been a frequent talking head on cable ever since.

“They liked me – I think because I kept interrupting the host,” she said of FOX. “They just kept asking me back.”

She was also hired as a “street reporter” for MTV in 2008.

Bold Nebraska launched a blog and Facebook page that quickly added a new voice to the political chatter in Nebraska. Its first year, Bold Nebraska ran the pipeline campaign on a shoestring budget of $4,000 a month, Scott says.

Now, less than two years later, Bold Nebraska has 15,000 names on its email list, three full-time staffers, three paid interns and a $250,000 budget – paid for by 287 small donors, $48,000 from the National Wildlife Federation and $75,000 from Omaha philanthropist Dick Holland, a retired insurance executive. Jane says she earns $4,000 a month — about half what she made working for the labor-affiliated Change that Works in 2009.

Within a few months of starting Bold Nebraska, Jane attended a meeting about the Keystone XL pipeline in York. She says about 150 people showed up and everybody was opposed to the pipeline except for a welder from Arkansas.

She saw the opportunity to organize and galvanize.

“The organizer in me immediately saw that: the raw grit of farmers and ranchers and moms and grandmas who were talking about water and native prairie grass,” she says.

Bold Nebraska had found a cause.

The pipeline is thorny for the Democratic Party because unions want the jobs building the pipeline and environmentalists don’t want America to use the “dirty” tar sands oil from Canada.

Bold Nebraska began working with the National Wildlife and Sierra Club to oppose the pipeline path, pushing Keystone XL onto the front pages in Nebraska and eventually, the nation.

Other groups – chiefly, Tar Sands Action – sprang up to join the fight, which became a cause célèbre for environmentalists, who threatened to pull support for President Obama if he granted TransCanada a permit to build the pipeline. Actors Robert Redford and Julia Louis- Dreyfus and Daryl Hannah publicly opposed the pipeline in videos and White House protests.

TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard says while many portray the Keystone XL debate as Big Oil versus little landowners, Bold Nebraska helped orchestrate a sophisticated campaign.

“This is a very well-funded, well-coordinated, anti-oil campaign,” Howard said. “And that’s what it’s about.”

As for Jane, he said, “This isn’t the first cause that she’s taken on. Once Keystone is approved I’m sure she’ll find another one.”

As Jane’s profile has increased, so has criticism – she is routinely trashed on an anonymous blog called Insane Jane and the anonymously-authored-but-clearly-well-connected Republican blog called LeavenworthStreet.com

In fact, Leavenworth Street began picking on Jane before she even moved to Nebraska, when she was Scott’s fiancé. Leavenworth calls Bold Nebraska members “Boldies” or “marchies” and regularly critiques Jane’s clothing, resume, lobbying tactics and motivation – saying she’s more interested in self-promotion than her causes.

Leavenworth is particularly perturbed by Bold Nebraska’s stance on the pipeline, accusing the group of opposing fossil fuels, not the pipeline path and using sophomoric tactics like “beanie babies, foam fingers and trick-or-treaters.”

Nebraska Watchdog asked the Leavenworth Street blogger why she/he dislikes Bold Nebraska and Jane so much, and she/he replied: “They routinely misrepresent facts, manipulate people’s feelings, and generally pose as something they are not in order to achieve their political goal. … On the Leavenworth Street blog, we comment on politics in Nebraska.  Jane has given us much on which to comment.”

Jane says her opponents have taken to tracking her – following her and taking pictures of her,  sometimes with her daughters. Leavenworth Street went nuts when she wore a Future Farmers of America jacket to a pipeline hearing, because she’s not a member of the FFA.

She says strangers sometimes come up behind her at public events and whisper things in her ear – like who she blocked on Facebook or Twitter, or where she was the day before. She says people in suits will come up to her at events and say, “Hi Jane” – without properly introducing themselves. She ignores them, but she also doesn’t walk to her car alone at night anymore. She thinks they are largely “college Republicans.”

Scott says law enforcement officers have escorted Jane to her car after hearing comments in a crowd that concern them.

“It’s deeply troubling,” Scott says. “It’s sad when people take a conversation and turn it into something very threatening. Sadly, it’s a different time.”

He says her detractors quickly saw her as a threat because she’s been successful at everything she’s done.

“It’s giving voice to the voiceless,” he says. “It’s disruptive to the status quo.”

Jane is not deterred; asked whether she has designs on running for higher office, she says she’s happy being on the school board and running Bold Nebraska, but also sees a need for more “openly progressive” people in the Legislature.

“I think running for state Senate is something that I might consider years down the road,” she says.

As for Scott, she hopes he runs for office again because he’d be “an amazing politician on any level” but he says he’s happy running Energy Pioneer Solutions, a company he started two-and-a-half years ago to do energy audits and upgrades that are paid for through savings on utility bills. He says he’s creating jobs and saving money on energy.

“I love what I’m doing,” he says.

Jane’s immediate concern is continuing to have Bold Nebraska be an “independent, moderate” voice on issues – she’d like to do work on energy issues, eminent domain and helping save family farms. But for now, the pipeline is squarely in her crosshairs – and every day seems to bring a new revelation that puts the project’s future in doubt, the latest being the State Department decision to consider rerouting the pipeline around the Ogallala and Sandhills.

Scott says Jane is a lightning rod because she’s shaking things up in Nebraska.

“In an off-year, people are coming together more than in an election year,” he says. “It’s one of the greatest ‘small d’ of Democratic forces in our state over the last year-and-a-half.”

Reported by Deena Winter, dwinter@nebraskawatchdog.org

Editor’s note: to subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here


Deena formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • SoWhat?

    Boldly Going Socialist…that is the “independent, moderate” philosophy of Ivy Starnes (aka Jane Kleeb)…and our governor and weak minded state legislators fell right in behind her. On the upside, Jane only goes where the commie money takes her. Hopefully, that’s out of NE and on to one of the coasts where her “moderate” views are appreciated. Jane aspires to be one of the ruling progressive elite who control every aspect of everyone else’s lives. That’s “moderate” in her twisted and failing world. That’s why progressives like Ivy lust after government power…so they can use the police power of the state to enslave the masses.

  • You know, if I were an actual reporter, which I’m not, I’d have asked Kleeb about Dick Holland’s financial interest in BNSF, a competitor of TransCanada in the oil shipping business, and whether his $75,000 isn’t simply a payment for killing the competition.

    I know, I know, it’s a puff piece, real questions wouldn’t be appropriate

  • Jack

    Jane Kleeb sounds like a hard working winner to me. Go Jane and more power to you! Keep looking out for those who rarely have a voice to be heard. Nebraska needs you.

  • scott

    @sowhat — Jane is leading, which is what politicians are supposed to do. She is trying to prevent those with power and money from corrupting our land, water and air. She is trying to prevent those in power from enslaving the masses with the power of the state. The governor and the legislature hardly fell in behind her. They had fallen in behind TransCanada, and they had to regroup because the people who elected them made it clear that there was a better way.

  • Michelle

    Jane Kleeb: “We don’t trust TransCanada.”

    US: “We Nebraskans don’t trust crazy liberal, loud mouth, East Coast crackpot socialists. There’s a tent waiting for you at your nearest Occupy encampment.”

  • Andy

    Do you know how to write about anything other than the praises of Jane Kleeb? She is a well funded political activist. Nothing more, nothing less. I can think of plent of people that could use the massive influx of cash she has received to be far more effective.

    Joe, your blog has gone down hill with this tabloid style of reporting and If I have to waste any more of my time reading this tabloid dribble you can count me out.

  • Michelle,

    I am an Iowa born, Nebraska raised, crazy, liberal loudmouthed Socialist. I don’t trust closed-minded, uneducated, right wing ignoramuses. So would you mind not trying to speak for me? There’s room for you in the nearest book burners’ encampment.

  • country

    Brian: Move back to Iowa; your description of yourself puts you in a very very small fringe minority in Nebraska. We can read your socialist dribble in NYT to get your points of view. Go east, young man!

  • Nadine Fahrlander

    It is amazing…I have lived in Nebraska all my life, and this is the first time I have heard that being a Democrat puts you into a “fringe minority”! We used to be able to have conversations, not arguments. We used to tease each other about our differences. When did Republicans become so intolerant?

    Jane Kleeb is as Nebraskan as Chuck Hgel, Jeff Fortenberry, and others who were not born here, but love this state.

  • Tim Butz

    I have never met Jane Kleeb, but she must be doing something right to generate such spiteful comments. I thought Watchdog readers were smarter than this. Keep it up Jane, Nebraska is a better place because of your work.

  • Snap

    Fails of the week: (from Andy) “Joe, your blog has gone down hill with this tabloid style of reporting and If I have to waste any more of my time reading this tabloid dribble you can count me out.”

    Hey Andy, Joe didn’t write this article. wa-wa-waaaaaa.

  • Laurie Payton

    Go Jane! Proving when the people speak the leaders must listen. You ROCK

  • Country,

    It is because of people like me that people like you have the right to publicly demonstrate their ignorance and stupidity. In the kind of utopia that you envision, you would be doing menial labor and probably be shackled.

  • Watching From Lincoln

    As a fourth generation Nebraskan and a life-long registered Republican of 32 years, I applaud Jane Kleeb and the new voice and fresh take she’s brought to what had become a very stale, one-sided ultra-conservative political conversation in this state, a conversation that has NOT been reflective of the true feelings and thoughts of the majority of Nebraskans since the 1980’s when it began to insidiously seep into this state’s political conscience.

    To the ignorant, narrow-minded people such as “Michelle”, “Bam”, “Andy” or “Gerard” who populate this blog, unfortunately your view points do NOT reflect the majority of Nebraskans, only the small group of like close-minded people you associate with. You have absolutely NO sense of history of either this state, nor of the Republican Party in this state, prior to its corruption by the Neo-Con influences financed by the Koch Brothers via Americans For Prosperity (which should rightly be called Prosperity for the Kochs Only) and the selling out of the vast majority of Republican politicians in this state to that money and influence.

    You see you all are just pissed off, like a bunch of spoiled, over-indulged, rude children who are actually told “No!” with real meaning for the first time in your political lives. And just like those same spoiled rotten children who are used to always getting your way, you throw temper-tantrums and name-calling rants when you finally don’t get your way for the first time.

    You’re pissed that your traditional base, the farmers and ranchers of Nebraska, have turned against your Hitler Youth Fascist America agenda. My advice to you: Deal with it.

    Ms Kleeb did nothing more than reawaken the Eisenhower Republican roots of those same farmers and ranchers, who have ALWAYS been stewards of the land and protectors of our Natural Resources in this state – the very SAME Republican farmers and ranchers who stopped the damming of the Niobrara River for an irrigation project in the early ’70’s and instead got the stretch of the river designated a National Scenic River, protecting this unique and environmentally valuable piece of Nebraska for ALL to enjoy for generations to come.

    I applaud Ms Kleeb for doing something that needed to be done for years – awakening the sleeping giant of the good and decent people of Nebraska. I personally think that it’s fantastic that a coalition of Republican farmers and ranchers, real Tea Party members (not the Koch Bros. co-opted pseudo-Tea Party), Progressives, Democrats, young, old, clergy of ALL faiths and denominations, fourth and fifth generation native Nebraskans and newly arrived immigrants could join together and stand shoulder to shoulder for the common good of Nebraska and stare TransCanada, and all the evil in this world they represent, in the eye and not only NOT blink, but stare them down!

    2-1 people in this state were/are AGAINST the Keystone XL, either in its entirety or in its proposed routing across the Sandhills and Ogallala Aquifer. The voice of the PEOPLE was heard OVER the rustling of TransCanada and its allies’ checkbook amid our elected officials.

    DO NOT overlook the fact that the strongest opponents to any legislation to regulate TransCanada or any crude petroleum pipeline in the last regular session, either responsible for killing legislation in committee or gutting it on the floor, were also those same legislators who were strongly backed by the Koch Brothers-sponsored Americans For Prosperity – the same Koch Brothers who stand to profit tens of billions of dollars refining that Tarsands Crude – basically bought off the votes of Nebraska State Senators to further the Koch’s own personal financial gains.

    It is BEYOND time for the PEOPLE of Nebraska to wake up, and rid themselves of this corruption, over turn the term-limits law which only accomplishes two things – keeping really good legislators from serving more than two terms and leaves the Unicameral without any institutional knowledge and thus the LOBBYISTS are calling the shots for all these inexperienced legislators (the BEST term limit is called Vote the Incompetent Bum Out!), and while we’re at it, since last Regular Session while those same AfP-backed State Senators couldn’t pass any meaningful pipeline legislation, they DID manage to pass legislation exempting themselves and the Governor from recall votes (think what happened in Wisconsin when AfP backed candidates went amok and were being recalled and voted out of office scared Nebraska’s elected AfP sponsored Brownshirts into protecting their own elected asses?).

    Lastly, let us not forget either, that our fence-sitting, do-nothing Governor and bumbling wannabe hero US Senator hopeful State Attorney General were BOTH caught red-handed with ILLEGAL Campaign Contributions from TransCanada.

    So yes, thank you Jane Kleeb for bringing back a sense of decency, accountability and integrity to the State of Nebraska’s political arena. This state NEEDS more people like you.

    Now I will admit this caveat, and do so freely. As an Eisenhower Republican, a person concerned with the environment of not only Nebraska but of the world, a person who hates corruption in all forms in our government and believes FIRMLY that it is the PEOPLE, NOT CORPORATIONS, who must be answered to by our Government, I have worked closely with Ms Kleeb, Bold Nebraska, and allied organizations over the past year plus to stop the TransCanada Keystone XL from destroying Nebraska and the rest of the world.

  • SoWhat???

    BTO and other like-minded liberal/progressive Ivy Starnes-loving loonies,

    In your self-descriptions you always leave out one and the most important piece of information…you’re all financial failures. You have let envy of others successes rule your socialist fantasies. BTW, Ms. Kleeb would sell any of you out at the right price to feather her own nest or build her personal political power.

  • Road Runner

    @ SoWhat???

    Financial failures? NOT!!!! Your ‘information’ is as bogus as your childish name calling that disguises your intellectual dishonesty and complete lack of engagement on the issues.