Thursday, November 10, 2005

Curiouser and Curiouser

by Kyle Michaelis
As an addendum of sorts to the immediately preceding post, concerning Republican office-holders in state government playing fast and loose with taxpayers' money helping their respective reelection campaigns in a round-about way, there was more news today about some mysterious job-shifting that raises eyebrows and can't help but leave one wondering what's really going on.

Of course, the line between government employees and campaign operatives has always been something of a revolving door, but here it's beginning to demonstrate a fissure that pits the state government against itself in what seems tantamount to an inter-party Republican Civil War being waged on the peoples' dime.

First, let's lay some groundwork on the situation courtesy of this summer's Lincoln Journal-Star:
Less than a month after he resigned as leader of one of the state's most high-profile agencies, Tom Nesbitt has taken a $30,000 state job his new boss and close friend said consists of "drilling into the data."

The former State Patrol superintendent was scheduled to begin working in State Treasurer Ron Ross' office today...Ross said he hired Nesbitt shortly after his resignation took effect June 3 and that he considered no other candidates for the job....

Nesbitt could not be reached for comment. He has said Gov. Dave Heineman, whom he clashed with at times while superintendent, asked him to resign. Heineman has refused to confirm whether he asked Nesbitt to resign and declined through his spokesman Wednesday to comment on Nesbitt's new job with the state.

Ross and Nesbitt became friends shortly after former Gov. Mike Johanns named him superintendent of the patrol in 1998. Ross described his friendship with Nesbitt as very close but said the position was not created for his friend to fill....

Ross said of Nesbitt's job[,] "It just so happens he needs a job and I need someone to do it"....

Ross said Nesbitt is imminently qualified for the job and brushed aside criticism that he was doing his friend a favor.

"The guy is entitled to work like anyone else," Ross said.

A bit of political patronage by Ross. A bit of retaliation by Heineman. Just politics as usual, right? Except here's where things get interesting, from today's AP:
After allegedly being forced out of his job as head of the Nebraska State Patrol by Gov. Dave Heineman, Tom Nesbitt has joined Rep. Tom Osborne's campaign for governor.

Nesbitt said when he retired from the patrol in June that Heineman had asked for his resignation. Heineman has not said whether he asked Nesbitt to resign.

Nesbitt said he considered it an honor to be a part of Osborne's campaign.

"I respect the governor's decision to ask me to retire," Nesbitt said. "It's nothing against the governor. I just obviously am endorsing Congressman Osborne to become the governor."

Nesbitt said he hasn't thought about whether he would want to return to state government work if Osborne becomes governor.

Nesbitt was named head of the patrol by Heineman's predecessor, Mike Johanns, after Nesbitt drove Johanns around the state in his first campaign for governor in 1998.

Nesbitt, who had led the patrol for five years, went to work for State Treasurer Ron Ross in June. He worked in the treasurer's unclaimed-property division...for less than two months before joining Osborne's campaign Sept. 1....

Nesbitt's father, Oliver, still works part-time for the Treasurer's Office.... Nesbitt's son, Nick, worked for the treasurer in the summer of 2004 and 2005 but left in August to return to school.

Osborne's campaign manager, Vicki Powell, said Nesbitt is a paid staffer on the campaign. He is the field representative for the 1st Congressional District, which entails meeting with other campaign officials in the counties, helping to organize events, putting up yard signs and addressing any other concerns, Powell said.

So, let's just break it all down - Tom Nesbitt, after being asked to resign by Governor Heineman, went to work for Treasurer Ross, a close personal friend who gave him a job without an interview or taking any other applications while also employing Nesbitt's father and son. After about two months on the job, Nesbitt joined the campaign of Tom Osborne challenging the man who all-but-fired him from the Nebraska State Patrol. He now works under Vicki Powell (see below), who made a similar leap to the Osborne campaign from Attorney General Bruning's office, where she too had worked for a short time after being hired under suspicious circumstances that scream out preferential treatment.

Both Powell and Nesbitt made their names in Nebraska politics working closely with former Gov. Mike Johanns. From the look of it, I'd bet they had committed to Osborne's 2006 campaign for governor before Johanns ran-off to Washington D.C. leaving a house divided between a governor-in-waiting (Osborne) and a pretender-to-the-throne (Heineman).

My question is: were both Nesbitt and Powell, when hired by Bruning and Ross, respectively, always just hold-overs for the Osborne campaign, being kept afloat financially as a favor to Osborne while his campaign got up-and-running? How many other state employees have already made a similar transition as campaign season heats up? The patronage system is pretty well-established when a candidate wins, but this blending of multiple candidates, their campaign staffs, and state offices is just too screwy and convoluted to be believed.

I guess this is just the Republican machine in Nebraska at work, though I can't believe it was ever intended to run so inefficiently...not to mention publicly. Who can guess at the paranoia all this inspires in the Govenor's Mansion - not only does Heineman have to compete with 3 National Championships but also the offices of the State Treasurer and the Attorney General, who might actually have it in for him.

My advice to Heineman - trust no one. Who knows just how far the reach of this Osborne Cabal extends?

Suddenly, I'd really like to know just what went on between Nesbitt and Heineman last spring. Anyone else think Heineman was taking pre-emptive action when he realized the fix was in? We'll probably never know, but it sure is fun to speculate.


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