New Career At Age 66?
Can Politician Beat Academics For NU Job?
Gov. Heineman Is Making An All-Out Try

What started out as a story important to Nebraskans and of some interest in the collegiate world nationwide may be moving onto a national stage as Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman attempts to prove that a politician, pursuing his desire to switch to a leadership role in the academic world, pushes the issue to national attention.

It would appear that Heineman is confident that he will succeed in this pitch to the people of Nebraska and the University of Nebraska Board of Regents:  “You know me and my record as governor, now let me serve you further by heading your state university system.”

The stakes are high both for Heineman and the university.  At age 66, this could prove to be a last-ditch effort to build a significant new career as Heineman finishes 10 years in the governor’s office.  The stakes for the university are, of course, whether a politician can successfully become an academician, over the skepticism if not the outright opposition of the significant number of the University of Nebraska faculty members.

Major questions include whether Heineman’s efforts—he has already been in direct contact with each member of the Board of Regents who will be responsible for choosing the next NU system president—will discourage other, potentially better qualified candidates, those coming from the academic world where they have held responsible positions at other colleges and universities.

One of the major questions—perhaps Heineman’s success or failure in his political campaign for the NU job will give us an answer—is where Heineman has been as successful and popular a governor as he and some in the news media seem to believe.

Recent Setbacks Forgotten?

The governor’s bid doesn’t follow a particularly strong recent gubernatorial performance.  He very publicly endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Jon Bruning.  Bruning lost.  And he failed to muster enough legislative votes to prevent override of his veto of a bill which included funds for a variety of purposes, including upgrading the air handling system in the 82-year-old state capitol building.

And in the 2012 legislative session, Heineman had to beat an embarrassing retreat when his ambitious plan to overhaul the state’s sales tax system was rejected as half-baked.  Some important Nebraska businesses said they would simply have to move—probably to neighboring Iowa—if Heineman’s proposals made it too expensive for them to continue to operate in Nebraska.

No Expressions Of Faculty Support

Faculty reaction?

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Faculty Senate President Kenneth Nickerson has said:

“Faculty members aren’t necessarily opposed to Heineman, but they would be more comfortable with someone who has higher education experience.

“’You really have to appreciate what is unique and special about a university climate and the people who thrive in it.’

This is not to suggest that Governor Heineman—who understandably may be finding it difficult to find a career opportunity at age 66 after 10 years in the governor’s office—he is not entitled to apply to move from a political to an academic job.

He has made the choice to go very public with his decision.  I would hope that Nebraskans—now fully informed of the governor’s goal—will let the members of the Board of Regents know their reaction.

After all, state government—including certainly the university system—are owned by the people of Nebraska.  They are surely entitled to express their views as the Board of Regents chooses the person to head the people’s university.

It hardly needs to be pointed out that the performance of a new University of Nebraska administrator—whether a politician or an academic—is immediately subject to the scrutiny and evaluation by Nebraskans who own the system.

J. B. Milliken, whose departure creates the administrative vacancy at the head of the NU system, did a superb job of communicating with the people of Nebraska.

J. B. came to his job not as a former politician but with an impressive record of superior performance in various important roles in the management of public university systems.

A tough act to follow by a successor with a political rather than academic background.

Stay tuned.

* * *

Nebraska A “Tea Party” State?  Not So
‘Moderately Conservative’ Is A Better Description

Recent news stories have made clear that some political observers are writing Nebraska off as an ultraconservative “Tea Party” state.

I disagree.

Important to remember that approximately half of the Nebraskans who went to the polls in the Republican primary May 13 did not vote for Republican Senatorial nominee Ben Sasse, regularly described as a Tea Party conservative.

Even Ben Sasse seems to recognize that the Tea Party approach can go too far.

After his primary election victory, he said that he and those who think like him need to start saying things they are for, not just things they are against.

* * *

‘Tea Party’ Activist Could Help Elect
A Liberal Democrat To Congress

Chip Maxwell is back in the news and is working to gather 2,000 signatures to run for the Second Congressional District seat as an “independent.”

Maxwell’s political career has wandered all over the Nebraska political landscape:

At one time a fierce foe of potentially life-saving medical research with unused fertility clinic embryos which would otherwise simply be flushed down the drain.

Later Douglas County board member, state senator, now a potential campaigner to unseat Second District Representative Lee Terry.  Maxwell is posing as an “independent,” but is really an acknowledged Tea Party  candidate, with plans to switch back to Republican Party if he should happen to beat Terry in the general election.

No Way Maxell Wins

There are two predictable possible results of Maxwell’s latest self-assigned political mission:

–Failure of his effort to replace Terry.

–A very real chance—unintentional as it may be—to hand the Second District political seat to Democratic candidate Brad Ashford by pulling enough votes from Terry to allow Ashford to win with a minority of the popular vote.

In announcing his plans to run as a Tea Party Republican masquerading as an independent, candidate Maxwell said he has “a plan to save the country.”

So he would “save the country” as a freshman member of the 435-member House of Representatives?

No further comment would appear to be necessary.

* * *

A Salute To A Remarkable Veteran, James Martin Davis

Regular readers know I like to finish the column on an upbeat note although nothing seems more appropriate to me than during the week when we are honoring the nation’s military, I finish with a few comments on the remarkable record of 34 years of moving Memorial Day tributes to members of our armed forces.

Davis himself is a veteran of in-the-jungle fighting in the Vietnam War.

This year’s headline read:  “America’s solemn duty is to keep this day holy:

Amen to that, James Martin Davis.

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