The Republican gubernatorial hopeful with the cleverest zinger against Obamacare isn’t necessarily the person best able to lead Nebraska state government. Same goes for the Democratic hopeful with the sharpest jab at Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.
That point comes to mind after a recent news article discussed how Nebraskans vying in the governor’s race are often being asked by voters for their stances on national issues.
It’s understandable that voters ask, since a candidate’s response can reflect his or her general political philosophy. It’s also to be expected that gubernatorial candidates will have strong views on prominent federal issues.
And state government doesn’t operate in a vacuum, as the White House demonstrated again this week by jumping into Nebraska’s Medicaid expansion debate. Many federal policies — from social services to highway funding — have an impact on the states.
But choosing a governor involves something more. Candidates need to be keenly attuned to the many state issues over which the eventual winner will have a direct impact.
Their campaigns need to offer a vision for Nebraska. They need to show an understanding of the full breadth of this sprawling state, with its wide array of interests and concerns.
Candidates need skills to work constructively with people, to break stalemates, to get things done. They need more than good sound bites.
A top-flight gubernatorial candidate will be one with the judgment to make smart choices in filling key jobs, especially since turnover will be likely in the leadership team as Gov. Dave Heineman wraps up his 10 years of service.
And they need to offer substantial ideas for addressing big issues facing the state. Just a few:
>> Prisons. Nebraska’s prison population has climbed to about 51 percent over capacity. A new prison would cost an estimated $130 million to $150 million. Nebraska doesn’t need a congressional-style “kick the can down the road” attitude.
>> Social needs. The state Department of Health and Human Services faces steep challenges, including the growing costs of Medicaid and ongoing efforts to improve the child welfare system.
>> Water. Perhaps not a topic of conversation in Omaha, but in rural Nebraska long-term water issues are critical. As Jasper Fanning of the Upper Republican Natural Resources District said a couple years ago: “There are tens to hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of projects waiting for the $2 million to $3 million a year that go into the Natural Resources Development Fund.”
>> Budgeting. Although the Legislature develops its own budget, the next governor will have a big impact through his leadership on taxes and spending. At the same time, a governor has a duty to keep a state from careening off the fiscal cliff, as seen in “blue” states such as Illinois and “red” ones such as Kansas.
The public will be best served by candidates whose central focus isn’t on political sound bites but on something far more important: how to keep Nebraska moving forward.