Don Walton: Children, defense in eye of sequester

2013-02-24T19:00:00Z 2013-03-07T17:39:07Z Don Walton: Children, defense in eye of sequesterBy DON WALTON / Column

Here comes the S-word.

Are we really going to do this sequester thing, slashing vital programs along with those that ought to be reduced, abruptly taking money out of the economy and eliminating jobs just as we are moving gradually out of a deep recession?

Here's some of what the White House says would result in Nebraska this year:

* $2,988,000 in funding cuts for primary and secondary education: $3.5 million in cuts for educating children with disabilities.

* Furloughs for about 4,000 civilian Department of Defense employees in Nebraska with a resulting $25.1 million in reduced payroll.

* Reduced funding for Air Force operations in Nebraska totaling about $15 million.

* Elimination of Head Start services for about 400 children and $121,000 in reduced funding for meals for seniors.

* $1,294,000 in cuts for clean water and air quality protections.

The sequester does not target or prioritize.

The waiting game

This is complicated.

People are crowding into the waiting room now watching for a signal from the Governor's Residence. 

In or out? Yes or no? Black smoke or white? Knowing the governor, it's bound to be red.

Once Dave Heineman has announced whether he's going to enter the 2014 Senate race or not, those leaning forward in anticipation in the waiting room will jump up, scatter and begin to line up in front of their chosen track. 

Some will lag behind to see what route others have chosen; as always, some will just stand up and pace the room.

Only when the governor announces does the waiting end and the 2014 games begin.

If Heineman decides to seek the Senate seat being vacated by Mike Johanns at the end of next year, the Republicans in the waiting room essentially will have a single track to consider instead of as many as three.

Heineman, of course, would be a slam dunk for the GOP Senate nomination. But other candidates are welcome to come along for the ride if they wish.

The single big opening then would be the governorship.

And one Republican already is out on that trail.

Take a look at Charlie Janssen's carefully framed and edited introductory campaign video and tell me he could not be a player. 

The state senator from Fremont is first out of the chute. And he already has ventured into the 3rd District, the staunchly conservative GOP stronghold that dominates statewide Republican primaries.

Janssen has built his introductory video message around images of rural Nebraska and small towns, military service, patriotism, economic growth and opposition to big government, with American flags waving everywhere.

That's what the vast majority of Nebraskans will see as they begin to get to know him, not his legislative years. No doubt, popular Republican messages conveying his strong positions on illegal immigration and gun rights will follow.

A number of Republican opponents may be in the hunt soon. But big-name prospects Mike Flood, Rick Sheehy and Tim Clare are gone. That race is wide open now. And Democrats may sense a November opening. 

Although the gubernatorial express is ready to board now, an array of potential candidates will wait to see whether there's room on the Senate train and whether one also might be loading up for a tour of eastern Nebraska's 1st Congressional District. That's the third track.

Among the potential Republican Senate candidates is Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, whose candidacy would open his House seat. And that would bring an additional array of potential candidates rushing through the waiting room.

Fortenberry's potential Senate candidacy already has prompted a swift attack from the Senate Conservatives Fund, the hard-right national political organization that provided most of the funding support for Don Stenberg's 2012 Senate campaign.

"Congressman Fortenberry has a big-spending voting record in the House (and) is not the kind of fiscal conservative we need in the U.S. Senate," the organization stated in an email to its members.  

They're not at all happy about his vote to help prevent the country from toppling over the fiscal cliff. 

In that same email message, the organization said it welcomed Johanns' decision not to seek re-election, describing Johanns as "a moderate" who has supported debt limit increases and the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense.

Most Nebraskans would consider Johanns  a conservative senator.  And independent surveys of congressional voting records categorize Fortenberry as fundamentally conservative with an occasional independent streak.

But the line measuring political philosophy now stretches much farther to the right than it once did.

Democrats have fewer numbers of prospects in the waiting room and more limited resources, and that translates into less ability to fuel two huge statewide races at the same time next year. 

Depending on their nominees -- and, perhaps even more so, on the opponents Republican voters choose -- Democrats might feel the need to prioritize one of the big statewide contests when the 2014 campaign moves into the end game.

Heineman's upcoming decision will get the trains rolling.

If it's a no, then "all aboard!"

Finishing up

* State Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha is one of the young conservatives chosen to address the high-profile CPAC convention in Washington next month.

* Lindsay Graham will be honored by Alleghany College this week with a civility-in-public-life award presented to those who display "civility toward those they engage" and a record of "doing battle without personally attacking their foes." Presumably, he will not be introduced by Chuck Hagel.

* Snowfall in Nebraska in the winter didn't always create a media frenzy. Prepare yourself for the frenzy that lies ahead when it gets hot in Nebraska this summer.

* Spring football in Lincoln; spring baseball in Florida.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or at

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