Don Walton: They're off and running

2013-06-02T20:00:00Z 2015-11-10T17:21:28Z Don Walton: They're off and runningBy DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star

Ready, set, go.

Gov. Dave Heineman's announcement that he will not seek the open Senate seat next year, in effect, was the starting gun for the 2014 elections.

Shane Osborn promptly headed down the Republican track and Ben Sasse prepared to step up to the starting line. 

Could Pete Ricketts be next, sporting his Cubs cap? 

Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, Chuck Hassebrook jumped into the 2014 gubernatorial race. Hassebrook, who will formally announce on Tuesday, quietly informed Steve Lathrop of his intentions weeks ago.

Lathrop still has to make his own decision; the Omaha state senator has prepared for a possible gubernatorial bid by participating in recent Democratic events as far west as Scottsbluff-Gering. 

There probably are many dominoes yet to fall.

Supporters of Mike Flood are hopeful that the former Speaker of the Legislature will be able to return to the Republican gubernatorial race later in the year. That would mean Flood's wife, Mandi, successfully has completed treatment of her breast cancer, a much more important consideration for him.

Charlie Janssen is out there campaigning now, and the Fremont state senator is laying claim to a number of hot-button issues that play well in statewide Republican primaries. Start with adamant opposition to any benefits for illegal immigrants and a strong embrace of gun rights.

Best guess is there are more gubernatorial candidates coming.

The open question for 2014 is who the Democratic Senate nominee might be. That currently is a blank slate.

With 2014 still a distant target, the best guess now is that Nebraskans are likely to choose their next U.S. senator in next May's Republican primary election. 

The gubernatorial race, although heavily weighted toward Republicans in Nebraska's current political environment, would appear to be more open.

* * *

Tax study ahead.

Better keep track of this one.

This comprehensive legislative study -- prompted by Gov. Dave Heineman's proposals to eliminate the state income tax and wipe out a slew of state sales tax exemptions -- could lead to big change that impacts all of us.

Not just in personal terms, but in defining the future economic and cultural character of the state and the vitality not only of its private sector, but also its government or public sector.

Both sectors need to have the ability to respond to opportunities, challenges and needs. 

This is not a task for ideologues.

Or, at least, it shouldn't be.

This is the committee where you want to be if you're a senator who wants to help shape the future.  

Senators who work hard at this are going to learn a great deal about the economy and policy choices and what makes Nebraska tick.

And for those with political ambitions -- and I think we can identify a few senators on that committee -- this is a rare opportunity to prepare themselves and, in the process, establish an array of valuable contacts. 

Only one senator from the seat of state government thus far is on the committee that's assigned to craft the proposed tax base that would support state government in the future.

Kathy Campbell is the sole Lincoln senator among the 13 committee members already named; two members are yet to be picked by the Legislative Council's executive board.

Big issues lie ahead: Who assumes more tax responsibility? Who assumes less? What's the impact on the potential revenue base or pool of funding available for public expenditure? Is it greater or is it less?

Has future funding for state and local government been made more difficult or eased? 

There will be public hearings and there will be hidden agendas.

There will be lots of corporate tax experts and lobbyists -- and there should be -- along with the rest of us.  It's important for senators to gather all the information they can receive from all sources and then make their own informed judgment.

Change will be difficult because there are so many moving parts and, in the end, it's possible there might not be much. 

Ease one tax responsibility and you increase another, or you make it more difficult to fund the University of Nebraska, state aid to schools, health and human services programs, everything.

You might want to keep an eye on this one.

Finishing up:

* Hey, no one asked me, but here goes: Shouldn't we consider cleaning or replacing the stained exterior walls of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln administration building?  That's not a very welcoming view of what has become an increasingly attractive campus.

* Bill Romjue, who managed Elizabeth Colbert Busch's congressional campaign against Mark Sanford in South Carolina this year, will be Chuck Hassebrook's gubernatorial campaign manager.

* Jeff Fortenberry's decision not to seek the open Senate seat is another reminder of how reluctant most House members are to risk their seats in Congress in a bid for the Senate. Officeholders with four-year terms can go after other elective positions at mid-term and not risk what they have.

* Good time to live in Lincoln; good time to ride its enthusiasm and energy; good opportunity to identify more with its namesake, the nation's most celebrated president. Let's see more of Abraham Lincoln stamped on our city everywhere.

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or

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