Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Part 1: An Affable Fella'

by Kyle Michaelis

Starting off with something light and fluffy, what have you learned about yourself on the campaign trail? Has this experience been harder than you expected, more fun, maybe more expensive?

Most of all the above….I feel real comfortable. I’ve found that I’m using a few new muscles in a sense. Not necessarily physical muscles but intellectual muscles. Adapting to the political way of life is something, especially since the last 10 years I’ve been working in a technical field, which is a lot more black and white, There’s a lot more shades…in politics. Let me tell you.

The other thing I’ve learned is to take time to listen to myself and listen to what my instincts are telling me because in this game there are so many advisers - paid and free - who will offer all kinds of advice, and they just come from so many perspectives.

One of the most difficult challenges I’ve had is listening to my own voice while receiving all this new information…. The idea is that since I’m a neophyte I might not know much, and I should listen to the professionals. But, what I’m learning is there’s a lot I knew about this. This is about speaking clearly and having clear ideas.

The most important thing is just kind of knowing the people of Nebraska? Is that kind of what it comes down to?

I think so. And, I feel comfortable doing that. You know before this, it’s not like I’ve been sitting in Lincoln the last 30 years. I have a real good sense of all Nebraska – having worked in, traveled in, and practiced law in all parts of the state. I’m feeling comfortable… With my knowledge of NebraskaNebraska issues…Nebraska sensibilities…principles and history - all of that seems to be fitting pretty well with what I’m finding as I go out there and talk to people.

With limited polling data available, your opponent, Governor. Heineman, appears to have an approval rating of approximately 70%. When you travel the state, when you talk to voters, have you gotten much of a sense of what that 70% approves of?

I think they approve of him being an affable fella’. In other words, he appears to be a nice guy. He smiles a lot…he’s nice and he’s sincere about the things that he engages in, so they give him high approval on that. And I think in the Republican primary you had two opponents who were both good Nebraskans in the sense of their approach and their likeability factor.

Now, when I start hitting on issues like taxes and leadership, or health care…my own experience is that approval rating falls off pretty quickly….

I’ve met him a few times – he seems likeable. And, I imagine as we get into this I won’t change my mind about that unless he starts hitting below the belt. But, that’s not what this is about. This isn’t junior high. This is about very serious issues facing Nebraska. My experience is that Nebraskans know that. They have an innate sense – a discomfort, maybe, is the best word – about the way things are going. And, they respond to somebody who sets forth positions clearly.

In the last few weeks…that’s what I’m hearing back. People like my style – that I’m forthright and don’t need to sit around and wait for task forces and study groups to find out which way the weather vane is blowing.

Now, you mentioned that there is a level of discomfort you feel on the part of Nebraska voters, and I think that's probably understandable. Last year, as you know, Nebraska ranked right alongside Michigan as the worst performing state in the nation in terms of economic growth. This year, in Michigan, those sorts of numbers have resulted in Jennifer Granholm, the Democratic Governor, facing a very, very tough fight for reelection. Yet, here it hasn’t really registered with the people of Nebraska. Why is that?

Well, I just don’t think there’s been a challenge. That’s why. The Republican primary – they ran their primary, they ran their races but, in my view, nobody put the sitting Governor, Governor Heineman, to the test… And, I’ll be speaking very, very clearly on that.

A lot of it comes down to economic growth. We can talk about a lot of different things but unless we keep growing we’ll just be rearranging the furniture, so to speak –

Deck chairs on the Titanic?

Well, it could be. Look, the new numbers just came out. Nebraska, in the preliminary numbers for 2005, we’re near the bottom again. We’re lower than every state that touches around us….I think we’re 40th maybe, but…there’s a very tight grouping at the bottom. We’re in that again.

So, two years running, we’re bumping up to the bottom…so, I think that will register. It’s registering to the people I’m talking to, and as we get into our media campaign and more of that I think it will register with Nebraskans.

They know it. What I’m finding is that people have a deep sense – it’s in their bones – maybe they can’t put their finger on it, but as I start to explain why we’re there I get a lot of people shaking their heads. And they understand.

So, I think the challenge for us is to keep the message clear. The challenge for me is to keep the message clear. And, I anticipate that the other side will try to muddle that message and just keep talking the happy talk. “It’s the good life – Nebraska – let’s just keep it going that way.”

Well, quite frankly, that will be the decision when we get to November. Do we just want more of the same, or do we want to change course?

That kind of leads into my next question. In 2002, then Gov. Johanns was able to basically cruise to victory by largely not even acknowledging that he had an opponent, that there was an election…What’s your plan to make sure Heineman isn’t able to win on the same strategy?

Well…it’s hard for me to comment on the 2002 election. I’ve talked to Stormy [Dean, 2002 Democratic nominee] a little bit about that…. We’ve already been very aggressive. We’re getting a lot of good press. And, we’re drawing the distinctions early.

This isn’t about shades of meaning, and I think perhaps the 2002 election was like that. This is about very easily identifiable differences of where Nebraska will go.

Now, one of the things I’ve talked about is that’s why we call it a ticket – like you have a ticket. That’s a good metaphor for what this is about. Heineman may go out and campaign – smile… go around and, you know, he’s a good fellow… I could do the same thing. But the issue is what ticket are you buying?

Because, if you think about [it], if you buy a ticket to Philadelphia, what that means by definition is you’re not going to end up in Chicago. Okay? So, you may fly over, look down on the flight … and it will look somewhat the same: the green trees, the valleys, maybe some rivers or whatnot. But, at the end of it, if you buy a ticket to Philadelphia, you’re going to be in Philadelphia. You’re not going to be in Chicago.

Now, I say that because I think that’s a perfect metaphor for where we’re going. If you buy the Heineman ticket, you’ll end up with more of the same, which is, in my view, growing corporate control of the Nebraska economy, continuing migration of young people from the state, continuing fighting over meaningless tax “relief” – note how I say that – and a more divisive Nebraska.

Whether it’s education, whether it’s the poor versus the rich, whether it’s those who can fend for themselves versus those who can’t - for example, foster care - then, you’ll have more of that. He’s already been sued for a couple of things. He’s invited suit on another issue, which is the South Dakota-type abortion ban. He’s basically said “Yeah, I’ll sign the law”…kind of a Bush-“bring it on” approach. So, that’s where you’ll end up.

If Nebraskans understand what ticket they’re buying and what place they’re going to land at, then distinguish that with where they’re going to land if they buy my ticket: which is more focused on small and medium-sized businesses rather than large corporations, a commitment to energy independence and net energy export status by the year 2020, a commitment to property tax reform because I strongly feel we’re running 21st century government on a 19th century tax structure, and a realization that we must make it easier for young people to stay in this state.

So, the focuses are entirely different. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a nice guy when you get to Philadelphia, but you won’t be in Chicago. And, that’s what people need to understand….

That message is resonating. And, man, I’m telling you, everywhere we go we’re getting a great response - not just from Democrats. I’ve had the experience multiple times now with Republicans coming to hear me speak and telling me afterwards they’re going to vote for me. And, they don’t feel so much that they’re leaving the party. They feel their party’s left them….It doesn’t represent them. And that’s mostly working Nebraskans, working families…

So, that’s the difference. And, I won’t be shy about it….


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