Nebraska Politics

Something Smells in Jeff Fortenberry’s Office

“Why do men feel threatened by women?” I asked a male friend of mine… “I mean,” I said, “men are bigger, most of the time, they can run faster, strangle better, and they have on average a lot more money and power.” “They’re afraid women will laugh at them,” he said. “Undercut their world view.” Then I asked some women students in a quickie poetry seminar I was giving, “Why do women feel threatened by men?” “They’re afraid of being killed,” they said.

Margaret Atwood, “Writing the Male Character,” 1982.


We couldn’t ask for a better demonstration of the “men are afraid women will laugh at them” maxim than Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, who, incidentally, seems to interpret another work by Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, as #NationGoals.

Last week we at Seeing Red received a photo of a defaced campaign sign for Jeff Fortenberry. The large sign was located on a busy public street near Lincoln East High School, and someone had added googly eyes to it and altered the text so it said “Jeff Fartenberry.” Amused, one of our admins posted it. Later, one of our contributors, Ari Kohen, saw it for the first time on Facebook and hit the “like” button.

Imagine Ari’s surprise to return from a business trip to discover that his department chair at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, as well as his dean and the chancellor of the university, had received an angry email from one Dr. William “Reyn” Archer III, who noticed that among the 100+ likes of this photo was a faculty member at the University. Archer believes the defacement of the sign is a serious crime–these are “icons,” he explained to Ari in a scolding conversation that went on for almost an hour. Further, liking a photo of the defacement is equivalent to encouraging future crimes of “political violence,” as Fortenberry himself called it–in a week when over a dozen critics of the president were mailed pipe bombs and eleven Jewish worshippers were massacred in a synagogue. What’s more, Fortenberry and his Chief of Staff seem to believe that if someone has hit “like” on a dastardly fart joke on Facebook, it is perfectly appropriate for a Congressional Chief of Staff to try to get that person in trouble with their employer. Jeff Fortenberry shall not be mocked.

Hear a seven-minute excerpt from the long phone call here:


So who is this Congressional Chief of Staff calling from Washington DC? Who is the man that Jeff Fartenberry Fortenberry selected from all available people to be his right-hand man? It turns out that Reyn Archer has quite an interesting background, one that we at Seeing Red believe may help illuminate Fortenberry’s own agenda in Washington. In short, at a minimum we see in Archer someone who shares Fortenberry’s misogyny and whose history suggests a specific industry agenda in Fortenberry’s office, one that enriches Big Pharma through the opioid crisis.

Here is a brief chronology of Archer’s career.

The Bush Sr. Years: A Celibate Gynecologist Worries that Women’s Rights Rob Men of their Manhood

Archer is a gynecologist/obstetrician and the son of Republican U.S. Congressman Bill Archer.

He once said that when he was in private practice as a gynecologist/obstetrician, he would counsel women on family planning, and “if they did not bend to my will, I would tell them to go elsewhere.”

Archer was hired to work for the George H. W. Bush administration as the point person at U.S. Health and Human Services in enforcing the short-lived abortion gag law, which, until overturned by the Clinton administration, forbade anyone but a doctor from discussing abortion with female patients–even nurses could not bring it up. Archer clarified that he took this to even include cases in which a woman’s life was in danger.

Archer’s extreme views on family planning didn’t stop at abortion. He viewed the Supreme Court decision that legalized birth control as a mistake because the birth control pill gives women too much power. He said: “Women should never be oppressed by their husbands, that’s essential. But on the other hand, I don’t think government should have a right to intervene in the marriage relationship at any level. Men are hurt more by that decision than women. … As men see that they don’t have a right to discuss those issues anymore, they feel a little bit like they are no longer really responsible.”

♫ One pill makes her larger,
Same pill makes him small,
And we wager that Jeff Fartenberry
Doesn’t know how they work at all ♫

How does offering people family planning options “intervene in the marriage relationship”? It doesn’t, unless you believe that marriage means the total control of a husband over his wife, and therefore think giving her the right to prevent pregnancy intrudes on her husband’s supremacy. Indeed, on another occasion he said, “When it became possible for women to buy contraceptives on their own, men lost their manhood.”


When Archer was working for Bush, Sr. he advocated for the view that sex should only occur within the confines of marriage. A colleague asked him what this meant for Archer’s own life, given that he was an unmarried man in his late 30s. He was celibate, he said. He suggested that the drive for instant gratification in sex instead be channeled into work.


The Bush Jr. Years: When an Anti-Science Ideologue Crafts Public Health

In 1997, Archer became the head of the Texas Department of Health. He told the media he was invited to the job by then-governor George W. Bush. The hire was controversial, as Archer held beliefs about public health that were at odds with medical consensus. During his three years at the Department of Health:

  • Archer killed the efforts of his own Department to make ephedrine legal only with a prescription. Ephedrine had caused several deaths and over a thousand injuries in the state, so the Department of Health wanted it available only be prescription. When Archer assumed office, he allowed a DC lobbyist to write lenient regulations. Governor Bush had received $40,000 in campaign contributions from the lobbyGalveston Daily News 01/18/1999).
  • Archer said at a conference: “We need to figure out why it is when blacks were more segregated and had less opportunity that they did better on cultural measures than they do in that sense today.”
  • Archer suggested to Physician magazine that prescribing teenage girls birth control was complicity in sexual abuse: “We know that 65% of teenage girls who get pregnant have been molested or abused some time in their life. If a sexually active teen comes in, and we immediately give her the pill, then are we complicit in the relationship being nonconsensual?
  • Archer claimed that Texas’s teen pregnancy rate was high (and it was high across all racial groups) because the state’s Hispanic population does not see teenage pregnancy as a bad thing. Later, when doing damage control at the legislature’s Mexican-American caucus, he offered a different explanation, saying that pregnancy rates among non-Hispanic white teenagers were lower because they have more oral sex.
  • Archer issued an order to end confidential HIV/AIDS testing, instead requiring that the names of people who tested positive for HIV be reported to the government. He also opposed giving clean needles to drug users because it sends the wrong message.
  • Archer cut school-based health clinics that provided care for a quarter-million Texan children but had money to spend on questionable upgrades to department offices. According to the Austin Chronicle, which quoted a state legislator who was on the state appropriations committee, Archer and his advisor added private photo labs in the building.
  • That same advisor, Gerald Campbell, circumvented the usual employment process to hire a homeless man with no training, work, or educational credentials to be in charge of questioning at-risk teenagers. This improper hire led to Campbell’s resignation.
  • Archer created two positions for officials to study “the conflicting dynamics of love and alienation as root causes of social dysfunction and marginal health status.” These positions, which fell outside medical community norms for understanding public health, were controversial to begin with, but one of the hires eventually led to Archer’s downfall in the agency. The official, Dr. Demetria Montgomery, was fired, and claimed discrimination. She had recorded a long, strange, mostly one-sided conversation in which Archer informed Montgomery, “You’re fair as a black woman. You get certain privileges in white culture that others don’t get for that” and compared her to a Mississippi washerwoman in a Liebovitz photograph. The recorded comments led Governor Bush to withdraw support from Archer, who resigned.

After the Resignation: Over a Decade in Pharmaceutical Lobbying

After his resignation, Archer began working for private public relations companies that lobby for pharmaceutical companies and other clients. In 2012, his employer, Burson-Marsteller, created a small spinoff shell company called Consitor to respond to new Affordable Care Act regulations. Archer was named head of Consitor’s U.S. branch. Consitor’s chief accomplishment seems to have been to fast-track FDA approval of a nasal spray form of Narcan, a drug that treats addiction to the opioids manufactured by other clients of Burson-Marsteller. In May of 2016 Consitor stopped renewing its trademark on the name “Consitor” and appears to have gone defunct. On July 1 Archer began working for Fortenberry.

Chief of Staff

So what is a misogynist pharmaceutical lobbyist doing in Jeff Fartenberry’s Fortenberry’s office? Besides scolding a professor and inappropriately trying to punish him for laughing at a heinous act of ophthalmological and gastrointestinal symbolic violence against an “icon”? We don’t know for sure. It’s noteworthy that while Fortenberry generally holds poor people in contempt and opposes helping them get medical care, he does in fact favor expanding the benefits of Medicaid…for opioid treatment. He also favors loosening patient privacy rules to benefit the collection of patient treatment data… for opioid treatment. Like much of the rest of the GOP, Fortenberry couldn’t care less about public health except in the area of opioid abuse–which is a problem, to be sure, but is also one convenient area of public health in which a wealthy lobby makes money off causing the problem and makes money off treating the problem. And an experienced pharmaceutical lobbyist sits in his office.

But Jeff Fartenberry’s Fortenberry and Reyn Archer are also fellow travelers, each devoted to a particular brand of Catholicism that is unabashedly patriarchal and contemptuous of women and gay people. They view women’s autonomy as an affront. Fortenberry has a 100% rating from the National Right to Life Committee and a 0% from the Human Rights Campaign. He voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. He voted against prohibiting job discrimination against gay people but for protecting the jobs of federal employees who discriminate against gay people. He supports an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that defines marriage as heterosexual, and he opposes LGBT hate crime laws. And while he wants to protect workers who oppress gay people on the job, he also wants to intimidate workers who laugh at him off the job. So please, whatever you do, don’t upset the natural order of Fartenberry’s world by supporting his female opponent, and never, ever laugh at him.

This piece of flair violence is an affront to civilization that will soon be banned in Gilead. Praise be!