Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Lost Opportunity in Lancaster County

by Kyle Michaelis
In March, after the 2006 filing deadline, I took note of the sad lack of challengers for elected office in Lancaster County. In particular, I lamented the failure to recruit Democratic candidates to run against 9 of the 10 Republican incumbents who appeared on the November ballot in Nebraska's second most populous county.

In many ways, this empty slate at the local level is even more serious than the statewide failure to recruit Democratic candidates for State Treasurer and Attorney General because the former feeds the latter and detracts from the pool of potential candidates who've established a foothold - or at least gotten a taste of campaigning - that would prove useful in pursuit of higher office. It also contributes to a certain legitimacy problem for the Democratic Party in the public's imagination.

In illustration of this fact, a Lincoln Journal-Star editorial scolded local Democrats this weekend:
There are few things in this world so frustrating for Americans as a lack of choices...So it seems a bit odd we cling as we do to a two-party political system.

Odder still that we tolerate a virtual one-party county government. So we’re not going to tolerate it.

We’re going to aim a rant at local Democrats, who were unable to field candidates for a whole lot of local offices....

One wonders, is there an open plot out at Wyuka [Cemetary] awaiting the local franchise of Jackson, Kennedy and Clinton?

Local Democrats, please, what is your purpose here? Voters of all political stripes deserve better than this....These Republicans don’t deserve a free ride.

The Democratic party is doing itself and the rest of this county a disservice by not recruiting, preparing and vigorously running qualified members for every public office.

What the Journal-Star fails to note, however, is how great an opportunity for a literal take-over of Lancaster County might have been missed. The one Democrat to challenge an incumbent Republican, Dan Nolte, won his race for County Clerk by more than 5%. At the same time, all four legislative races in (or partially in) Lancaster County were won by Democratic candidates, including two that had previously been held by Republicans in the officially non-partisan Nebraska Unicameral.

It's easy to see how this was possible when Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson - who received 64% of the vote statewide - won an awesome 70% in Lancaster County. Clearly, Democrats were very successful at getting voters to the polls. There just weren't enough Democrats to support when voters got there.

No doubt, there was the potential for some mammoth gains with such numbers and in this particular electoral climate. The worst thing is that these seats won't be up again for another four years, and there's no guarantee the same sorts of resources will then be available. Hence, it's never too soon to be recruiting those candidates and developing those resources, ensuring that similar opportunities are not forsaken in the future.

Still, with Lincoln's city elections coming in the spring, capitol city Democrats should at least take heart at the momentum they'll be carrying into what are sure to be heated races to hold onto both the Mayor's office and the Democratic majority on the city council. They are well-positioned for continued success in 2007, with little to gain by regretting what could have been this November.

2 Comments:

Anonymous TedK said...

Here's a letter I've sent to the Journal Star in response:
As a member of the Executive Board of the Lancaster County Democrats, I strongly agree with the Journal Star editorial decrying the lack of Democrats in many county races. Obviously we need to do better, and we are taking steps to recruit candidates for future races. Democratic legislative candidates did very well in Lincoln this year, as their districts contained a majority of Democrats. However in citywide and county elections, our candidates start with a strong disadvantage in party registration numbers. There are 10,000 more Republicans than Democrats in Lincoln. In Lancaster County outside of Lincoln, the Republican advantage is 5:3. So it's difficult to find candidates willing to make the commitment necessary to beat these odds.

We also have to fight the mono-team culture in this state. No other state I know of rallies around a single college football team like Nebraska, as there is generally more than one major university. This seems to carry over to the Republican Party as also being Nebraska's "team", causing the state Party to also have trouble filling election slots. One only needs to look at the State Auditor's race. Kate Witek, a two-term incumbent has done a good job. But change her label from R to D, and she loses.

Despite these difficulties, we vow to find quality candidates. I ask that voters look beyond the party label when deciding on whom to give their vote. You might find that a Democrat is the better choice.

Ted Kessler
Treasurer, Lancaster County Democrats

11/14/2006  
Anonymous Jon Rehm said...

1. The Lancaster County Democrats Central Committee meets Nov 21st at 2448 N Street at 7:00 p.m. I figure that's probably the best place to start improving the party.

2. The Lancaster County Democrats used to be a lot stronger. But there was also a core of then younger people like Ken Haar, Don Wesley, etc who were committed to building the party. Right now the GOP has the 30 and 40 somethings on with them. Look at Jon Bruning, Shane Osborn and Lancaster County chair Mark Fahleson are examples. Younger people are starting to step up on our side, but like with everything else we are behind the GOP.

I'm 31 and a member of Gen X. I've volunteered for campaigns but I haven't done anything for party building. Folks like Justin Carlson, Liz Ring, Rick Carter and Kevin Bernandt have been carrying the flame for the 30 and 40 somethings in this party, but I don't think they can do it alone. I certainly don't think they can do it only with their "generation" like the boomers did. The best hope for the party are 20 somethings. I was real impressed with the co-ordinated staff. Keep those good people involved and you start to build a good nucleus to build a party for the future.

I used to think of myself as more concise and focused. I hope my ramblings made sense and were helpful. Remember Central committee meeting 7 p.m. next Tuesday at 2428 N Street in Lincoln.

11/15/2006  

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