Osborne's Class I remarks heat up race for governor

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

In the toughest political battle of his career in public service, Tom Osborne is discovering that every word about every subject will be scrutinized by his opponents and their supporters.

Osborne, who gained fame as the coach of championship football teams at the University of Nebraska, had easy sledding in his congressional races in the 3rd District, cruising to lopsided victories in every election.

But, now, in his bid for the Republican nomination for governor, Osborne is encountering opposition from the current governor, Dave Heineman, and an Omaha businessman, David Nabity.

Things were going along pretty smoothly in the campaign until this past weekend, when remarks Osborne made last month at a Nebraska Farmers Union meeting in Grand Island were made public. In his remarks, Osborne was quoted as saying, "I have seen some cases where the cause of segregation has been advanced, to some degree, by Class I schools. That is something that's really, as far as I'm concerned, un-American."

Most likely, Osborne was referring to the Class I schools near Lexington and Schuyler, which have attracted option students from towns with heavy Hispanic populations. But, true or not, the use of the word segregation in reference to Class I schools could be detrimental to Osborne's campaign.

The sitting governor, Heineman, has taken the opposite stand, coming out strongly in support of Class I schools and their efforts to avoid forced consolidation, as mandated by Legislative Bill 126. However, that legislation has been challenged by petition, and Nebraska voters will vote on the issue in November.

In the earlier part of the Republican campaign for the governor's nomination, the differences between the candidates were hard to detect. All three GOP candidates are in favor of tax reductions, it's just a question of how much and when. While Heineman is calling for tax cutbacks in the current legislative session, Osborne and Nabity contend he should have taken action sooner before large surpluses built up.

Four months remain before the May primary, and you can bet the debate will get more intense as decision day draws nearer for voters. It will be interesting to see what other issues emerge, and how they will influence Nebraskans' decision in the intriguing campaign for governor.

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