Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A Few Good Candidates

by Kyle Michaelis
An article in today's Lincoln Journal-Star brings up an important issue I've been meaning to write about for some time - one I'd hoped I wouldn't have to write about - the Nebraska Democratic Party's seeming inability to attract, enlist, recruit, or retain candidates for Nebraska's statewide constitutional offices.

Nate Jenkins and Nancy Hicks write:
The state Democratic Party has put a lot of effort and rhetoric behind its efforts to revive itself and loosen the tight grip Republicans have on most parts of the state. Part of the strategy — surprise — is to simply get more Democrats to run for office.

It’s been tough sledding so far.

The candidate filing deadline for legislative and statewide offices is Wednesday, and as of presstime Monday, zero Democrats had filed for four of the five constitutional offices: Secretary of State, State Treasurer, Attorney General and Auditor.

The lone Democrat in the constitutional office mix, David Hahn, is running for governor.

“Obviously, we’re getting down to crunch time” to field candidates for the other four offices, said Barry Rubin, executive director of the Nebraska Democratic Party. Rubin said he is still hopeful that Democrats will file for some or all of the seats, but acknowledged it’s been a struggle. “Running for (the offices) isn’t as sexy as running for governor or Congress or Legislature.”

But for a party trying to rebuild itself and establish a presence in all levels of government, it could be nearly as important.

Now, maybe I'll wake-up on Thursday morning and discover that we have a full slate of well-qualified and dynamic candidates for these positions, but - frankly - I'm not putting much faith in the idea. And, at the end of the day, there are really only two people I can blame for this:

You. And me.

Of course, finding good candidates is part of Rubin and the Democratic Party's job - it and getting such folks elected might even be their whole reason for existing. On that level, it's fair to recognize failure, but fault is another matter entirely.

At the end of the day, the Nebraska Democratic Party will only ever be as strong as the people willing to wear its label before the voters on a ballot. In so far as I have not been scouring the state high and low for qualified, respectable, and passionate candidates for these offices, I am to blame for what could prove a very pathetic display on the November ballot, and so are you (unless you're a Republican).

Pointing fingers rarely does any good, even when pointing in a mirror. Still, I'm distressed that things could have gotten to this point with my barely having made a peep about the Democratic Party's dire need for candidates. While I've been distracted and only really serve an essential function in my imagination, I can't believe what I must have been thinking to assume candidates would just pop-up out of the blue (or red, as the case may be).

Then again, no candidate is usually better than an embarrassing and unprepared one. And, this late in the game (we're talking inbounds pass from the other side of the court with 2 seconds left here), it really is expecting too much that legitimate candidates are going to come forward. So much of politics is preparation - yes, in raising money and building a campaign but also in reconciling work and family with such a huge committment and even getting to a point where you can reasonably look the voters of this state in the eye and ask them to put their trust in you.

But, without people willing to make that sacrifice, to take that risk, the Democratic Party will never be anything but an echo in this state. If we can't offer an alternative to voters, we are every bit as much to blame for this state's failures as the Republicans in actual office.

Running for office is an incredible committment. And, admittedly, the numbers in this state are not all that inviting for those would run as Democrats. But, for anyone with the means, the ability, and the inclination to run not to do so on the basis of party registration amounts to an act of contempt for Nebraska voters. Running for office is always an act of faith - if we're not willing to put our names, our ideas, our reputations, and our expertise on the line, trusting our fate to the reasonableness of voters, how can we ever expect things to improve?

Maybe we are a party devoid of ideas and without talent. Of course, I know Democrats who prove that notion wrong. Our lone candidate for governor, David Hahn, is a prime example. Stranding him on the ballot is an abandonment of him, of our ideals, and of the future of this state. It is politically unconsciounable and unforgiveable ...especially in an election year where any candidate will be sharing the ballot with a popular Ben Nelson and not have to run against a Republican president. To waste such opportunity and potential can only make Nebraska's hoped-for progressive renaissance that much more distant and improbable. It's sad really.

Though I've supported Jon Bruning to some degree on many of his controversial choices of late, whether he has the legal expertise required of an Attorney General has certainly come into question of late. Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Gale has been caught turning supposed election reform into a Republican get-out-the-vote effort. The Republican elected state Treasurer in 2002 resigned in disgrace, casting a cloud that still hangs over that office. Finally, the State Auditor position stands to be filled by a man who has dedicated 6 years in the legislature to a singular, self-serving purpose of chiseling away at the rights of women. How Mike Foley would do the same as State Auditor is anyone's guess, though it likely involves using that office as a stepping stone to a position of even greater political influence.

Four open slots. Four opportunities. Four cases to be made that the voters of Nebraska need change and deserve a better alternative - a Democratic alternative. Unless Rubin and the NDP have something up their sleeves, it's probably too late to expect a true slate to come together that could break Nebraska's cycle of stagnation and put the state back on the path to progress. But, if anyone out there has been seriously considering seeking any of these offices, I hope this plea might encourage you to make that leap, that investment, that act of act of faith in our democracy and our Democratic Party. If nothing else, you'll be relieving this lonely blogger of some of that blame I share for not taking up this charge sooner and with greater force.


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