Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Osborne For Governor Redux

by Kyle Michaelis
Well, it seems like a couple of people haven't had their fill of weak football references posing as clever headlines in Nebraska political reporting. The latest redundant talk of "Hail Marys" and "Fourth-and-a-Mile" involves a long-shot challenge to a state law that prevents losing candidates in a primary from petitioning onto the general election ballot or receiving write-in votes. Seems a similar law in Alaska was overturned a couple of decades ago, giving Heisman-winning Johnny "the Jet" Rodgers and a few other former Huskers (bet they thought up this one all by themselves) some hope that their old coach, Tom Osborne, could still be the state's next governor despite his loss to the guy currently holding the office, Dave Heineman.

Since I write a lot of throw-away hypotheticals, I'm not going to take any credit for the fact that I wrote about this possibility in a NNN post 10 months ago:
Frankly, a rejection of Osborne in the Republican Primary wouldn't do much to end Osborne's campaign for governor if he would be willing to run as an independent. But, that would be between he, his conscience, and his loyalty to the big "R" that has milked Osborne for just about everything he's good for these last 5 years in Congress.

There was the rub, and there it remains. The Omaha World-Herald has already reported:
Osborne, a Republican congressman, issued a statement saying he did not know about the lawsuit and had not encouraged any write-in campaign.

"As nice as it is of my former players and associates to be concerned about my future, none of their efforts have involved consultation with me," he said. "I am concentrating on serving the remaining six months of my congressional term to the best of my ability."

Osborne pledged last fall to support the winner of the Republican Party's governor primary, said Carlos Castillo, interim executive director of the state party and campaign manager for Gov. Dave Heineman. Heineman defeated Osborne in the May primary.

Bruce Rieker, a strategist for Osborne's campaign, said Osborne would honor the pledge.

"We took a run at it in the primary, he was unsuccessful and the voters have spoken," Rieker said.

It's all a matter of loyalty. And, though Tom might have a valid gripe about his treatment by the state's major GOP players, it's hard to imagine he'd be willing to air that sort of dirty laundry in public so as to justify his putting his hat in the ring again.

Got to say, it sure would liven things up a bit if he would show that sort of spunk. If there's ever been one thing lacking in Osborne's repertoire, it's that spark of rebelliousness that characterizes most every other great football coach. If Osborne should suddenly develop a little bit of attitude and tell Heineman to stick it by giving the race one last hurrah, it would be so out of character that every voter in this state would have to consider Osborne in a radically new light.

But, come on, does anyone really think Osborne's got that sort of fight in him? It certainly wasn't there in the primary, or Heineman would be sitting in the Governor's mansion surrounded by moving boxes and packing tape.

Sorry, but - for now - this is a pipe dream, no more real or legitimate than when I theorized about the possibility last September. Still, it's ridiculous and would spice up the entire election cycle, so - for that reason alone, irrespective of the merits and reserving the right to change my mind in the future - I say what have you got to lose.

Tilting at windmills? Absolutely. Early on-set Alzheimers? Don't know - don't much care. Egomaniac? Damn straight, but there's not a successful football coach or politician in the world about whom you probably couldn't say the exact same thing.

Sometimes life is about the ride. For the ever-methodical Osborne, that sort of realization would be tantamount to a rebirth. Doesn't mean it's going to happen, but - hell - let's just bask in the warmth of the absurd possibilities.

***Addendum - 11:18 pm***

Left-wing blog regulars will note a certain parallel between this situation and that facing Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who has announced his intention to petition onto the general election ballot even if he loses against challenger Ned Lamont in that state's Democratic primary. While I'm inclined to support Lamont's candidacy, the invective against Lieberman has reached such obnoxious levels that it makes one sick to the stomach. In the interests of democracy, I support relatively easy access to the ballot for independent and third-party candidates - even those who've been rejected by voters in one party (Joe) or the other (Tom). For candidates with cross-over appeal, I can't imagine sitting in judgment on them for wanting to give the full electorate a choice.

Doesn't mean I'd vote for either Lieberman or Osborne, but in a representative democracy there's little justification for a two-party duopoly. It's those questions of direct democracy - ballot initiatives and constitutional amendments like the state spending lid being petitioned at the moment - that are far more ripe for abuse and perversion of the democratic process. Alas, there's something to be said to leaving complicated legislation to people who can actually be held accountable at the ballot box and who are actually expected to have researched an issue. That isn't to say such avenues should be closed off entirely, but there should certainly be a higher threshold for access than there are for candidacies to public office.


Blogger Zifnab said...

I don't think any Kossack or other blue-blooded Democrat objects to independents running for office in general, or Lieberman running as an independent specifically. But it's the having your cake and eating it too that bothers many Dems.

The idea that Lieberman can try to oust his Democratic colleague from the ballot in the primary, then try to oust him again in the general election at the risk of throwing the election to a Republican is what irks so many people. What's more, the only reason Lieberman is being given so many second chances stems from the fact that he's an incumbant. If this were a virgin primary with neither candidate having held the office, Biden and other beltway Dems would be crying bloody murder.

Part of the appeal of the Lamount run touches on desire to see an underdog take a Senate seat in the face of incumbancy. Replacing disappointing sitting Senators should not be the exception, it should be the rule. So, more than anything, people don't want to see Lieberman get a host of second chances his opponent would never have seen.

Blogger atom said...

I'll second that and add that if you want to be taken seriously as a genuine Independent candidate, BE an Independent candidate: stay out of party primaries. On the one hand, you could have a candidate who believes that his/her philosophy is best represented without a "D" or "R" beside it, and that's great. On the other, you have someone who *did* want that "D" or "R" there...until they lost.

Blogger Dave said...

Kyle, my disgust with Joe Lieberman's recent tactic is very simply put: The moment he announced his intention to run as an independent in the fall, he effectively left the Democratic Party. Connecticut Democrats are very upset with Lieberman, and for good reason. It's not just that he's cozy with President Bush. He's cozy with all Republicans. Imagine, if you will, Ben Nelson effectively endorsing Jeff Fortenberry over Maxine Moul. Or routinely bashing his Democratic colleagues' decisions. It wouldn't happen. It doesn't happen. Ben Nelson is not that kind of "Democrat." The worst we ever see from Nelson is praise of Bush - something that I think we can forgive in this state.

I would have absolutely no problem with Joe Lieberman dropping out of the Democratic Primary and running as an independent in the fall. I absolutely have a problem with him losing the Democratic Primary, and - one day later - switching to independent so that he can run again. It shows a lack of respect for his constituents, and - by announcing his intentions to stay in the primary and still run as an independent - a total disregard for the Democratic process.

Ben Nelson would never do that. Tom Osborne won't do that. They have too much respect for Nebraska.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

I respect each of your opinions. But, the way I see it, we either trust voters to decide their representation for themselves or we don't. Right now, political parties have a privileged position with easy access to the ballot - that's all well and good. But, the idea that pursuing that one route to the ballot should preclude all others isn't backed up by any recognizable democratic principle.

Sure, this way the system is prone to spoiler candidacies in the name of sheer egotism, but I think we have to trust the voters of a state to balance those concerns for themselves.

I am a proud Democrat who can hardly stomach Lieberman, but I'd be betraying the principles that make me a Democrat if I were to play along with the anti-Lieberman bandwagon rolling through the blogosphere. If you don't like him, don't vote for him - what's more fundamentally Democratic than that? If he doesn't have a D by his name and that means something to you, then weigh that accordingly. You know what - I think the voters of Connecticut can handle that without our help or our input.

Political parties (and primary voters) have numerous privileges in ballot access and campaign funding that I don't begrudge them. But, there's nothing intrinsically wrong with seeking one of their nominations before giving the full electorate the opportunity to be heard. When did we - as Democrats - become so scared of democracy? I've supported a primary challenge against Lieberman from the get-go - because that's how democracy works. But, that same conception - whereby we don't just follw incumbency or the dictates of the political hierarchy - says Lieberman and the voters of Connecticut are welcome to pursue whatever other avenues their laws allow.

Our hypocrisy is reaching Republican "talk radio" proportions with this desire to bring Lieberman down and to score a win that will legitimize the efforts of the liberal online community.

You guys don't ask for respect for Democratic process. You ask for beholdence to a system of convenience that has exceptions built into it for a reason.

Blogger Kyle Michaelis said...

Returning to more pertinent terrain, I must acknowledge how unlikely it is that Tom Osborne will pursue an independent bid for the governorship, regardless of this court challenge's result. Nebraska voters would be unlikely to respond well to Osborne's going back on his word in such fashion, particularly because the audacity of such an act would be so unexpected of the man's public persona.

Still, such a development might have been just the touch of chaos necessary to wake Nebraska voters to the stakes this November. I fear it's going to take some sort of wild card or a near-cataclysmic event to shake them from their somnambulistic acceptance of the Heineman/Johanns status quo.

Blogger Dave said...

Hopefully, in the unlikely event of Osborne running, Democrats do not flock to Osborne, and unite behind Hahn.


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