Friday, January 13, 2006

A Missed Opportunity

by Kyle Michaelis
Following up on a post from a few days ago about Gov. Dave Heineman's abusing his office to maintain an unprincipled and unearned information gap about the health and operations of state government between he and his gubernatorial rivals, the Omaha World-Herald editorial board has now registerd its distaste with such a childish display of insecurity and intimidation.

They write:
Campaign seasons can spur candidates to make dumb decisions. An example came this week with news that Gov. Dave Heineman has taken a particularly petty action against his chief political rival, U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne.

Heineman has issued an oral directive that whenever Osborne visits a state agency director, the meeting also must be attended by a gubernatorial staff member or even Heineman himself.

This is hardly the first Nebraska political campaign in which childishness has reared its head. But Heineman's decision smacks of remarkable small-mindedness.

The executive branch is not the governor's personal fiefdom. And Osborne's meetings with agency directors are not at all the equivalent of one business executive holding meetings in a bid to oust a competitor.

The Nebraska government is grounded in the sovereignty of the people, not the supposed sovereignty of the state's chief executive. If a candidate for governor - not least a respected, energetic candidate such as Osborne - seeks to deepen his already considerable understanding of state government by meeting with agency heads, the process should facilitate that effort, not be twisted to hinder it.

The governor's restrictions, moreover, send a message of pointed disrespect not only to Osborne but to state agency heads as well....

Nebraska prides itself on the commendable openness of its government. Heineman's needless action against Osborne tramples on that tradition.

A remarkably on-point editorial reflecting most of my own previously stated concerns, it nevertheless calls the question of why more voices haven't come forward to criticize Heineman's actions. In particular, where are the Nebraska Democratic Party and its presumptive gubernatorial nominee David Hahn?

While Osborne and the state employees he sought meetings with may be the ones personally slighted by Heineman's outrageous demand, the insult at its heart goes against the people of Nebraska and the principles on which our entire idea of government is founded. To have so brazenly violated the expectations of his office and character demands reproach, swift and immediate, from any who might hope to offer an honest alternative.

Yet, to my knowledge, there's been nothing but silence on the matter from both corners. Of course, it's only been three days since this information was first revealed, but the chance to strike while the fire was hot and really take a lead on the issue (before the World-Herald could get in its "final word" from on high) has likely already come and gone. That's disappointing for Nebraska Democrats and voters, in general, who might like to know that there is someone out there willing to hold those in elected office to a higher standard.

Because Osborne isn't going to risk alienating Republicans by attacking Heineman on this issue, though it be entirely warranted, a void is here going unfulfilled in the common sense and political conscience of the people of Nebraska. The fact that Hahn and/or the NDP would not be speaking directly for their own benefit - but rather asserting the rights of Osborne and the will of the people - would have even strengthened their hand, speaking for once on principles untainted by the obvious self-interest that usually makes such complaints dismissible as purely partisan gestures.

Here was a chance to lead on a progressive issue with which any voter could relate. How can you possibly pass up an opportunity such as that? can't. Not if you really want to reconnect with voters and establish a new identity. Maybe there's more to the story. Maybe I am speaking out-of-turn. But my gut tells me this has been a great opportunity totally wasted.

Perhaps some of the thinking behind this silence has been that Osborne stood most to gain from the fully justified all-out attack on Heineman for which I've advocated - and, sure, there might be concerns that Osborne would be the more difficult foe in a general election that is going to be pretty damn difficult no matter what. But, to be honest, Nebraska Democrats don't have the luxury and aren't in a position to make such calculations.

Being outspoken on this, taking Heineman fully to task, would only have made Osborne's meek response - putting loyalty to party before principle - look all the more pathetic by contrast. People need to know that SOMEONE is going to stand up for them...SOMEONE is willing to speak out for them. This situation not only demonstrates the Nebraska Republican Party's abuse of power but also its institutional inability to correct itself.

On a national level and here in Nebraska, the Republicans have so insulated themselves from reason and criticism, while becoming evermore enamored of their assumed political might, that they are completely out-of-touch. They are the Party of Narcissus and Bill O'Reilly, staring at their own reflection in the water and marveling at how great they have become. As Democrats, we can wait and hope for the good of the country that they fall into the lake, or we can give them a well-deserved push. Here, we had just such an opportunity - not that it would have gotten them into the water, but it would have put them one step closer to sealing their own demise - and we blew it.

Heineman's abuse of power and Osborne's weak response to it are not seperate issues - they are one and the same - and Nebraska deserved far, far better from both of them. Nebraska deserves, demands, and is, in fact, screaming out for a voice that will neither tolerate nor excuse such gross failures of leadership.

And, if that voice is only coming from some self-important, over-opinionated kid's blog and the pages of the Omaha World-Herald (of all places), frankly, SOMEONE ELSE isn't doing their job.


Post a Comment

<< Home