Sunday, April 23, 2006

The Profile Dave Heineman Doesn't Want You to Read

by Kyle Michaelis
Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman has probably been feeling pretty good lately. Though still facing tough odds in the Republican primary to hold onto the office handed to him by Mike Johanns, a lot of things have broken his way to not only keep Heineman in the race against legendary coach-turned-Congressmen Tom Osborne but to even give him some outside shot at victory.

It's been a good couple of days for Heineman. First came word of some suspicious but encouraging polling on the governors' race, paid for by the far-from-disinterested Pete Ricketts, putting Heineman at 43% to Osborne's 44% as the May 9th election approaches.

Then, it was announced that Heineman received the Nebraska Farm Bureau's endorsement, securing his place with three of the Nebraska Republican Party's key constituencies. The Farm Bureau added agribusiness to Heineman's backers from Nebraska Right to Life (single-issue abortion voters) and the National Rifle Association (the "2nd Amendment crowd", many of whom would like nothing better than to exercise that supposed freedom by putting a bullet in anyone caught burning an American flag).

So, basically, everything's been looking up for least until today's Omaha World-Herald profile - which was otherwise a puff piece - reminded and informed readers of some things in Heineman's background that are far from becoming of a Governor and have, until now, kept largely below the public's RADAR.
Though easygoing in public, Heineman has a prickly side. Earlier this year, he issued an order - quickly withdrawn - barring state agency heads and other officials from meeting alone with Osborne.

And several years ago, then-Treasurer Heineman and his chief deputy, Lorelee Byrd, stormed into State Auditor Kate Witek's office and began turning over furniture in a reception area. At the time, Witek's auditors had cited Heineman's office for failure to properly tag state property.

Bryd and Heineman apparently wanted to see whether the auditor's office was following its own rules.

Jeanne Herbers, a project manager in the office, remembered the pair as "agitated" but emphasized they were not destructive. "It was just an odd, weird thing," she said.

To some, Heineman's decision to hire Byrd - whom he worked with in former Rep. Doug Bereuter's office - was one of his biggest mistakes.

Byrd was an abrasive personality who made enemies. Former employees accused her of having screaming tirades and monitoring their bathroom breaks.

Byrd, who succeeded Heineman as treasurer, was forced to resign after admitting to misdemeanor charges that she wrote checks without invoices and stored them in her vault - an apparent attempt to beef up her budget while lawmakers looked for spending to cut....

Asked if he regretted hiring Byrd, Heineman declined to answer: "You can't go back and change what's occurred."

It's hard to say how much damage such a clear record of Heineman's disturbing "prickly side" will do. Still, the profile is nowhere near as harsh as it could be, largely letting Heineman off the hook for his petty and childish demand that agency heads not talk with Osborne unless he was present. That order actually stood for several weeks - far from "quickly withdrawn" in my book.

Report of Heineman's until-now neglected relationship with the despised and disgraced Loralee Byrd, though, certainly isn't going to help. And, this story about Heineman and Byrd flipping out and flipping over furniture in the State Auditor's office has to be one of the most damned fool things I've ever heard in Nebraska politics. It's downright cartoonish, with Heineman and Byrd sounding like a villianous tag-team, particularly in light of Byrd's eventual crime.

Add in the fact that Auditor Witek is now running for Lt. Governor with Osborne against Heineman (her old nemesis?), and things start looking really damn fishy. I mean, seriously, how could our state's economy not have gone down the tubes with these jackasses at the wheel, busy grinding their axes and stroking their egos as the whole damn system falls apart around them?


So, anyway, that one profile isn't going to be winning Heineman any admirers. It's likely to counterbalance some of the positive vibes his campaign has been trying to build around his chances. The net effect over the last couple of months, though, is still going to be largely in Heineman's favor.

In essence, lifting some analogies from Osborne's coaching days, Heineman is no longer Pacific facing off against the Huskers. He's looking more like an Iowa State, a team that could actually pull off a surprise upset once every decade or so.

Keeping with the football metaphors because they seem strangely adept and even somewhat relevant, with only 2 weeks left to go, this game is clearly in the 4th Quarter. Osborne has been leading all the way but has played sloppy - failing to capitalize when necessary - and hasn't been able to put this one away. In fact, he's been playing on cruise control for most of the game, with no major screw-ups but leaving plenty of opportunities for his opponent.

And, to his credit as a politician (I give him very little as an actual leader), Heineman hasn't just sat back and waited for Osborne to make a mistake. He's been out there with an idea of the things he needed to do, and he has done them...largely sticking to a gameplan that has been in effect since the day he took office.

He knew better than to assert non-existent authority before the legislature in seeking passage of tax incentives for businesses and tax cuts for individuals in consecutive years. Instead, he kept his goals and his message broad so he'd be able to put his name on and take the credit for whatever the legislature passed. On school issues, Heineman sided with the pissed-off parents who don't like being bullied by the state or by a larger school district, knowing full well that their anger - whether just or not - could serve the purposes of his campaign.

Meanwhile, Heineman has proved happy to use his veto power whenever public opinion suggested it might be beneficial to his cause - having learned from Johanns that, if passage is really important, the legislature will override and take the heat for him.

After all, deserve's got nothing to do with it. This is about politics - not principles.

And, truth be told, I'm not so sure that voters are going to mind least, not in this Republican primary where any pretense of principle went out the window long ago (i.e. Don Stenberg's campaign pledge, Pete Ricketts' mommy, the OPS debacle, Heineman's gag order, Dave Nabity's adoration for Lee Atwater).

Ideally, those would be a lot of good reasons not to vote Republican. As is, they might just be a lot of good reasons not to read the newspaper.


Blogger Hosh said...

I wasn't surprised to read the negativity, nor was I surprised the they saved Osborne for last. As both of us have said before, the owh is a joke.

Blogger Tomward said...

Holy cow, this is breaking news. We must alert the president quickly. P.S. I have dirt on Dave, just ask me.


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