Democrats push back on GOP’s call for Creighton to replace Kerrey as commencement speaker

Democrats push back on GOP’s call for Creighton to replace Kerrey as commencement speaker
Bob Kerrey

The Democrats are weighing in on whether Bob Kerrey should speak at Creighton University’s commencement ceremony.

The Nebraska Republicans asked Creighton University on Thursday to rescind its invitation to Kerrey to speak at the university’s commencement on May 18 because of his position on abortion.

Nebraska Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb on Friday said Kerrey, who has been governor and a U.S. senator from Nebraska, merits respect. She referred to the fact that Kerrey, a Democrat, lost part of a leg while fighting in Vietnam in 1969. Kerrey, who was a U.S. Navy SEAL, was given the rare Medal of Honor for his sacrifice.

“Sen. Kerrey put his life on the line to defend our American values,” Kleeb said through a press release. “We realize the Nebraska GOP’s new executive director just moved here from Las Vegas, but going after a veteran and Medal of Honor recipient is not a smart way to start out his tenure.”

The Nebraska GOP’s new executive director, Ryan Hamilton, said through a press release Thursday that Creighton should find a new commencement speaker.

“Creighton is a Jesuit institution formally affiliated with the Catholic Church, one of the country’s most consistent and reliable advocates for pro-life causes,” Hamilton said. “Nebraska is a pro-life state and Republicans are a pro-life party. We strongly urge Creighton to take a stand for their pro-life values and find a more appropriate figure to honor at their upcoming commencement.”

Creighton has declined to comment on the situation.

Kerrey said he will not speak if he feels that he will be a distraction. “I don’t want this to be about me,” Kerrey said of the ceremony. “It’s about the students.”

Creighton’s commencement takes place at the CHI Health Center. There are two Creighton ceremonies that day. It isn’t clear whether Kerrey is to speak at both, but most of the university’s commencement speakers do.

Creighton decided earlier this year to disinvite TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts for an awards ceremony.

Ricketts is a Catholic and the father of Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican.

The university made the decision in February, when emails from 2009 to ’13 were made public in which Joe Ricketts participated in racist jokes, conspiracy theories about former President Barack Obama and the derision of Islam. Ricketts has apologized and said the emails don’t reflect his values.

Hamilton said that was not a factor in the decision to send the press release.

Kerrey’s son, Ben, received a bachelor’s degree from Creighton in the 1990s and is now a physician in Cincinnati, Kerrey said.

“I just feel duty-bound to give back to Creighton,” he said.

He isn’t a Catholic, but his son is.

In the press release, Hamilton said Kerrey “voted against banning the grisly and inhumane practice of partial birth abortion” while in the Senate and has an extremely low lifetime score with National Right to Life.

Hamilton said in an interview that some Nebraska Republicans and stakeholders agreed that the party should speak up.

“We also wanted to speak out for our pro-life beliefs,” he said. Kerrey and the Catholics differ widely on the issue of abortion, he said. “It doesn’t make sense” to have him speak there, he said.

The press release calls Kerrey a “pro-abortion advocate.”

Kerrey said that kind of term is “the language of a fringe organization. … That’s what you do when you’re trying to get attention.”

Kerrey said he supports the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which prohibited many restrictions on abortion in the U.S.

“That doesn’t make you pro-abortion,” he said. “That makes you pro-civil rights.”

He said it has become hard to have a conversation over disparate political views in today’s environment. He said he will decide soon on whether he will speak at the ceremony.

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