By J.L. SCHMIDT, Statehouse Correspondent
The Nebraska Press Association
Nebraskans Have Plenty of Politics to Ponder, Again
Nebraskans love to ponder. Will it rain? Will it snow? Will the football team ever win another national championship?
Even with the Legislature in session, there’s plenty of time to think about politics now that the lame duck Governor has killed his own tax proposals, the lieutenant governor’s office has a new occupant and the senior U.S. Senator has decided not to seek another term in a couple years.
It’s a veritable field day with a wide-open governor’s race now that the perceived front-runner, former Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, has stepped down in a potential scandal over the extreme misuse of a state-issued telephone and returned campaign funds to contributors. A week or so of speculation about his successor was ended when Governor Dave Heineman chose recently term-limited former state Senator Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek to be the light governor. Heineman’s criteria that whoever would serve for the next two years couldn’t be a candidate in the next governor’s race seemingly threw a wet blanket on the pool of contenders.
Now that current state Senator Charlie Janssen of Fremont has declared his candidacy for the governor’s race, it appears that the Republican ship of state is listing more to the right as the Democrats line up on the shore trying to appear as anything but clueless, or candidate-less. Not since Ben Nelson term-limited as governor in 1998 has there been a Democrat governor.
Nelson’s successor was former Lincoln Mayor Mike Johanns who served his time in the northeast corner of the second floor of the State Capitol (the Executive Branch) before being elected U.S. Senator.
Now Johanns has announced that he won’t run for re-election and has thrown the door open for the usual list of suspects to start posturing for that seat. Among them, Heineman himself and others such as Attorney General Jon Bruning and State Treasurer Don Stenberg, both of whom lost to Nebraska’s newest Republican U.S. Senator Deb Fischer in the May primary. Of course, Bruning and Stenberg could also ponder the governor’s race now that University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare of Lincoln has decided not to seek that seat. Add Auditor Mike Foley and former state Senator Tony Fulton to that list as well.
Omaha State Sen. Steve Lathrop and former Nebraska Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons are two Democrats keeping an eye on both races. And never rule out Bob Kerrey, whose unpredictability is always predictable. Following that playbook, don’t forget that former Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy was once a Democrat. With a couple years for things to blow over, he could view the Senate seat as a possibility.
Add all that to your pondering and enjoy.
The threat of a massive upheaval in the state’s tax structure is gone, but there’s still plenty to watch out for.