Bob Kerrey in ’92: “NU Wore Me Down” – @ Gov. Heineman, again, Gnarls Barkley said it Best, “Ha, ha, ha, Bless Your Soul…You Really Think You’re in Control?”

September 18, 2012


WASHINGTON, D.C.  – by Ivy Harper (exclusive)

In 1992, I published the first biography of Bob Kerrey. While Kerrey did not “authorize” it, he did not impede my progress, he allowed his friends and family to talk with me, and he spoke with me on a number of occasions.

One conversation stands out. A widespread rumor had it that Kerrey chose not to run for a guaranteed second term as Nebraska Governor in the wake of a break with then-high-profile actor, Mary Debra Winger.

So, I asked Kerrey point-blank why he seemed lethargic about governing in his final year. Was it Winger? Nope, he said. “If anything, NU wore me down.”

He’d learned that “Governing” in Nebraska is a farce. The University of Nebraska runs the state.

For the Record, I’m re-printing part of a couple of chapters that highlight then-Governor Bob Kerrey & the University of Nebraska in my 1992 [OMG, some things never change] best-selling book, “Waltzing Matilda: The Life & Times of Nebraska Senator Robert Kerrey.”

[From Chapter 5 entitled, “Kerrey Who?”]

“Later, Kerrey would find himself in the uneasy but ultimately correct position of speaking against the University of Nebraska and its top-heavy bureaucracy. While many Nebraskans familiar with the institution agreed completely with Kerrey, most politicians had generally treated NU administrators with kid gloves.

Kerrey donned boxing gloves and repeatedly sparred with University heads. The usual man in the ring with him was then-NU President Ronald Roskens, now the head of the Agency for International Development (AID), a George Herbert Walker Bush Administration appointee.

Kerrey and Roskens, in the words of one Professor, got along “like two cats in a paper bag.” Roskens and other University of Nebraska administrators were traditional Republican contributors, and some speculated that the friction began with Kerrey’s knowledge of that practice. Most of the University’s high-paid administrators gave money to [Kerrey’s gubernatorial opponent] then-Governor Charley Thone in 1982.

[From Chapter 8 entitled, “The Insolence of Office”]

“Whatever his [Kerrey’s] hopes, dreams, and wishes were of a policy nature, those had to take second place to dealing with the financial realities and fiscal realities of the times,” said UN-L Political Science Professor Robert Sittig.

Kerrey was an idealistic, enthusiastic, take-charge kind of person who thought he would make a difference, and he was frustrated by not having the resources to do. What bothered some Nebraskans, though, was that Kerrey took to cutting his budgets the way he took to everything else – with gusto and determination. Kerrey’s budget-cutting zeal really rattled some of his supporters.

One institution that felt Kerrey’s heavy hand was the University of Nebraska, headed at that time by Ronald Roskens, who would in 1991 become Director of the Agency for International Development in the [first] Bush Administration.

Kerrey and Roskens disliked each other. Kerrey made it clear in his second budget that greater emphasis should be placed on elementary and secondary education [K-12], rather than Higher Education, which he believed benefited far fewer people. Kerrey also believed passionately that universities – and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, in particular – were over-administered, and he wanted to streamline them. He saw NU as a “closed shop,” and he did not have confidence in Roskens as an administrator.”

“…[Kerrey] believed that there was waste within NU, and that some programs were too small for a state like Nebraska to carry. At one point, Kerrey proposed cutting the budget for the very Pharmacy School from which he had graduated. Kerrey told University officials that any improvements needed to be funded by internal reallocations and restructuring, which NU [stubbornly] resisted.”

Stay tuned. To be continued later today.

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