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Anne Boyle
Anne Boyle receives applause from Mike Meister as Boyle is announced as his gubernatorial running mate on the Democratic ticket at a press conference on the west side of the Nebraska Capitol on Aug. 30, 2010. (ROBERT BECKER / Lincoln Journal Star)

Anne Boyle, chosen Monday as Mike Meister's running mate, said Gov. Dave Heineman's recent pressure on school officials to oppose health care reform is "an abuse of power."

Heineman, in effect, has threatened to "punish people (if they) do not support his political agenda," Boyle said.

"It's absolutely blackmail," she said.

"That is a threat (and) children will suffer."

Heineman last week wrote school association executives encouraging them to support repeal of the federal health care law or prepare for a reduction in state school aid as Medicaid costs rise.

"If you sit silently by," the Republican governor wrote, "I am going to assume that your lack of action is tacit support for increased Medicaid funding and the likely reduction in funding for education."

Meister, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, said Heineman is "showing his true character (by) bullying teachers and the educational establishment.

"This guy is not the nice guy everyone makes him out to be," Meister said.

Boyle, 67, a longtime Democratic stalwart and former state party chairwoman, is serving her third term representing the Omaha district on the state Public Service Commission.

Meister announced selection of Boyle as his lieutenant governor running mate at a news conference on the west steps of the Capitol.

Boyle believes in the same principles of fiscal responsibility and local control that he embraces, Meister said, and she is "not afraid to speak truth to power."

Republican State Chairman Mark Fahleson said Boyle was chosen to attack Heineman.

"Anne has been a faithful servant to the Nebraska Democratic Party for decades," Fahleson said.

"This is about cleaning up the mess after the Mark Lakers' scandal and attacking Governor Heineman rather than any belief that Mike Meister is a serious candidate who can win an election that's just 63 days away."

Democrats have made no secret of the fact they'd like to bloody or bruise Heineman in advance of a possible 2012 Senate contest with Sen. Ben Nelson while attempting to win this year's governor's scrap.

Lakers withdrew as the original Democratic gubernatorial nominee in the wake of allegations challenging the veracity of his campaign finance reports.

Meister was chosen by the Democratic state convention to replace Lakers as the party's nominee and assume the daunting task of organizing, funding and waging a 100-day campaign.

"We're up against a million dollar campaign," Boyle said, and lack the time required to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund their own effort.

That means the Democratic ticket will concentrate on "one-on-one" campaigning and media attention, she said.

"We really do need to give people a choice," Boyle said. "We need to look at the record of Dave Heineman."

Democrats will focus on "his (state) budget deficit," Meister said. "And his absolute lack of ideas."

The state faces an estimated $750 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal biennium that Heineman says he'll erase with spending restraints and no tax increases.

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"Increased funding for Medicaid is likely to result in less funding for education," Heineman earlier warned leaders of the Nebraska State Education Association, the Nebraska Association of School Boards and the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

"The future of education funding is at stake," the governor wrote in his letter last week.

Meister said he's planning to talk to NSEA leaders to see if the teachers association wishes to withdraw its early endorsement of Heineman.

"This is a perfect opportunity for them to step back and start this process over," Meister said.

The NSEA endorsement was issued long before the association knew who the Democratic opponent would be.

Boyle said she accepted Meister's invitation to join the Democratic ticket last Friday when he reached her by phone while she was at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

"I come from a family of public servants," she said.

Both Boyle and her husband, Mike, a Douglas County commissioner and former Omaha mayor, were urged to consider entering the governor's race when Democrats first searched for a candidate.

Later, Anne Boyle was the first party leader to urge Lakers to withdraw from the race when the pledges listed in his campaign finance reports appeared to be speculative rather than firm commitments.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at dwalton@journalstar.com.

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