An old colleague always referred to the Nebraska State Capitol as the “Hall of Hot Winds.”
It was mostly a sarcastic reference to the substance of speeches delivered there.
But it also applied to the Capitol rumor mill, which has been running hot and heavy in recent days.
Most of those rumors focus on Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy, whose wife of 28 years recently filed for divorce.
Normally, such an announcement about the holder of a lower-profile office like lieutenant governor wouldn’t warrant much chatter. But the 52-year-old Sheehy is an announced candidate for the Republican nomination for governor in 2014. That’s different.
So the rumor mill has been cranking full blast (partly because there’s little else to gossip about during the slow, hot summer). Heck, we’ve already seen speculation on who will replace Sheehy due to speculation that he will resign (he has said he won’t).
We’re not going to get into repeating the rumors.
But here’s two things to ponder: divorce is no longer a political sin, yet the rumor mill can be used to damage a candidate.
I recall a congressional race years ago when rumors began circulating in the waning days of the fall campaign that a surging candidate was homosexual. That candidate didn’t win. You have to think that the rumors didn’t help. (It should be noted that the candidate later married, and remains married.)
Ditto for the chattering that accompanied the gubernatorial candidacy of former NU football coach Tom Osborne. “Doesn’t Tom look old and frail?” is how the comments went. “Dave Heineman is a sparkplug by comparison.”
I doubt that anyone is questioning the vigor of Osborne these days, after he’s resurrected the NU athletic program and led a surge of facility improvements (Haymarket Arena, Memorial Stadium expansion and Devaney Center renovations). But the talk about his age and his professorial speeches, particularly in comparison with Heineman’s sunny optimism, contributed, in part, to Osborne’s surprising defeat in the 2006 GOP primary. (One politico pointed out that there was some truth to the talk, too.)
“Whisper campaigns,” fed by rumors, continue to be a grand tradition in Nebraska. They were probably a factor in the surprising outcome of this spring’s GOP primary for U.S. Senate.
Some think Sheehy is becoming a victim now. Maybe. Maybe not.
Has his electability been damaged?
Two former Nebraska governors, Mike Johanns and Bob Kerrey, had marriages end in divorce. But their divorces occured years before they stood for election. It wasn’t a factor.
Divorces do happen. Who doesn’t know someone whose faced that sad walk to the courthouse? People can move on, and be successful.
In today’s world, politicians have to mold an identity with voters. So it remains to be seen if people will define the little-known Sheehy as a hard-working, No. 2 to Gov. Heineman, or for the chattering about his divorce.
Time, as always, will tell.