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April 8, 2011


Dems headed for super-majority on City Council

by Deena Winter

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.

21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Rosemary
    Apr 8 2011

    How true all of the above is unfortunately!! I think the Republicans need to wake up!! I received a call the night before election asking me to vote for Anna Wishart and I had never heard of her!! Trust me our airport needs some good help and I am not sure who or what that will be! I look forward to your posts everyday!! Keep up your good work.

  2. Publius
    Apr 8 2011

    Well said! And everything you’ve said is true. I would like to take one issue up with you. Politics is not about “getting along”. It never was. It never is. It is about having opposing views and vetting them out.

  3. Gene
    Apr 8 2011

    We are seeing in Congress what happens when you give Republicans a majority. 😉

  4. Tim C.
    Apr 8 2011

    Anna Wishart served as Lancaster County Democratic Party coordinator last year, meaning every email the county party put out came under her name. Her name recognition is much higher than you think.

    • Gene
      Apr 8 2011

      I got several calls from Anna asking for volunteers as well. She’s a worker.

      • ej
        Apr 13 2011

        Evidently, she’s a worker with dreams of becoming a career politician. She has absolutely no relevant experience, other than she’s spent a lot of time in airports. Sheesh! Become an informed voter or don’t bother, please.

  5. Roberta
    Apr 8 2011

    And Deena, as you well know now, the poor independents do not have a chance. Good try and I applaude you on your efforts. Had you been backed by a party you would have been in.

  6. Roger Yant
    Apr 8 2011

    Very well said Deena, I totally agree with you.

  7. michaeljames4laa
    Apr 8 2011

    That’s Wi$hart, money can’t buy you happiness but it can buy you a seat on the Airport Authority. Are campaign ‘volunteers’ still volunteers if they are paid contract laborers for other fellow Dems?

    You make a really good point about the erosion of Republican political power at the local level having a trickle up effect at the state level. Keep up the good work Deena!

  8. Mary Lazlo
    Apr 9 2011

    This is a disappointing piece because you’re better the bitter and petty tone you use.

    You lost. Get over it and move on.

    Parties work hard for their candidates. If you’re saying you didn’t figure that out in all the years you covered city politics, you are either lying or were being a lazy reporter since it’s obvious to even the most casual of observers.

    If the Democrat whipsaw is so altogether powerful, how come Jeffrey Eeells, a Democrat with more money, community connections, and the endorsement of the Journal Star didn’t advance?

    Be the journalist you purport to be. Instead of beating up on the Democrats, why don’t you follow up on that Chad Wright tidbit you mentioned. Don’t censor your unbiased reporting with a chip on your shoulder – do an equal job on both parties.

    You’re better than this, Deena. You conducted your campaign with dignity and you have to conduct your loss the same. Lick your wounds and move on… grudges don’t suit you.

  9. KRM
    Apr 9 2011


    Yes, volunteers are still volunteers. Many times campaigns have both paid staff and volunteers. In fact, all petitions that are circulated will say at the top if they are being circulated by a volunteer or by staff. They have to, it’s the rule. And, if you receive a call from someone saying they are a volunteer, they are in fact, a volunteer. Paid staff cannot identify themselves as a volunteer.

  10. Gossip
    Apr 9 2011

    Michael James, it’s not fair to say that Anna Wishart won only because of big money. She has some money because people know her and trust her and believe in her enough to give her their money. Are you a sore loser? Why don’t you blame the Journal Star for not endorsing you? I heard you went in there and presented yourself like you were some sort of “international man of mystery” and weren’t taken seriously.

  11. michaeljames4laa
    Apr 9 2011

    KRM, my point was it is pretty easy to skirt those paid vs. volunteer disclosers. What is the accepted norm in politics (horse trading) does not fly in most parts of the business world. Hypothetical example, my paid campaign manager circulates voluntarily for Chris Hove and Hove’s paid campaign manager circulates for me. There is no paper trail that documents this horse trade, and no specific direction to do tasks from me for other friendly campaigns, it is just understood without ever saying so.
    Mary Lazlo, who are you and where is your blog so we can be critical of you? How do you know Jeff Eells has any money? He is a small business owner, a lot of small business owners are very passionate about their business and willing to risk their entire nest egg to get that business off the ground. His business is a service business; it takes a long time to get most service businesses big enough to be profitable. I am willing to bet he has worked his butt off just to keep the lights on.
    I will tell you why Jeff Eells did not win. He wants to be politics but he busy managing his business and does not have time to do all of the work it takes to do what Anna has been doing. Community and business connections do not equal political connections.
    The bottom line in the Airport Authority race is most likely RJ and Anna are probably going to win in May which is a real shame. In my qualification rankings I have them in a three way tie for last with Travis Moore. I would put Hove and Eells as the most qualified. Then myself and Scheerer tied for 3rd and qualified to serve on the board. RJ, Anna, and Travis are barely qualified to serve on the Airport Authority. Just read their answers in the LJS voter guide, none of them studied up on what is going on and what needs to be worked on.
    Deena ran for city council for the exact same reason I ran for Airport Authority. We care a lot about this city. We saw some areas for improvement and knew we could help. We are not career politicians and do not want to be.

  12. No Sympathy
    Apr 10 2011

    “It’s the hard-knock life for us!
    It’s the hard-knock life for us!
    ‘Steada treated,
    We get tricked!
    ‘Steada kisses,
    We get kicked!
    It’s the hard-knock life! ”

    long live Michael James!!

  13. Huskerfan
    Apr 10 2011

    Michael, you really feel like you’re qualified? In a previous post you listed that you built your own website and that makes you more qualified than others that didn’t. If I were in 10th grade and had to build a website for a homework assignment and turned in your I’d be ashamed. Michael, you’re well on your way to becoming the next Bob Van Valkenburg.

  14. michaeljames4laa
    Apr 10 2011

    Against by better judgment I am going to respond to this anonymous poster. (AKA feeding the trolls)
    What I said on March 26th “Deena I am glad you find it amusing because I sure do not. Props to those who build their own websites and write their own material! It does not take skills to write a fat check or have Phil Montag build a website for them. I did not realize when I signed up to run if I had said I was a donkey instead of an elephant, I would have vast financial resources and armies of volunteers at my disposal.”
    I should have said and have Phil Montag not or. Later in the week I read the NADC reports and saw Phil was paid several thousand dollars in contract labor for the Dems.
    Let’s not jump all over Deena for pointing out the partisanship. If you only vote and support D or R then you have blinders on.

  15. Gene
    Apr 11 2011

    I think a few people thought that airport authority would be an easier office to get into and now they’re pissed.

  16. Matthew Platte
    Apr 11 2011

    Michael James claims “What is the accepted norm in politics (horse trading) does not fly in most parts of the business world. ” Really? Got any facts to back that up? Shoot, the very term you use (horse trading) comes from the business world. This is a Republican Talking Point fail.

  17. Fletch
    Apr 11 2011

    The Lincoln Airport is dying – we’re at the mercy of the airlines and it’s not that hard to get to Omaha. Why so much fuss for being on the Airport Authority. Will that really help pad a person’s resume with declining traffic each year?

  18. Andrew B
    Apr 11 2011

    My question for the ‘commentariat’ here is why do voters rarely trust independent candidates to vote for them? Everyone likes to bitch about this or that about the party system, or the other party, but when push comes to shove, they still vote for one of them. I was not in Deena’s district, but I would’ve voted for her or other intelligent independents simply because I am exhausted of the Rock Em Sock Em robot game of politics with only two parties. It seems to me at this point, those interested in achieving political success, given the game they have to play as party operatives to get that goal, are more interested in power than being a public servant. But perhaps my perspective is off.

  19. Jane H Kinsey
    Apr 11 2011

    While the Democrats may be winning control of Lincoln, when the city budget cannot be met and other taxes are raised, they will reap what they have sown. The day of red ink will come because Lincoln cannot keep spending like drunken sailors when every other Nebraska entity is cutting. Then there will be a Republican backlash. Then and only then will the voters wake up to increased taxes that hit them in the pocketbook. Republican or Democrat, red ink and higher taxes don’t work with voters. Right now voters believe the fantasy that the Democrats have fed to them.
    Another reason Anna won is because she is the only woman candidate and women tend to vote for women. Stepping stones to election start with some strong backing of a group who is interested in promoting its agenda.


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