Election Day: 3rd Strikes, 2nd Guesses & Our 1st, Best Chance for Change in a Long, Long Timeby Kyle Michaelis
Between Pete Ricketts' mom and David Kramer's son - Jay Vavricek attacking Adrian Smith while Adrian Smith attacks Teddy Kennedy - let alone, this Jim Nagengast guy dropping a bunch of money to run ads for an unpaid position on the Board of Regents - voters seem to have had more than their fill and are already pretty fed-up with this whole campaign business. If they are subjected to another six months of this without some serious downtime, I'll be expecting rioting in the streets (or, at least, a drop in cable subscriptions).
The most intriguing story today is, of course, the political fate of Congressman, coach, and gubernatorial candidate Tom Osborne. Pseudo-incumbent Gov. Dave Heineman is young enough that, if he loses, we'll probably hear from him again in some shape or form...especially because he'd still be our sitting governor for the next 8 months.
Oddly, I've seen nothing written about how uncomfortable things might be with a sitting Republican governor waiting to be uprooted by a challenger who defeated him in his own party's primary. That would be quite the insult under many circumstances, but - coming up against a man of Osborne's stature with the football-loving public - it would be hard to really support Heineman's loss as a slap-in-the-face. After all, the guy was never elected.
No, if there's an insult to be had - and some hurt feelings, to boot - they're more likely and more justified on the part of Osborne, no matter how today's election turns-out. I've stated previously that I expect Osborne to pull this one off, but it looks to be in nail-biter fashion on voter goodwill alone....after being rejected in favor of the entrenched Johanns-Heineman machine by many of the fundamental institutions in the GOP power structure.
If Osborne had half the independence of thought and spirit that so many want to see in him, a victory should encourage a significant break from these interests to whom Osborne literally owes nothing - but, alas, there's no real cause for hope that Osborne aspires to anything resembling the bold leadership that would actually take advantage of his transformative potential.
And, should Heineman pull this one off - as the latest polling suggests is more than a possibility - it will literally be the end of Osborne's political career. Finito. Coming from the world of college football, ending your career on such a down note could prove devastating for Osborne's ego, but there's just nowhere else for him to go. It's either to the Governor's Mansion or to the fishing hole.
More than anything else, I am banking on voters' reluctance to give Osborne the boot - their unwillingness to put him in forced retirement - to carry him out of the primary. Nebraskans are a polite people, and that just isn't how you treat a legend.
Heineman's own advertising has an older gentlemen talking about how much "we all respect Tom Osborne." That respect may have been tarnished by Osborne's voting record in Congress, his reliance on D.C. politicians for endorsements, and his campaign's use of negative phone calls targeting Heineman...but it's hard to believe that voters - particularly the undecideds who outsize the margin of error in every poll - will really turn a blind eye to the emotional pull Osborne's name still holds on a ballot.
For 35 years, the people of Nebraska have known this man....or, at least, felt like they did so. As in the Senate race, susbtantive differences on the issues are few and far between. That makes this race a commentary on the candidates' personal qualifications. Whether some heavy-hitters in Nebraska GOP politics coming out in support of Heineman will really prove enough to get voters to forsake that connection - 35 years, 3 national championships - may be tonight's defining and most revealing question.
In the battle between Generic Republicans R, S, and K (Ricketts, Stenberg, and Kramer) for the right to challenge Ben Nelson on the November ballot, all signs point to Pete Ricketts' investment of $4.7 million of the family fortune paying off. Such outcome does not surprise. In fact, it seems quite fitting that the party selling our country down a river of corruption in Washington D.C. should also sell its own elections to the highest bidder.
The upside of this, of course, is that such an outcome would finally be strike three in Don Stenberg's Senatorial ambitions, almost without a doubt closing the prospects of such a nightmare scenario once and for all. To say that Stenberg's campaign was bungled from the start would be an under-statement. That the man thought he could coast against a record $5 million dollars worth of advertising (which could have been even more) just because he'd taken an abortion doctor to the U.S. Supreme Court more than half a decade ago was plainly absurd, especially since he lost that case.
Both Stenberg and Osborne should have now learned a lesson about the fickleness of voters and the lack of loyalty amongst special interests. Osborne, however, has been kept afloat because the passions of Husker fans run much deeper than those of the single-issue reactionaries on whom Stenberg relied. Good riddance, I say, even if the near-certain Nelson victory Stenberg would have guaranteed would have been a welcome gift to common sense voters.
Other than that, what else is there to say? I've offered a qualified endorsement of Amendment One, which would raise state senators' pay for the first time in 18 years, while instituting a cost of living adjustment from here on out. Those issues should have rightfully been separated when put to voters, but that objection can hardly justify any further inaction. I value having the very best state senators possible. If rewarding them with better pay will give voters more and better choices on the ballot, who could say no to that?
As a Democrat who could not personally reconcile with my own conscience joining the "Republican-for-a-Day" phenomenon that has engulfed at least one state senator, the second-richest man in the world, North Platte's mayor, and several other elected officials (even costing one appointed election officer in Douglas County his job), I will still vote proudly on the incomplete Democratic ticket, even if dismayed at the lack of a choice on the ballot for State Treasurer, Attorney General, and State Auditor.
The latter continues to be the most troublesome because Republican Mike Foley, a proven fraud who has already lied to the people of Nebraska and his fellow state senators once this year, stands to take that office without challenge. In fact, I saw his name and face on a piece of GOP literature Monday, proving Republicans aren't bothered in the slightest by Foley's record of betrayal and what it might mean for the integrity of our state government should he be elected auditor. How very sad for them and depressing for us.
Yeah, so, like I said....I've really got nothing to say about today's election. Nothing new at any rate. The outcome will certainly deserve some comment - but, from where I'm standing, this is when the real challenge begins.
If the 2006 elections are going to live up to their promise as a true chance for transformation and change in Nebraska and across the country, then we have our work cut out for us. Losses are unacceptable. Even maintaining the status quo would be a failure. We have been stuck in a rut for too long. Now is the time for progress and bold ideas.
The stakes have already been raised. They could not, in fact, be any higher. Now, we must lay our cards on the table and see how this all plays out.