Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Red In The Face

As more than one national media figure whined about the relatively slow media day on Monday, we were intently watching the excitement unfold in Nebraska politics in ways we've yet to see or hear anyone else discussing. Of course, if you haven't been watching Nebraska politics, you may have missed a few things.

Over the last few weeks we've mentioned briefly and noted in our links (in our expanded daily editions) the rise and fall of Nebraska Republican Gov. Dave Heineman's destined-to-fail tax reform bill. While Heineman tried to paint a large and rosy picture of his reforms, in less than a month, his plan to shift much of the state's tax burden onto small and medium sized ag businesses - and off of big corporations - blew up in his face.

While Heineman was making a mess of his tax plan, Nebraska's now-former Lieutenant Governor Rick Sheehy was busy making a mess of both his personal and professional life - a mess that ended with Sheehy's resignation in January.

Sheehy had been the Nebraska Republican Party's front-runner to replace Heineman, after Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood removed himself from the 2014 race due to his wife's battle with breast cancer. As we noted at the time of Sheehy's political meltdown, the revelations that led to Lt. Governor's resignation were oddly timed. That resignation cleared the field in Nebraska's political race for Governor at a very opportune time for someone, even though Sheehy's philandering ways had been known by many in media and politics for over a year before his resignation.

Enter the 2014 political races - and announcements galore.

We were not at all surprised by the Monday announcement of extremist Republican state Senator Charlie Janssen that he will be running for Governor in 2014 - especially after the timing of the events surrounding Sheehy. Janssen is an opportunist at his core, and a suddenly empty GOP field is - all too conveniently - the only way he would likely ever get a shot at the Governor's chair.

We were surprised by the announcement on Monday that the senior Senator from Nebraska, Mike Johanns, will not be seeking a second term in 2014. According to a report from Deena Winter of Nebraska Watchdog, Johanns had a cancer scare in 2009, and after consulting with his wife Stephanie, he decided not to seek re-election.

While there were many in the media who immediately began calling the 2014 U.S. Senate race for Heineman on Monday morning, we had a feeling another shoe would drop - which it did Monday afternoon, when current U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry announced that he would consider a run for the U.S. Senate to replace Johanns.

Frankly, we'd love to see someone like state Senator Ernie Chambers run for the seat from the Democratic Party. That said, we're of no illusion that most people in the Western part of Nebraska would ever bring themselves to vote for anything other than someone or SOMETHING that has an "R" attached to it - even a stupid pelican. That means, sadly, that in statewide Senate races, Democrats in Nebraska will likely remain without any politically compatible representation in Washington for the foreseeable future.

What this sets up, from our collective perspective, is a 2014 GOP race for Senate between a relatively moderate Jeff Fortenberry and another Republican - possibly even Gov. Heineman. Fortenberry's primary opponent will likely have to side with the extremists - like those who support racist immigration plans similar to state Senator Janssen's. Remember - Janssen will also be running for the Governor's office in Nebraska in 2014, waiting to paint his far-right, tea party colors all over whomever Fortenberry runs against. If that's Heineman, good luck getting Western Nebraska farm and ag interests to forget about Heineman's tax plan.

In other words, Nebraska will be ground zero for the GOP's civil war for the next two years - barring any other surprise announcements.

If you think Nebraska Republicans are red in the face now, just wait until they begin tearing each other apart in 2014.