New ballgame.

With Mike Flood's departure from the 2014 Republican gubernatorial race following the discovery of his wife Mandi's breast cancer and Rick Sheehy's pending departure after his resignation under fire as lieutenant governor, the playing field is cleared.

Everybody who had considered a bid and turned it down will be revisiting those decisions now. And others no doubt will take their first real looks.

Nebraska Democrats sense a new opportunity with the departure of two strong Republican candidates. Sheehy would have had the support of Gov. Dave Heineman and a huge assist from his fundraising apparatus. 

But the Republicans have a deep bench, and plenty of names were flying through the air over the weekend.

Heineman faces an interesting choice in naming a new lieutenant governor. If he chooses to pick someone who would not be a 2014 candidate for governor, which we hear may be his first inclination, that opens up the GOP field.

But if the governor chooses to select a lieutenant governor who plans to enter the 2014 gubernatorial race, then Heineman has an opportunity now to try to select his successor.

Let's see where he goes.

That's Act 1.

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Nebraska is Arkansas.

A Gallup survey of political ideology in all the states placed Nebraska in a tie with Arkansas as the ninth most conservative state. 

Here are others in the top ten: Alabama, North Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, Utah, Oklahoma, Idaho and Louisiana. 

Massachusetts was the most liberal state, although it trailed the District of Columbia.

* * *


Lots of it during Chuck Hagel's Senate Armed Services Committee confirmation hearing.

John McCain obviously never has forgiven Hagel for his opposition to the Iraq War, particularly the 2007 troop surge. Old scores were left to be settled almost six years later.

McCain's angry questioning pressed Hagel to declare that he was wrong when he had said the surge would be a historic foreign policy blunder. Of course, in doing so, Hagel then would acknowledge that McCain was right all along in supporting the surge.

Hagel declined.

Later, Hagel took the opportunity to frame his 2007 remarks in the context of his broader criticism of the Bush administration's decision to launch a war in Iraq. 

Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham, McCain's sidekick, weighed in with a prosecutorial and contemptuous examination of Hagel's past statements about the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby on members of Congress.

"Name one person (who has been) intimidated by the Israeli lobby," Graham demanded.

Hagel deferred. But it would have been interesting to read his mind. 

Policy disagreements with Hagel certainly were legitimate topics -- even though it is President Barack Obama, not the secretary of defense, who will establish policy -- but the lack of senatorial courtesy or respect for a former senator at a Senate hearing was extraordinary.

Perhaps the ferocity of the attack also had something to do with Hagel's lack of support for McCain's 2008 presidential bid. Politics is intensely personal.

These were Republican senators attacking a Republican who disagreed with them on Iraq, and who has argued for a peaceful resolution of the dispute with Iran over its apparent efforts to build a nuclear weapons capacity and a peaceful and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Those differences, which focus on the central issue of war and peace, ought to be explored and debated in a thoughtful way, you would think.

Not in today's Washington.  

But they were touched on by figures from yesterday's Washington through opening remarks by Sam Nunn and John Warner when they presented Hagel to the committee. Both are former Armed Services chairmen, one a Democrat, the other a Republican.

In the fury of the questioning that followed, what Nunn and Warner had to say was lost.

Here is a bit of it:

Nunn: "War for Chuck Hagel is not an abstraction. He knows war should be a last resort. (His views) align with the mainstream of U.S. foreign and defense policy."

Warner: "Hagel will walk point for every man and woman in the armed services. He is one of their own."

Finishing up

* Gov. Jeremy Nordquist didn't hold the office (errantly bestowed by then-Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy) for long. Soon, I read, it was Gov. Steve Lathrop, with the title attached by a committee witness. Strange vibes at the Capitol these days.

* Uh, could there be reasons other than taxes that older or retired Nebraskans choose to move to Florida or Arizona? 

* If one side adopts a hardline ideological position that tax rates never can be raised, no matter the circumstances, it makes it more difficult for the other side to ever vote to reduce current tax rates, no matter the circumstances.

* Jeff Fortenberry participated in a discussion at the World Economic Forum at Davos centered on expectations for the United States in the 21st Century.  

* Immigration reform could be headed toward a battle over providing a pathway to legal status, rather than citizenship, for immigrants who have settled illegally in the country. One party may want these people to ultimately gain the right to vote; one might not. 

* Partying about to break out in the sports corner of the newsroom: Just a couple more days until football recruit signing day dawns across the nation.

* Pitchers and catchers report in seven days.

* Anyone need an all-star third baseman?

Reach Don Walton at 402-473-7248 or