A State Race Affected by Immigration?

May 15, 2006

I did not know this:

in Nebraska last week, immigration toppled the favored candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary, Rep. Tom Osborne, in what was called “one of the most surprising defeats in Nebraska political history.” Osborne, whose success as the University of Nebraska football coach made him an icon in the football-mad state (he was once called “Nebraska’s God” by one of his hapless political rivals), had never received less than 82 percent of the vote in his congressional races, and was expected to win easily over Gov. Dave Heineman. But that was before Heineman vetoed a bill providing in-state tuition for illegal aliens at state universities, while Osborne approved of the bill. Both Osborne and his campaign manager acknowledged that his support for illegal immigrants was a major reason for his defeat.


Heineman’s success against the former football coach was in large part due to his veto of a bill passed by the state’s unicameral legislature earlier this year to allow illegal aliens who graduate from high school in Nebraska and promise to continue trying to achieve U.S. citizenship to pay in-state tuition at state colleges. Osborne supported the in-state tuition bill, which became the law when the legislature overrode Heineman’s veto.

“It was certainly one of the major reasons Dave Heineman won and Tom Osborne lost,” said Omaha City Councilman Chuck Sigerson, a former Republican state chairman. Sigerson noted that the issue was widely discussed at the candidates’ debates and in commercials run at the end of the campaign. “Illegal immigrants are coming to Nebraska in significant numbers—in Omaha and Lincoln in particular,” Sigerson said. “The issue of illegal immigration is a growing problem.”

In a debate at Norfolk, Neb., in April, Osborne attacked Heineman over the veto. “You don’t punish somebody for something they had no control over,” he lectured the governor. “Why would you take away that opportunity to better themselves?”

Heineman fired back that giving tuition breaks at tax-funded colleges to people in the country illegally is “not right. It’s not fair. It’s not appropriate. There is a legal way to go through the immigration process.”

Evidence that Osborne feared he had injured himself on the issue emerged when his campaign started doing “push polls” trying to paint Heineman as weak on illegal immigration. NebraskaStatePaper.com dubbed the push polling “the telephonic equivalent of an attack ad.” In one call, the voter was told: “Tom Osborne has voted for tighter border security and proposed measures to allow hard-working immigrants to obtain temporary worker visas. Dave Heineman does not even have a position on illegal immigration listed on his Web site. Does his silence on illegal immigration make you less likely to vote for Dave Heineman?”

Osborne’s defeat, Sigerson said, “came on the heels of all those rallies for illegal immigrant rights—and voters said they were fed up with them.”

One Response to A State Race Affected by Immigration?

  1. Tom Osborne’s retirement « The MikeLewpedia on September 26, 2012 at 1:30 pm

    […] two on Jan. 2, 1984. (2) Challenging a sitting governor, and then losing, in part for sticking up for Hispanics. Best of luck to you in retirement, Coach. Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to […]