Nebraska Democrats gathered Saturday evening for the first cheerleading session in their long, strange trip back up to parity in Nebraska. The Lancaster County Democrats' annual Patriots Dinner brought out candidates for Lincoln and Lancaster County offices (this being an off-off year election), with the spotlight on Lincoln mayoral candidate Coleen Seng. The event usually is topped off with a cake auction (including some usually funny political speeches) and presentation of a few awards.
For me, the more important part of this gathering is the chance to perk up the ears to hear what's coming down the pike in a year or two. This time was particularly rewarding. Here are some of the highlights for us from the barricades:
- Lincoln State Senator Chris Beutler is making governor noises. He brought the house down during the cake auction when he announced that the cake he sold was donated by Mike Johanns. After it was bought, he began cutting slices: "Here's the little bit we'll cut off for the University...now here's what we'll give for public schools (more erratic cuts)...and here's for health care (he starts hacking at the cake) and finally, here's for the poor: NO MORE BUMS, GIVE THEM CRUMBS!!!" All that was left was an unrecognizable pile of chocolate crumbs and smeared icing. I would have given much for a video camera. . . .
Further analysis reveals that Chris is a supporter of the Gadberry Plan (and in fact may be the originator of it), the concept of the Democrats selecting four or so key issues, pushing them heavily through the legislature, and if they fail to pass, pushing them as petition initiatives. Conversations with a few key folks tonight make me think seriously that Bereuter, when he is term-limited out of the legislature in two years, may look to the governor's mansion for his next job. Suits the hell out of me.
- Mayor Don Wesley won an award for having done so well with the City of Lincoln, considering the mess he inherited from former mayor (and current governor) Mike Johanns. Don told me privately that he is not interested in running for legislature again (dammit!) but he would consider a run for Congress or another office "in a year or two."
- I met Patte Newman, who is running for Mayoral Candidate Seng's seat in northeast Lincoln. This is a heavily blue collar district and contains the Goodyear plant, one of the larger union shops in town. Patte is an unashamed liberal. She gave a rousing speech as she auctioned off her cake, a speech that reminded me of Terry Werner two years ago. Inside sources tell me that she got her funding start with a hefty chunk from a person unknown (but I suspect who will be declared as is required at the right time) who does not want to see Jerry Shoecraft elected again. (More about Shoe in a moment.) Patte is conducting a walking campaign, walking door to door in the entire neighborhood. This is playing to one of her greatest strengths (at least one that hit me this evening): she's very personable and has a nice, genuine charisma.
- The other serious candidate in that district is former city councilman Jerry Shoecraft. Opinion on him is mixed: the general take is that the unions like him, but I overheard at least one union rep (who will not be named) make a comment that he hoped "that traitor" would not be elected to the city council again. Shoe is okay in one-on-one situations, and did a great job in bringing the Malone Center (the neighborhood center in the traditionally black neighborhood) out of a serious crisis of confidence. But he's annoyed more than a few people.
- Coleen Seng, true to her reputation as a bit of a character, came dressed in a flag blazer & hat. It's noteworthy that in the cake auction, her cake was bought by the Firefighters' Union for $500 -- the largest amount spent for a cake. She announced that a poll taken last Thursday (2/13) showed her 25 percentage points ahead of Glenn Friendt. Wow. But she correctly pointed out that the party can't just sit back and coast.
- Democratic National Committee member Bill Avery gave a nice speech equating "patriot" to "Democrat." I hope to get the specifics of his speech, because it also sounded very much like a manifesto for where the Democrats are going in the next few years. It included, if memory serves me right, fair taxation of "those who benefit most from our system," access to health care, support for public and higher education, bringing the US back into the world community instead of fighting it, civil rights (the old definition, not the Ashcroft definition) and support for union workers. NB: this last bothers me. When will Democrats learn that if we keep ignoring non-unionized workers, we're ignoring a very large pool of voters?
- For me, one of the most inspirational parts came from one of our tablemates, a seventysomething lifelong Democrat. She'd been a national delegate in the early 70s, especially in the Carter years. She talked about how, until 1972 the "old boy network" controlled the Democrats -- until those who had been cut out of power, like women, the Hispanics, farmers, small businessmen, etc. etc., formed caucuses. They worked together, buried small differences, sought each other out at meetings and conferences (they wore safety pins on their lapels so they could know each other) and buttonholed officeholders until they just couldn't be ignored any more. And the stranglehold was broken. These were the power days of the Democratic party. When these caucuses quit working together and started getting selfish is when the GOP moved in and swept up the pieces.
I can't add anything to that.