GOP state party chair Mark Fahleson -- behind the partisan public face

2011-05-14T23:40:00Z 2011-05-17T12:51:05Z GOP state party chair Mark Fahleson -- behind the partisan public faceBy DON WALTON / Lincoln Journal Star JournalStar.com
May 14, 2011 11:40 pm  • 

It is not personal, Mark Fahleson says.

"My role as a state party chairman is a partisan role, and I approach it as an attorney. I'm representing a client -- my party and its candidates -- in a competitive and aggressive way."

But that's only part of the job he embraces as Republican state chairman, Fahleson says.

"I'm the train conductor, trying to keep the train running on schedule, and efficiently, and in the right direction."

Fahleson sometimes is viewed by those who don't know him, or who oppose him, as harsh. But you could make the case that some of his opponents are no less so, just not as noticeable because they often are less successful.

Although Democrats do just fine in local races in the two big cities, Republicans dominate statewide politics in Nebraska. The only burr in their saddle is Sen. Ben Nelson, and the Democratic senator is Fahleson's top priority for 2012.

Defeat Nelson next year and Republicans can erase any Democratic presence from Nebraska's congressional delegation for the first time in 36 years. That's epochal change.

And it brings out the competitive juices of a man enmeshed in the sports world, where you either win or you lose.

Behind the public face of an aggressive partisan, Mark Fahleson is the father of three young daughters, active in his church, somewhat addicted to electronic gadgets, a disciplined runner and occasional gym rat who almost is ready to get back on the basketball court after surgery for an ACL that tore with a loud pop during a game last year.

Fahleson, 44, also is a lifelong Baltimore Orioles fan, which means he has experienced the ecstasy of championships during his youth and the agony of what now is 13 straight losing seasons. On a gut level, he knows the difference between winning and losing. 

You'll find an autographed photo of Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson hanging in Fahleson's law office at Rembolt Ludtke in Lincoln. He's had it since his sixth birthday, a gift arranged through Robinson's brother, who lived down the street in Pine Bluff, Ark., when Fahleson lived there briefly as a kid. 

Later, he grew up on a family farmstead near Davey after his parents returned to Nebraska. He helped manage a small cattle herd when he was 10 years old.

Fresh from a youth centered around 4-H and FFA, Fahleson majored in animal science at UNL before choosing to go to law school, where Jon Bruning was a friend enrolled two years behind him. 

Two decades later, Bruning is Nebraska's attorney general and may be the man Fahleson will count on if he can win a contested Republican Senate primary next year.

Fahleson already has done time in Washington. In 1994, he joined newly elected Rep. Jon Christensen as his legislative director, then moved up to chief of staff in 1995. He and his wife, Sara, returned to Nebraska in 1997.

"Time to come home," Fahleson says. 

Time to raise a family.

Abigail was born in 1998 -- on Fahleson's birthday --and is now 13.  Sophia is soon-to-be 10 and Grace will be 8 years old.

"My house is very pink," Fahleson says. "Sports is my male outlet."

Husker football and baseball. Pickup basketball, some golf. The Orioles.

"I hate running, but I do it," Fahleson says. 

His dad died of a heart attack at 67. Genes are not on his side.

When he returned from the excesses of life in Washington, he weighed 205 pounds, Fahleson says. Today, he weighs 165. He runs four days a week.

Earlier this month, he ran a half-marathon in Lincoln. In October, he plans to run the full distance in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington.

Fahleson wants his party to go the distance, too. Defeat Nelson, win all five presidential electoral votes next year, build upon the lopsided-Republican majority in the non-partisan Legislature. 

But more than that. 

Reach out to youth, many of whom recently have been attracted to Barack Obama the way he was to Ronald Reagan.

Respond to the population shift into Omaha, Lincoln and eastern Nebraska away from dependably Republican country. 

Connect and relate to the growing Hispanic population, which may share some fundamental Republican views on social issues and entrepreneurial capitalism.

Fahleson, whose legal practice is largely employment and labor law, describes himself as "a social and economic conservative who came of age in the Reagan era."

His Christian faith, and Christ Lutheran Church, are "a significant, paramount part of my life," he says.

He's hooked by iPads and Blackberrys and Facebook and Twitter, all the gadgets and electronic technology, Fahleson admits. He blogs. He texts. He tweets. And, under his leadership, so does his party.

"When I first moved back from Washington, I always wanted to serve in the House someday," Fahleson says. But he's not so sure anymore.

"I'm not strategizing or plotting. I'm happy as husband, father, with the law firm, with my state party job."

And he's focused on 2012 and Ben Nelson now.

"Part of me wants to right the wrong that was done" in 1990, Fahleson says, when Nelson ousted Kay Orr as governor after a rough and tumble campaign.

"Kay is a mentor of mine," Fahleson says.

So maybe it's a little personal.

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

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