Dave Heineman, Mike Foley feud may impact governor's race - Omaha.com
Published Sunday, November 24, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 8:42 pm
Dave Heineman, Mike Foley feud may impact governor's race

It's no secret in the Nebraska State Capitol that two of the state's most powerful elected Republicans have a history of bad blood.

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and State Auditor Mike Foley have clashed numerous times in the past over audits performed by Foley's office on state agencies overseen by the governor.

The clashes between Heineman and Foley date back several years, but now their history of strife may have an impact on the governor's race as Foley makes a bid to succeed Heineman in the Governor's Office.

Heineman has not taken sides in the five-way GOP race, but one thing is for sure: He is no Foley supporter, said more than a half-dozen lawmakers and political observers who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Foley can expect neither kind words from Heineman on the campaign trail, nor advice from the governor on how to run his campaign.

Both Heineman and Foley declined comment for this story. Neither would discuss what numerous people said was the origin of the dispute: a performance audit that Foley's office conducted on the state health insurance program.

Exactly how — or if — the dispute between the two Republicans will have a role in the governor's race remains to be seen. But it's clear that it will make it more difficult for Foley, said John Hibbing, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“It's going to make it tougher. Heineman is a major figure in the Republican Party. All things being equal, you'd like to have someone like the governor on your side,” Hibbing said.

“On the other hand, does it mean his campaign is dead in the water? That's not the case. You don't get to pick your successor in American politics,” he added.

The animosity between the Heineman and Foley goes back to 2010 when Foley was given permission by state lawmakers to conduct a performance audit of the state's health insurance program. A performance audit is more than a review of an office's accounting practices; it looks at the overall cost effectiveness of the program.

At the time, some lawmakers were concerned that the state was spending too much for its employee health insurance: $1,861 per month for a family. The state maintains its own insurance program.

As part of that audit, Foley asked to see personal health care records of state employees in an attempt to see where the state's money was being spent. Heineman opposed Foley's request.

“The governor strenuously objected to the auditor having any information identifiable by employee,” former Speaker of the Legislature Mike Flood said. “It was very, very heated.”

Since then, Heineman and Foley have sparred repeatedly.

In 2011, Heineman publicly chastised Foley for going public with an audit of a Nebraska child welfare program without talking to him first. (It was later determined that Foley had sent an advance copy of the audit, which highlighted overpayments and lost records, to Kerry Winterer, the CEO of the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.)

Eventually, the dispute hit Foley's budget.

Earlier this spring, Heineman slashed Foley's budget in a veto upheld by state lawmakers, rolling Foley's budget back to 2005 levels. Heineman did so with little explanation.

Last month, Foley asked that the money be returned to his budget. That prompted Heineman to question whether Foley was a “fiscal conservative,” and said he would fight the request.

Others rode to Foley's defense, including State Sen. Heath Mello, a Democrat. “In comparison to the amount of money he's saved the state, this is a drop in the bucket,” Mello said.

Other Democrats have backed Heineman in his fight with Foley. State Sen. Bill Avery of Lincoln said he believes Heineman was right in not giving Foley complete access to state employees' medical records. Avery has introduced a bill in the Nebraska Legislature that would define Foley's authority.

“I also thought that the auditor's definition of the scope of his authority was excessively broad,” Avery said.

Contact the writer: Robynn Tysver

robynn.tysver@owh.com    |   402-444-1309    |  

Robynn is Omaha.com's elections writer. She's covered presidential politics in Iowa's caucuses, and gubernatorial and Senate races in Nebraska.

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