Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Where is Heineman's Leadership Against Spending Lid?

by Kyle Michaelis
Gov. Dave Heineman went out of his way this weekend to show support for bogus efforts to reestablish elementary-only, Class I school districts in rural Nebraska. At the same time, he's done absolutely nothing to defeat the infinitely more dangerous spending lid amendment since voicing trivial, half-hearted opposition over two months ago. This reveals a calculated political strategy with no basis in principle and little concern for the long-term health of the state of Nebraska.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Supporters of Nebraska's former elementary-only school districts on Friday kicked off their campaign to repeal a school merger law with the backing of Gov. Dave Heineman and other elected officials.

Heineman said repeal of the law known as Legislative Bill 126 would require a strong grass-roots effort.

"We've got to convince several hundred thousand Nebraskans to go to the polls, vote for repeal, and then we'll go to work on the Legislature," he said.

The bill required the mostly small, mostly rural school districts to merge with K-12 districts. The mergers took effect June 15.

Supporters of the Class I districts collected enough signatures to put the repeal of LB 126 on the Nov. 7 ballot as Referendum 422.

However, they failed to collect enough signatures to stop the law from taking effect.

Heineman and others speaking at an afternoon workshop acknowledged that simply repealing the law will not re-establish the Class I districts.

But Heineman said a vote for repeal would send a loud message to the Legislature that Nebraskans want to give those schools a chance to be reconstituted. Heineman promised to work with lawmakers to get enabling legislation passed.

Understanding how important it is to the identity of smaller communities to hold-on to their schools, I have a hard time faulting those who've come to their defense. Both Heineman and his Democratic challenger David Hahn have voiced ardent support for efforts to restore those Class I school districts merged by LB 126. My own response is more mixed as conosolidation alone does not force the closing of any schools and because very serious questions do exist about the efficient use of tax dollars in providing undue support for those schools with the fewest students.

Still, the real distinction here between Heineman and Hahn is one of priorities. The question of what will ultimately happen with Class I school districts - which is entirely in the hands of the legislature and appears on the November ballot as little more than a straw poll - does not even come close to approaching the significance of the Spending Lid Amendment. Nor can they be divorced from one another.

That's why it says so much about Heineman's total lack of leadership that he'll speak out repeatedly for Referendum 422 - he'll even go to the radio with an endorsement of the cringe-worthy Pete Ricketts for Senate - but, on a ballot question that actually matters, a vote about far more than sending a message to the legislature, Heineman has stayed all but silent so as not to alienate the far-right and anti-government activists behind the Spending Lid proposal (Initiative 423).

Initiative 423 would reduce the state's chief executive to the role of chief executioner, overseeing the wholesale dismantling of the state's social services to meet the demands of a silly and inflexible formula. It would make ritual sacrifices of Nebraska's young, poor, elderly, and disabled. To this threat, Heineman remains silent, instead choosing to wage partisan warfare on behalf of Ricketts and making grandiose proclamations of meaningless support for Class I schools.

What a stark contrast Heineman poses with Hahn in this respect, with Hahn understanding that a true leader cannot always choose his battles and must sometimes make choices on principle as much as political expediency. Although Hahn's support for Class I schools is virtually indistinguishable from Heineman's, there is a world of difference in the leadership they've offered, with Hahn demonstrating the vision and capacity to understand that the spending lid is the far, far greater threat to our communities and to our system of education, even in those smallest communities affected by LB 126.

Initiative 423 would make it impossible for the state to restore support for Class I schools. The chief organization in support of Referendum 422, Class Ones United, has adopted the slogan "Take back control. Your kids. Your school. Your choice." Well, if they think they're being stripped of choices now, they should just imagine what kind of measures would be necessitated by passage of the spending lid. In fact, it's downright ludicrous to expend an ounce of energy to Class I's defense without backing it up with equal action on the offensive against the Spending Lid that would reduce every choice before state government to one of how to do the least damage.

Hahn understands that all these choices are tied together. He's consistent in his outspokenness and in his leadership. Heineman, on the other hand, thinks he can get by with token opposition to the Spending Lid despite its being far and away the most important question on the ballot.

The spending lid poses an even greater threat to the state than electing a spineless opportunist as Governor. And, in Heineman's case, that is truly saying something.


Anonymous Jon Rehm said...

Heineman is acting like Johanns did in 1998 when there was a spending lid on the ballot as well. Actually Johanns endorsed the lid in the primary, just like Christensen and Breslow did, and changed his mind in the summer when no one was engaged in the race. Hoppner at least had the resources to try to tie Johanns to the lid and had some limited success -- obviously not enough success. Hopefully Hahn will have better luck than Hoppner.

By the way, Kyle, I did a diary on your Smith story on Daily Kos. Hopefully it gets some contributions coming Kleebs way.


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