Thursday, May 10, 2012

Political Talk: Nebraska Needed Osborne as a Governor More than as AD

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.


TMF said...

I'm not sure an "aw shucks" persona is the reason Heineman has high poll numbers. Keeping the unemployment rate around 4% would seem to be a much bigger reason, if you ask me.

And why don't voters seem to want to hold him accountable? Because most of the mistakes you listed fall directly on appointees. I know the buck stops with him, but Douglas County election problems and an extra $0.20 in postage don't resonate with many people. Low unemployment and not raising taxes? That's the ticket.

I think you need to recall a few more reasons Osborne wasn't elected governor. One of his biggest issues? Gambling. While Nebraska is by no means pro-gambling, it's an issue that, again, doesn't resonate. Furthermore, he came out and said he'd only serve one term. So he's asking voters to replace someone who'd done a decent job and could serve longer than anyone in state history for a guy who just wants one term? Yeah, we know he's old, but it makes no sense.

Was there a specific reason you wanted to see Osborne in there or are you just anti-Heineman? I can understand why you would be now, but remember, this was 2006 and a lot of what you find fault with hadn't happened yet.

An interesting debate, in any case. And while I never agree with what you write on politics, I'm glad you're brave enough to broach the subject. It's a nice change of pace.

NU6NCS said...

I agree the issue of changing polling places and consolidating wasn't handled the best. But come on. This incessant whining and bellyaching over traveling a little farther to vote tells me theses people shouldn't be voting in the first place if they are too lazy to get to the voting booth.

Heck they will even pick them up and take them if they take the time to call and ask for a ride to the polling booth.

That is more a non issue drummed up to benefit the opposing party.

Husker Mike said...

I'm not sure that unemployment earns Heineman much credit. When I compare Iowa's unemployment rate to Nebraska's over the past eight years, I see the same general trends. It seems that the economy in this region have been insulated from the worldwide economic slowdown.

A lot of people think that Heineman's victory came down to immigration, not the gambling effort. Heineman has supported inserting citizenship checks into a lot of government processes.

As for the election issues, for many people, the changes are minor inconveniences at best. But for people in economically disadvantaged areas, it affects those people disproportionally.

When you suggest that "these people shouldn't be voting in the first place"...that's vote suppression. And when you combine it with Charlie Janssen's failed voter ID bill (which would increase election costs at a time when we are supposedly trying to decrease them), it really raises troubling questions about what the Heineman cabal is trying to do (albeit ham-handedly)