Let’s pretend like the Lincoln City Council really is nonpartisan — as it is supposed to be.
Ahhh… that was fun! Refreshing, even!
Now let’s get back to reality.
I love the way most of the local press covers the council races without mentioning anybody’s party affiliation (as they often do the Legislature, too) — as if it really doesn’t matter. When in fact, party politics is the name of the game.
And after the Tuesday primary, it’s pretty clear Democrats are about to secure five of the seven seats on the Lincoln City Council — which will make it quite easy for Mayor Chris Beutler to do whatever he thinks he needs to do for the next four (three if he decides to run for governor) years.
And yet, that fact was not even mentioned in the Lincoln Journal Star’s coverage of Election Night. The story does not say anybody’s party affiliation — even though for the past few months our mailboxes have been stuffed with red, white and blue fliers reminding Dems to vote for Dems (with a helpful guide and pictures of all the Dems) and Republicans to vote for Republicans. Perhaps the most important line in the story was the last one: “The Lincoln City Council is a nonpartisan race.” As if a footnote to explain the lack of details.
You don’t think this is a partisan battle for control of the council?
Watch what happens in the next month, as the Ds and Rs battle it out. You will see mud being slung via direct mail, perhaps press conferences, on the radio, etc. I’ve already had a Dem political operative point out that Republican Chad Wright’s voting record is not exactly… there.
Before I covered the Lincoln City Council, I covered two other city commissions in other cities, and they were nonpartisan. And I mean really nonpartisan. In fact, I had no idea which political party the members belonged to. It never came up, and they all got along quite well.
And then I began covering Lincoln’s council. I was astounded by the bickering and rancor between members, particularly between Democrat Terry Werner and Republican Jon Camp. The divisions on the council became clear. And yet, whenever I would mention party affiliation in a story, a few readers would complain that I was bringing partisanship into the mix.
It was there before I arrived, my friend.
Not long before I left the Journal Star, Mayor Beutler called my editor to complain that I’d mentioned party affiliation in a story. The editor was easily swayed by prominent complainers, and he then instructed me not to mention party affiliation unless it was “relevant.” That’s exactly the theory I had been operating under, so that left me a bit confused.
I find it ironic that the same mayor is now spending gobs of money running a coordinated campaign to make sure he can get as many Dems on the council as possible.
Why the charade? I know Nebraska prides itself on its nonpartisan history, but let’s call a spade a spade. The Dems do a helluva job getting out the vote, pushing candidates, and sometimes, tearing down the Republican opponents. And even though Republicans clearly have control of Nebraska on the state level, the Democratic takeover of Lincoln politics is nearly complete.
I’d argue that the Dems are successfully setting the stage for the future, when the political pendulum will swing to the left, and some of these local Dems will win statewide offices, and the balance of power will shift. I’m not sure why the Republican Party seems completely outgunned and impotent in these local races — with the Republican mayoral candidate complaining that she is scarcely able to get money out of the GOP — but they will pay for that down the road. How in the world could the local Republican Party not have money to give?
Here’s an example of what’s happening: A 26-year-old Democrat named Anna Wishart ran for the Airport Authority in a crowded field of seven candidates — including a 32-year veteran of Lincoln ballots and an incumbent. But she had the Democratic machinery behind her, and they hooked up a phone system where her friends nationwide could make calls for her. She raised a lot of money, she had slick fliers, and she and her volunteers walked 100 precincts, she told me. I personally walked 4.5 precincts for my race (my volunteers did several others) and don’t even know how she could find enough people or time to do that.
And she got second place. How is that possible? I don’t think she’s that well known in Lincoln. And yes, she worked hard. And you can bet if she gets elected next month, it will be a stepping stone to higher offices. Watch for the name: Wishart.
The Democratic machine seems virtually unstoppable in Lincoln. The Rs might want to take a look at it sometime.