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You may remember, about a month ago, when Nebraska State Auditor Kate Witek switched from the Republican to Democratic Party.

"I got to the point where it seemed the Republican Party was only looking at controlling all the offices instead of looking at resolving all the problems challenging this state," Witek said in Friday's Lincoln Journal Star.

After a month-long battle, first with Democratic activists, and then with the Republican Secretary of State, Kate Witek was approved to be on the ballot as a Democrat in November. What happened in between is the real story...

Our story begins before the May primary elections. Kate Witek, a two-term incumbent as State Auditor, was Tom Osborne's unofficial running mate in his campaign for Governor. While Osborne was largely running on his name, Witek - for what little press she did get - wanted a change of leadership, to get Dave Heineman and company out of there and reform the Republican Party.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Mike Foley, a liar who consistently attacked Planned Parenthood in the Unicameral, and would continue to do so from his post as State Auditor if elected. But, despite that, the Democrats did not mount a challenge to his campaign, and came out of the primary with no candidate. Foley was running virtually unopposed.

Of course, Witek lost her race for Lt. Governor when Tom Osborne was defeated by Heineman in the primary. The Republican establishment won that day, and the people of Nebraska lost. So, for three months, Kate Witek remained silent. And, for three months, the Democrats still didn't have a candidate for Auditor. Then, in August, she dropped the bombshell: She was switching to the Democratic Party.

"I'm sure I'm not going to agree with everyone in the Democratic Party," Witek said. "But if it's big enough for Ben Nelson and (Omaha Mayor) Mike Fahey, it's big enough hopefully for Kate Witek."

The Democratic Convention a few days later certainly proved the first part of her statement.

"You have to be a Democrat for at least a week" to merit the party's nomination, Joe Higgins of Omaha sardonically suggested in opposing the decision.

Witek got the nomination from the Democrats that day. I voted for it, in large part because the opponents of her nomination felt it was better to have no candidate at all than to nominate Witek. She was certified as the Democratic Party's nominee, but the nomination was thrown out by Secretary of State John Gale a week later. After a court challenge led by Lincoln attorney and National Comitteeman Vince Powers, - who nominated Witek at the convention - and a petition drive that got Witek on the ballot for State Auditor, she was finally approved by Gale to be on the ballot as a Democrat in November.

But what is the lesson? The optimistic point of view would be that Nebraska Democrats are welcoming those who are fed up with the Republican Party. And, certainly in this state, where Ben Nelson is the only elected official, you can't say that Kate Witek is outside of the mainstream of this party. An NDP staffer remarked to a couple of Witek opponents sitting by me at the convention that a rejection of Witek would just show voters that the party is "just not big enough" for Witek.

But then there's the other side, one certainly not without merit. Chris Funk, a Planned Parenthood officer who said she had as much reason as anyone to fear Mike Foley as State Auditor, said she could not support her nomination:

"She represents the extreme right wing of the Republican Party," Funk said. "Shame on us that we couldn't find a real Democrat to run for auditor."

Then there's also Witek's criticism of more moderate Republicans like Chuck Hagel as recently as two weeks before she defected to the Democratic Party. So, the other side of the coin is: if Kate Witek thought that the Democratic Party was the right place for her, what does that say about us?

Originally posted to ptmflbcs on Thu Sep 21, 2006 at 11:50 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Well (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TaraIst, ptmflbcs

    How about you give her a chance before you really judge her? For frankly, given that the NE Democratic Party is weak, welcoming Witek might have long-term rewards. Maybe she is more conservative than the average Democrat. Of course she would probably be a moderate Republican in places like Illinois, New York, or California; but this is Nebraska, one of the reddest states in the country.

    If Witek can perhaps make the Democratic Party brand in Nebraska less toxic than it is right now, if her winning can help encourage others to run, then it might be worthwhile. For frankly the Democrats in Nebraska don't have a strong bench.

    I think Funk is thinking through her single issue: abortion. And maybe that is the most important issue; but, at this point, Democrats in NE are beggars who can't be choosers. As with Casey in PA, if Funk wants a viable Democratic Party in NE that is "more progressive", she is going to have to start at the very local level and work her way up. For the time being, though, Witek is the only game in town--at least in that race.

    Honestly, the primaries have come. Candidates are on the ballot. People like Fund bemoan the choices that they don't have--or they can work within the framework that exists, however flawed; and try to make the best out of a less than optimium situation. Sometimes like requires you to make lemonade of lemons. Now is one of those times.

    In the meantime, though, Funk and her allies should instead be focusing on planting seedings so that orchards in future growing seasons have more attractive fruit than lemons. But this season the only strategy--at least as Nebraska is concerned--is to sell as much lemonade as possible on the orchard stands on the side of the two-lane road. For DC related travel advice, please visit that link.

    by jiacinto on Fri Sep 22, 2006 at 12:23:51 AM PDT

    •  Certainly (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      And Funk's own comment could be turned back on her, as well, since the only reason I voted in favor of Witek's nomination - and I know that I was not the only one - was because she had no opponent and we cannot allow Mike Foley to be elected. So, if they were that dedicated to stopping Witek's nomination, why, then, did they not nominate someone else against her?

      But I'm worried. Looking at her public statements, I fear that what she's really fed up with in the Republican Party is that they aren't conservative enough. I'll give her a chance, I voted for her nomination, and I will vote for her in November. But I am very concerned about what this says about the direction of our Democratic Party. For years now, we've been running candidates with no message, no ideas, no principle. The only thing they have is a D behind their name. And they get 30-35% of the vote every time. We're fortunate enough that we have three Congressional challengers this time around who are going on the offensive and getting their message out to the people.

      People in Nebraska will vote for Democrats. They've done it before. But it has to be more than a label. You've got to show them something.  

      •  Re: "no message, no ideas, no principle" (0+ / 0-)

        "For years now, we've been running candidates with no message, no ideas, no principle. The only thing they have is a D behind their name. And they get 30-35% of the vote every time."

        The above is not a fair or accurate statement.  It's funny that we should wonder why we have such a hard time recruiting candidates when they are judged so harshly when their campaigns fail.

        We've had bad candidates.  We've had good candidates.  We've seen bad campaigns.  We've seen good campaigns.  Bad candidates have won.  Good campaigns have come up just short.  Nothing new or particular to Nebraska in either of those regards.

        Looking to the future is about more than pointing a damning, accusatory finger at the past.  How can we ever expect to build when all we look to do is blame and obliterate?  While we must learn from history, it is the height of arrogance to assume that its lessons are ever going to be so simple or so obvious.

        •  But it's also about understanding where we are (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          We haven't won a Congressional election in 14 years. A governor's election in 12 years. In the third district, we've never won. The last time we won in the 1st District was 42 years ago.

          Exon, Kerrey, and Nelson won as governors because they did have that something that the people of Nebraska respected. They won as Senators because the people of Nebraska respected their work as Governors.

          Other statewide offices? We haven't won an election for Secretary of State in 68 years. State Treasurer for 16 years. And Attorney General in 70 years. And in the last decade, we went from a virtual tie in the unicameral, to a veto-proof Republican majority.

          16 years ago, we held many elected offices in the state of Nebraska. We had a virtually even amount of Democrats as Republicans in the city of Omaha. Now, we have one state or federal official who has been elected as a Democrat: Ben Nelson.

          There is something wrong, here. And, sure, it won't be fixed by one simple thing. And it won't be fixed in one election cycle, either. But it's not that we're ideologically that far away from the people of Nebraska. I don't think you'd disagree that Republicans have kicked our ass in organization the last decade or so.

          We have to give the people of this state something else to offer besides the "D" behind our name. In Witek's case, it may simply be the job she's done as State Auditor the last eight years. Nelson's got a clear case to make for reelection. I've heard you make the case that Hahn has to make clear distinctions between himself and Heineman. I've made the case that Jim Esch has to do the same thing with Terry. For once, I think we have a slate of candidates that actually understands that the differences need to be clear. And we'll probably still lose most of those races. And we may even get that baseline vote, particularly in the governor's race.

          As someone who desperately wants this party to succeed in Nebraska, I'm disappointed every year by our losses. 2002 and 2004 were remarkable failures in every regard. This time around, we can get an "as expected," which is good enough, or we can shock some people by busting our asses and getting some more Democrats elected. As much as I am complaining, I've been trying my damn best to do the latter, and I know you have too. Right now, that's all that matters.

  •  Just to clarify.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The battle between "Democratic activists" lasted all of 20 minutes, though it was cause for a lot of talk in the 24 hours prior.  As for what Witek's taking a place in the Nebraska Democratic Party says about "us", I think it says nothing more or less than that we have a shared interest in reform of state government and a shared understanding that the Republican status quo is killing any chance to move Nebraska forward into the 21st century.

    Politics often makes for strange bedfellows, but there's nothing strange about uniting behind so simple a common cause as doing what's best for the state we love.

    Witek made the choice to become a Democrat.  No one else was willing to run for the office, so I think we're obliged to take her for her word.  Not only is our party a big tent - particularly in the Midwest - but there's also no bouncer at the door checking IDs or IDeologies.  

    In Kansas, we've celebrated the fact that this year 11 Democratic candidates are Republican converts.  In general, I'd say this phenomena speaks mostly to the out-of-touch, power-obsessed extremism of the Republican Party driving not only voters but even engaged leaders into the Democrats' ranks.

    Are we really to suppose that's a bad thing?  Only if we want to remain a minority party for a good long while.

    •  The sort of thing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      That keeps me wavering, Kyle, is the lack of any sort of cohesion among our candidates. Being a Democrat does have to mean something, right? And you know, in this state, it probably means something more like Ben Nelson or Kate Witek. But that worries me. Because while on one hand, I'm a pragmatist, who sees that right now we're not going to do much better than Ben Nelson... I'm also an idealist, and what sickens me is when Democratic officeholders routinely sell out Democratic values. It cheapens us as a party, and it cheapens our standing.

      The idea I've been kicking around in my head, looking at numbers from my district over the past four elections... 30-35% is the Democratic baseline in this state. That's the number of people who voted for Kerry, or Gore. That's the number of people who voted for every challenger to Lee Terry. And only when you had a strong candidate with a clear message did you see any movement from that number.

      So I see the merits of your argument, and part of me even agrees with it. But I want it to change.

      •  Conservative (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Is she too conservative to be a Democrat?
        We non-Nebraskans would need a lot more
        particulars to make that call.

        But there are different philosophies under
        the "conservative Republican" tent, too.
        And there's been some switching of positions
        between the parties on the issues, not just
        the labels on the candidates.

        Guess I'm showing my advanced age, but I
        can remember when balancing the budget and
        always keeping the federal debt under tight
        control was a conservative issue! (Liberals
        argued for running a deficit during recessions
        to stimulate the recovery.)

        Avoiding foreign adventures and misadventures,
        indeed avoiding all wars if at all possible,
        and especially "pre-emptive" wars, used to be
        a conservative position.

        Maybe keeping the feds away from the deathbed --
        Terry Schiavo's and yours and mine -- and
        leaving these matters to the families and
        the states is really a conservative position.

        And I know some conservative voters who agree
        with me that doubling the number of arrests
        for marijuana since 1992 is a waste of the
        taxpayers' money.

        Last, I'd hope that if she stays a Democrat,
        spends much more of her time listening to
        other Democrats and hearing their ways of
        understanding the issues of the day, that
        Witek will become a better Democrat over time.
        But I dunno enuf to know from here.

        Interesting situation, so keep us posted if
        there are further developments for good or ill.

        •  Another thought (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          When Tom DeLay manipulated the Texas Lege
          into the corrupt redistricting scheme that
          caused five House Democrats to lose their
          seats, they made one major argument for
          overturning the existing districts mid-decade.

          They said the total votes for (R) candidates
          for all state offices
          in the recent statewide
          elections had averaged well over 50% (I forget
          exactly, but let's say it was 65%). But the
          total (D) for statewide offices was much less
          (let's say 35%, like the figure cited above
          for the (D) base in Nebraska).

          Meanwhile the numbers for the House delegation,
          mostly through incumbency, voter habits, and
          daresay gerrymandering by our side in earlier
          years, was almost the reverse, about 2 to 1.

          They said it wasn't fair for the voters to be
          2 to 1 (R) statewide but 1 to 2 in the House
          delegation, and they would "fix" that. So
          the fix was in, and that argument was their
          fig leaf for the power grab.

          This summer the Supreme Court found that
          DeLay's redistricting had actually violated
          the Voting Rights Act in one district. But
          the decision NOT to undo the rest of DeLay's
          mid-decade gerrymander actually opened
          with a summary of this (R) line that their
          totals in statewide offices should be reflected
          in the House delegation. The Court swallowed
          that line whole.

          This is a longwinded explanation of one reason
          why it can be so important to contest every
          office. It's often said that you can't win
          if you aren't in the fight. It's more and
          it's worse: You will lose if you aren't in
          the fight.

          Whatever we think about Witek or the other
          Demo-come-lately candidates -- the votes
          cast for them in November will be counted
          as votes for a Democrat. Those are votes
          we would not get if the race went uncontested.

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