Six years ago, Dave Heineman defeated Tom Osborne in the Nebraska's Republican primary for governor. That election effectively brought Osborne's political career to an end. Osborne finished out his term in Congress, and returned to Nebraska. He was teaching a few classes at Nebraska when the bottom finally fell out on Steve Pederson. Osborne took over as the interim athletic director, and continues in that role today. It's been a fairly successful run for Osborne in his third career. He replaced the Bill Callahan clusterfool and hired Bo Pelini. I don't know of any Husker fan who would rather have Callahan instead of Pelini - even those fans who find Pelini's nine or ten win seasons to be mediocre. He's implemented a major expansion plan of facilities to bring Memorial Stadium to a capacity over 90,000. And most importantly, he successfully extracted Nebraska out of the quagmire that is the Big XII and into the Big Ten.
After the primary election, I heard several people mention that they had voted for Heineman so that Osborne would be available to take over as athletic director. And while I agree that Osborne has done a good job as athletic director, I still would have rather had him as Governor.
Dave Heineman enjoys high popularity and approval ratings in the Big Red state. If you've ever listened to Heineman talk (especially on those fawning interviews that Jim Rose gives on KFAB radio), he has an "aw shucks" persona. He's probably a great guy to sit to at a Husker football or volleyball game. But a governor?
Voters don't seem to want to hold Heineman accountable for his blunders. Most famously is how his administration screwed up Nebraska's child welfare system, but that's just one example. It started with his chief deputy and successor as state treasurer, Lorelee Byrd, who had to resign after pleading guilty to official misconduct in 2003. The latest is David Phipps, the Heineman appointed Douglas County election commissioner who seems intent on making a mockery of the upcoming election. His plan to close election sites raised controversy when he sent out voter information cards with incorrect information. He claimed the plan was to save money, but others think it was a veiled attempt to make it more difficult for some people to vote. (Coincidentally, Heineman also pushed for a voter ID bill at the same time which would have increased the costs of elections.) Phipps solution for making it more difficult to vote? Vote by mail! Phipps encouraged people to request ballots by mail, instructing voters to put 90 cents postage on the envelope to return the ballot.
Turns out that the postal service charges $1.10 in postage to mail the primary election ballot. Yet another blunder by Governor Dave's guy, but don't worry, his job is safe.
This year, the state legislature pretty much overrode Heineman at will. His opposition to prenatal care cast doubts on Heineman's claims of being "pro-life", and despite his claims of not getting involved in "local issues", his veto of a bill that allowed local voters the opportunity to vote on sales tax was overrode. Basically, Heineman is politically impotent at this point.
In disclosure, I'm a registered Democrat who seriously considered switching parties in 2006 to vote for Osborne in the primary. (Cue the clueless calls of "communist!") I didn't do that because I wasn't sure it was the right thing to do, even though the Democrats haven't been able to find a viable candidate to run for governor since Y2k. But after watching Heineman stumble and bumble, I'm not sure I made the right choice.
If Osborne had been elected governor, who would have taken over as Nebraska athletic director? Good question, and there's no way to know the answer. But in the grand scheme of things, I feel that Nebraska would be better off with Osborne as governor instead of athletic director.