It was a painstaking process, hashed out in a smoked-filled, Scotch soaked back room.
But we figured it out. And give you…
THE 2009 LEAVENWORTH STREET NEBRASKA POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR
No other Nebraska politician made more headlines this year than U.S. Senator Ben Nelson. No other politico had to stretch their limits and was challenged as much as Nelson.
He had more at stake and put more of his political capital on the line as he walked the fenceline between appearing as a conservative Democrat and appeasing the liberal Democrat in the White House. His political situation changed dramatically in 2009, and not for the better.
Nelson was continually put on the spot, and forced to make tough decisions about serving the interests of Nebraska and voting with his party. 2009 saw Nelson change from the moderate Republicans could love to the Democrat they want out.
Because of this dramatic shift, he is our POTY of the year.
Starting with the Stimulus Bill, Nelson staked out his position as lead “Fence-Sitter” of the Democrats — hoping to always be that last vote in order to cash in a few chits.
Nelson’s plan always seems to be Holdout. Hint that he just might side with the Republicans. Draw some sort of line in the water that he swears, as a Nebraskan, he just can’t cross.
Then when the heat comes down (from the White House and leadership) claim a prime spot at the bargaining table as a “playa”.
And Nelson did this quite well, twice.
If it was press and headlines and facetime on TV, Nelson succeeded 100%.
But what did Nelson really accomplish in each of his highly publicized holdouts?
In the Stimulus Bill, he and a few others got 6% trimmed out of the $787 Billion bill.
And then Nelson’s concessions are well known in the Health Care bill.
He nailed down the infamous Cornhusker Kickback. He let Pro-Choice California Senator Barbara Boxer draft the abortion language that pleased everyone — well except for Pro-Life advocates.
And he pissed off nearly everyone back in his home state of Nebraska.
Well, these are the slings and arrows one must accept with playing on the main stage, no?
Of course, we don’t expect Nelson to take it laying down in 2010.
He has already shown that he plans to try to lay the Cornhusker Kickback at the feet of Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman. Of course, recent polls suggest that Nebraskans are having none of that. Call it what he like, “Heineman Amendment” doesn’t roll off the tongue like “Cornhusker Kickback”. The guy who succeeded in his last Senate campaign uttering “Wall Street Pete” should know.
But Nelson did one thing that few in Nebraska politics have done: he got the entire country to look over at Nebraska — in anger.
That truly makes him Nebraska’s P.o.t.Y.
And a few others…
Schmit-Albin was a late comer to the PotY race; the Health Care debate brought her and the Nebraska Right to Life to national prominence as it seemed the bill hinged on NRtL’s interpretation of the abortion language — and whether they could sell their longtime supporter Ben Nelson.
She spelled out for 60th vote Nelson what would work for abortion language, and what wouldn’t.
Nelson continually came to her to see what would pass muster for her group — as Nelson had a continued desire to be Nebraska’s Pro-Life Senator.
When it came down to the final language, however, Nelson pulled a Lucy van Pelt and yanked the football away from Schmit-Albin, opting for Barabara Boxer’s abortion language.
In response, Schmit-Albin pulled no punches with Nelson, declaring that she had been “Betrayed!”.
Like Nelson, Schmit-Albin and Nebraska Right to Life will feature prominently in 2010.
Don’t expect her to get fooled again.
Looking at the local Omaha politics, many would assume that new Mayor Jim Suttle would be in this group.
But Suttle was an afterthought.
It was Hal Daub who put Suttle into the 3rd Floor of the City-County building.
Daub nearly forged a political comeback in 2009. He raised more money than any his Mayoral opponents, and was the clear leader early on.
But when facing his Republican primary opponent, Councilman Jim Vokal, Daub saw that if he was facing a conservative Republican, he would have a difficult time in the General. He took to first slaying Vokal.
He succeeded, but in the end even the bland, no-plan, unoriginal and somewhat buffoonish Jim Suttle couldn’t outweigh Daub’s toughest opponent: himself.
Or at least the Hal Daub that voters thought they knew.
The tough, hardworking, boundless ideas and energy in Daub had come to mean “that mean ol’ Hal Daub” to too many people. And that’s the way they voted.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Jim Suttle didn’t win the Mayor’s office; Hal Daub lost it.
But what did the public learn?
When times are tough, you need things done. You need bold decisions and ideas.
You need something more than, “We have to raise taxes!”
Well Omaha, you got what you wanted — or what you thought you wanted.
In the end, Daub even pushed away those who wanted to name a street after him, to compare to the new Mike Fahey vanity nameplates.
Daub was the bigger pol in the end.
Too bad so few recognized that back in May.
Thanks for reading everyone, and we’ll see you next decade!