North Platte Telegraph. June 8, 2014.
Heineman wants to enter lion’s den
Not long ago, we wrote on this page that we understood Gov. Dave Heineman’s decision not to seek a seat in the United States Senate.
While Heineman was considered a shoo-in if he ran, we expressed the opinion that a governor - who is used to being the chief executive of a state - would find the Senate a difficult place in which to work. Under the “leadership” of Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, life as a Republican senator is probably the very definition of hyper-partisan frustration.
Over the years Heineman has served as governor, we have been generally supportive of his efforts to cut taxes, make government more responsive to the needs of the state and make the state more attractive to those businesses that might choose to start here or relocate to Nebraska. In short, Heineman has fought the good fight for our state.
That said, we were perplexed in recent days that Heineman would now seek the presidency of the University of Nebraska.
While Heineman’s education at West Point is without doubt an impressive achievement, his lack of a master’s or doctorate degree, and lack of formal experience in the higher education system, would seem to count him out as the president of a significant university system.
That, however, isn’t our main problem with Heineman’s application. More significant is the fact that in his role as governor, Heineman has found himself at odds with many in the university system over important issues like Medicaid expansion, in-state tuition for illegal immigrants who graduate from state high schools, embryonic stem cell research and providing benefits to same-sex couples.
If the governor was looking for even less political consensus than at the Unicameral - where overrides of his vetoes long ago ceased to be front-page news - he could not have picked a better destination than the university system. How an outspoken Republican without an advanced degree fits into the ultra-liberal setting of a modern American university system is uncharted territory. Campus politics can be every bit as bitter and complex as anything Heineman experienced in state government, and he would face it with far fewer conservatives in his corner.
Heineman has said that he would give up partisan politics and simply carry out the wishes of the Board of Regents, and we suppose that is possible.
What the state would be giving up, however, is one of the few politicians who was willing to speak his mind about important issues.
Given the challenging situation he would face on campus, we would all have been better off had he instead accepted the challenging situation of serving in the United States Senate. At the very least, he would have accounted for a reliable Senate vote for the conservative beliefs of most Nebraskans.
It is far less clear what he could accomplish serving as president of the university system.
Our View: He should have run for Senate.