Gov. Dave Heineman's letter to Nebraska education groups is a blatant application of political muscle.

It discourages serious discussion of policy and priority choices.

The governor got a few things right. Increasing costs for Medicaid because of health care reform does mean more competition for scarce state resources.

But it's simplistic to portray the choice as purely between Medicaid and education.

Although those are the largest components of the state budget, hard choices also must be made when divvying up taxpayer dollars for other types of services, such as law enforcement, child welfare, mental health services and so on.

The governor's letter did more than just frame the issue.

He demanded that education groups actively join the effort to repeal the federal health care law enacted on a strictly partisan basis by the Democratic majority in Congress.

"If you sit silently by, 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," Heineman wrote in the letter to the Nebraska State Education Association, the Nebraska Association of School Boards and the Nebraska Council of School Administrators.

There's little doubt that goading education groups into attacking the health reform law would redound to the governor's benefit in a potential race for the U.S. Senate with incumbent Sen. Ben Nelson.

As the 60th and last senator to pledge support for the federal health care law, Nelson will forever be linked with the controversial measure. That might be a good thing in some parts of the country, but in Nebraska, it's a definite liability, based on current polls

In the uproar that predictably broke out after his letter, Heineman has missed no opportunity to hammer away at Nelson and his "Cornhusker kickback."

It's a hardball tactic worthy of Chicago or any other venue famed for its rough-and-tumble politics.

In an ideal world, citizens could hope that their elected leaders would hew to higher standards of governance. They could hope that decisions on spending priorities could be made rationally. They could hope that overt intimidation would not be part of public discourse.

With his heavy-handed letter, Heineman has pushed Nebraska politics far from those ideals.

That's disappointing. Expect educators to paste a smile on their face and nod frequently while under the governor's gaze. Candor and plain speaking will diminish. Public discussion in Nebraska will be the poorer for it.

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