There were two big political stories in Nebraska this year — the recall of Omaha Mayor Jiim Suttle, and the fallout from Senator Ben Nelson’s Cornhusker Kickback.
But there were two politicians who stood out, and we award them (for the first time) the Co – Leavenworth Street Nebraska Polticians of the Year:
Governor Dave Heineman and Congressman Lee Terry.
The Democrats and the local MSM were constantly banging the drum that Terry’s opponent in 2010, state Senator Tom White, was going to be The One who would really give it to Terry this time.
White was the bare-knuckle brawler, who could debate and fund raise and campaign, was smart and attractive, invented wi-fi and the iPad and spray-on tan.
But the bizarre thing was, few counted the fact that 2008 was a crazy Democrat year that won’t be repeated anytime soon. That didn’t seem to matter to the local MSM.
Then there was the quick realization — really starting with the Massachusetts Senate race which Republican Scott Brown won — that 2010 could be a crazy Republican year, much like 1994. But for the NE-2 race, that didn’t seem to matter to the local MSM.
Next the realization, as we drifted into autumn, by the national political pundits — and the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee — that the race was not going to be competitive. But that didn’t seem to matter to the local MSM.
All we heard was how bitter and sludgey a race Tom White was going to give Lee Terry.
But Terry continued to campaign. And raise money. And talk about he votes on the issues and how White would vote on the issues.
Then just before the end of the race, the local paper came out with a poll — that was picked up nationally — that Terry was up by five stinkin’ percent.
Oh, there was a sort of disclaimer that, well, if they looked at, you know, LIKELY voters, maybe Terry was up by eight percent. But that concept was buried and the five percent was what went out, and Tom White was further propped up.
But on Election Nigth, the tally went up and the numbers showed that Terry won by twenty-two percent.
That, kind readers, was a blow-out.
How ’bout that?
The race run by Lee Terry, and orchestrated by his campaign manager David Boomer, put out the fire of many Democrats in town, and may keep them quiet for years to come. We will find out as the calendar pages flip.
But for 2010, that makes Lee Terry our (co) pol of the year.
Not before no Democrat contender could be found.
Not after unknown Mark Lakers showed up.
Not after Lakers went down.
Not when Mike Meister showed up.
Heck, the only question about Heineman was how long he would stick around in his newly re-elected job. Everyone, including us, looked to 2012 and the Senate. Democrats demanded that he sign a pledge that he wouldn’t run for Senate.
And since his re-election was a forgone conclusion, we all concentrated on and broke down every statement he made. Sounding like a Senate candidate? Staking out his positions? Prodding Ben Nelson with a pointy stick?
Sure seemed like it.
And then, after the election that no one blinked at, Heineman strode to the mics and surprised many, many observers.
He likes being Governor. He wants to be Governor. And he doesn’t particularly care for Washington.
And Heineman will become the longest-serving Governor in the history of Nebraska. Mainly because he did what he wanted to do, the way he wanted to do it.
Few in politics today get to live that dream.
Heineman did. And does.
And that makes him the (co) Leavenworth Street Politician of the Year.
And the rest…
Well, Ben Nelson kept his name in the news through much of the year. But nearly every time it was followed with the words, “Cornhusker Kickback”, “sellout”, “bribe” or the like. And that was the polite stuff from the Republicans.
Nelson’s continued walk across the political fence has earned him the vitriol of both sides of the aisle. To his surprise, he has received the stink-eye from Nebraskans, who have finally gotten wise to his routine.
There was a time when Nelson’s schtick was seen as independent or Unicamerally non-partisan in some sense. But ever since Nelson’s Cornhusker Kickback, Nebraskans have realized who Nelson is looking out for. And it ain’t them.
Nelson’s career is rolling down Capitol Hill, and becomes almost comical at times. If Dave Heineman had decided to run, there would have been a good chance that Nelson would have quit instead of being shellacked (to use the President’s words) in 2012.
Instead, he may decide he can fight Jon Bruning, or whomever else. But Nelson may find that could be an even worse choice — losing to someone less popular that Heineman.
Ben Nelson’s decision will be the one to watch in 2012.
Some thought that he would be the pol of the year, much like the theatrics of Ben Nelson got him named back in 2009. But Suttle, not so much.
Suttle’s actions have been more like the anti-pol, but not in some good way. Every ham-fisted decision, every failed strategy, every blown opportunity, have simply contributed to the state Suttle is in now.
The problem with Suttle is that he thinks he is spreading fertilizer, when instead he just keeps on stepping in it with every pace.
And now, at the doorstep of the vote on January 25th, Suttle will try to sell his case. But what has he been doing the past six months? Telling you that a recall is expensive. Telling you that there are (gasp!) political motivations in the recall. Telling you that he isn’t breaking the law.
Even Suttle’s demand that the recallers spell out their budget plans doesn’t defend or celebrate his actions as Mayor. He has been doing absolutely nothing during the whole recall process to tell you why he should be retained as Mayor. That’s not be non-political, that’s being obtuse.
The clock is literally ticking on Suttle’s career now. If he can rise from the political graveyard in the election, that could put him up higher in this evaluation next year.
If not, he will be another footnote.
And who will we see on this list next year?
The list of familiar names like Dave Nabity, Hal Daub, Jon Bruning or Don Stenberg?
Or will we see some new names in the limelight like Mike Foley, Pete Festersen, Deb Fischer, or Steve Lathrop, just to throw out a few?
Depending on the results of January 25th and the plans of Ben Nelson and others, things could be wide open in 2011.
See you next year.