Politics 2004Week of January 12


Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2003: “Doug’s not going to run again,” a senior Republican House member confided to me about his GOP colleague Doug Bereuter of Nebraska. “He waited so long just to be chairman of the International Relations Committee, but, when it finally became open [in ’01], they [the House GOP Conference] gave it to Henry Hyde [of Illinois]. Doug thinks it’s time to do something else.”

Last week, the confidential information became public: At age 64 and after 26 years in Congress, Bereuter announced that he would not seek re-election. Although he did not specify future plans, the retiring congressman is widely rumored to be a leading contender for the open position of president of the University of Nebraska, which pays more than $200,000 a year and includes a residence, automobile, and generous expense account.

So this year, for the first time in more than a quarter-century, the heavily Republican, Lincoln-based 1st District of the Cornhusker State will host a GOP free-for-all. The first official contender for the Republican nomination May 11 is Curt Bromm, speaker of the state’s unicameral legislature and the candidate with Bereuter’s blessing. Although Bromm’s record is generally conservative and he is likely to have the support of much of the Lincoln business establishment, Bromm also carries the usual burden of legislators who achieve leadership positions in any law-making body: controversial votes that may well have been the result of wheeling they deemed necessary to “get things done.”

In Bromm’s case, the speaker-despite his overall pro-life record-voted in favor of funding for stem cell research and also voted last year to override Republican Gov. Mike Johanns’ veto of a half-cent increase in the state sales tax. There is little argument that both votes will be potent weapons in the hands of any conservative opponents Bromm has in the GOP primary. Lt. Gov. Dave Heineman, West Point graduate and himself a former Bereuter staffer, is reportedly eyeing the race. Strong conservative Heineman had long been considered a more likely candidate for governor in ’06, when Johanns will be termed out of office. But, published reports that Rep. and fellow Republican Tom Osborne is interested in a bid for governor may convince Heineman to go for the more winnable House race. Osborne, of course, is the revered former football coach of the University of Nebraska whose winning record has even led some admirers to nickname him “God.”

Other Republican prospects for Congress include former Lt. Gov. David Maurstad, a past mayor of Beatrice, Neb., and now regional head of the Federal Emergency Management Administration; State Auditor Kate Witek, admired as an outstanding speaker; and former three-term Atty. Gen. Don Stenberg, who lost a heartbreakingly close race for the U.S. Senate to Democrat Ben Nelson in 2000. All three are considered to the right of Bromm.

Although the district has been secure in Republican hands for nearly four decades, Democrats nonetheless see the open seat as an opportunity for a gain. State Sen. Matt Connealy’s wasted little time in declaring his candidacy with a shot at the departing Bereuter, charging that the congressman appeared to be more interested in Brussels (home of the European Union) than he was in his home state. Pointing out that Democrats such as Sen. Nelson and former Sen. (1988-2000) Bob Kerrey offered warm testimonials to Bereuter when he announced his retirement, State Republican Chairman David Kramer said that Connealy’s salvo demonstrated “the class-or lack of class-he would bring to Congress if elected.”


The New Switcheroo: For more than a decade, the number of Democratic office-holders changing to Republicans-ranging from Senators Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Colo.) to hundreds of state legislators and county and local official-has dwarfed that of Republicans in office going the other way. So when Pennsylvania State Treasurer Barbara Hafer announced two weeks ago that she was switching from Republican to Democrat, it was a major news story. A fixture on the Pennsylvania political scene for two decades, Hafer was widely distrusted by grassroot GOPers throughout the Keystone State because of her non-conservative views on issues such as abortion. As the Republican nominee for governor in 1990, she lost to the late Democratic Gov. (1986-94) Bob Casey by the most lopsided margin of any gubernatorial race in Pennsylvania history. In recent years, the animosity between Hafer and most party regulars led the treasurer to break GOP ranks and support Democrat Ed Rendell for governor in ’02 and then to support the winning Democratic candidate for Allegheny County executive. “It’s no surprise-she’s only making official the way she’s always been,” said Susan Staub of the Pennsylvania Right-to-Work Committee of Hafer’s change.

No Big Rock Candy Mountain for Arkansas GOP: For more than a decade before he became the first Republican governor of Arkansas since Reconstruction in 1966, the late Winthrop Rockefeller used his considerable wealth to build a state party organization almost out of thin air. Now, with the Razorback State GOP more than $400,000 in debt and in negotiations with the Federal Election Commission over a fine related to campaign spending violations, party activists are again turning to a Rockefeller for help. At the most recent meeting of the GOP State Central Committee in North Little Rock, Lt. Gov. Winthrop Paul Rockefeller, son of the late governor, promised to help restore the party’s financial footing but made clear he wasn’t footing the bill himself. “I can’t do it alone. I’m not y’alls’ daddy,” the billionaire Rockefeller told the conclave, “I’m not going to be the party’s ATM. It’s not Rockefeller’s party. It belongs to the people of Arkansas.”

But California GOP Enjoys “Arnold-Mania:” About two months after Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor of California, the Republican Party in the Golden State appears on the rebound. Although fund-raising reports for the last quarter of ’03 won’t be filed until the end of this month, state Republicans raised $3.1 million as of September 30, compared with state Democrats’ $3.7 million. Moreover, State GOP Chairman Duf Sundheim told reporters recently, the party has already amassed for the ’04 state legislative elections more than the $11 million it raised for the ’02 legislative elections. Under Sundheim, the California GOP has also successfully wooed one of the Democrats’ largest donors, mortgage lender Ameriquest Capital Corp. and its founders Roland and Dawn Arnall. Ameriquest and the Arnalls have pledged $2 million to the California Republican Party, Sundheim told the Los Angeles Times. Of the $1.5 million that Ameriquest gave to candidates between 2000-02, the Times reported, “Democrats accounted for 89%.”

Haley’s “Head Coach:” During a December 4 trip to Jackson, Miss., I dropped by the transition office of Republican Gov.-elect Haley Barbour just in time to learn of his choice for chief of staff: Charlie Williams, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and Barbour’s onetime roommate at the University of Mississippi. Along with being one of Barbour’s closest friends, Williams has another asset in the eyes of the governor-elect, whose passion for baseball matches his love of politics: Williams holds the state collegiate record for stolen bases.

Fordham to Florida: One of the most politically savvy congressional chiefs of staff is leaving Capitol Hill for the political wars in Florida. Kirk Fordham, top aide to Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) since he came to Congress a decade ago, has just left Foley’s office to become finance director for the unannounced U.S. Senate campaign of former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez. Fordham, who got started in politics as an intern for former Rep. (1966-70, 1986-90) Donald (Buz) Lukens (R-Ohio) and was later on the staff of Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.), managed Foley’s initial winning bid for Congress in 1994. Friends of Foley mentioned that Fordham, who, they say, “lives, eats, sleeps, and drinks politics,” badly wanted his boss to run for the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Bob Graham. Foley, however, ended months of exploring the race and returned money to supporters upon learning that his father faces a prolonged bout with cancer.