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The Truth, Mainly - 05/04/1998

A winning progression: Low taxes to no taxes to negative taxes

If Nebraska's Governor X learned anything at all in his successful 1998 election campaign, it was this: the winner is the one promising the most tax cuts.

He'd entered the campaign with the mistaken notion that the winner is the one most often bashing homosexuals. But when he repeated his charge that "Homosexuals want special rights to be abominations, rights unfairly denied the rest of us," his poll numbers dropped and he was told to get a new issue.

The one that would play best, his campaign manager said, was to promise more tax cuts than anyone else.

"Way cool," Governor X said. "Far out. Neato jet."

And it worked. By the time the opposition caught on and began promising they'd cut taxes too, Governor X had a snappy comeback.

"Copycats," he said. "Copycats, copycats, copycats."

He won by a landslide.

At the election celebration, he got some startling advice.

"What you do now," his campaign manager said, "is actually cut taxes."

A hush descended on the celebrants.

"Don't be silly," Governor X said. "Cutting taxes is what you say to get elected. Cutting taxes isn't what you do after you've been elected."

Appreciative applause arose from the celebrants.

"You're on record," the campaign manager said. "You wanna get re-elected in four years, you gotta cut taxes."

So, because he wanted to get re-elected in four years, Governor X cut taxes.

For three years, he cut taxes.

By the end of 2001, there was no longer a Highway Patrol, but highways were so full of potholes nobody drove on them anyway. Public schools were staffed by PTA volunteers, and the student-teacher ratio at UN-L was 234-1. Crime was going up because policemen had moved to Iowa, and houses were burning down because firemen had moved to Kansas.

But taxes had indeed been cut.

Then, on Jan. 1, 2002, Candidate Y entered the gubernatorial race.

"Governor X has merely cut taxes," Candidate Y said. "Elect me and I'll do away with taxes altogether."

The governor's campaign manager furrowed his brow.

"Use the power of office," he told Governor X. "Do what you have to do to get re-elected and do it before November."

"Good thinking," Governor X said. "What do I have to do?"

"What would voters like?" the campaign manager said. "What would they like even better than no taxes at all?"

"Free beer?" Governor X said. "Barbeque? Babes? What?"

"Cash gifts," the campaign manager said. "Negative taxation is even better than no taxation."

"Way cool," Governor X said. "Far out. Neato jet."

Then he furrowed his brow just as the campaign manager had done.

The Truth, Mainly


"But how?" the governor asked.

"Privatize," the campaign manager said. "Sell off all the state's assets to free enterprise. With the proceeds, you give every household in the state $2,000 by the end of summer. You go down in history. You get re-elected."

And that's what they did.

They sold I-80 to a trucking firm. They sold the penitentiary to the Vehafways Corporation, a free market incarceration and degradation enterprise. They sold Memorial Stadium and Tom Osborne Field to Lincoln's new NFL franchise, the Dogeat Dogs. (Cornhusker fans didn't even put up a fuss in light of the Solich Disaster: three consecutive 10-2 seasons.)

And they sold the Governor's Mansion to Holiday Inns, Inc., which had it functioning as a motel in two weeks.

But the real coup was the sale of the State Capitol building It was purchased by Viagra Enterprises, which made minimal changes to the exterior, then used the lofty structure as both its corporate headquarters and its corporate logo.

A few stick-in-the-mud legislators said the sale would undermine the dignity of the state, but the governor waged a successful whispering campaign hinting that Viagra was a subsidiary of Con-Agra ("Notice," he whispered, "the last four letters"), and all Unicameral opposition—except Ernie Chambers—dissolved.

Governor X was re-elected in a second landslide, 132-46. The turnout was low because in August most legal residents had taken their $2,000 and moved to Colorado.

By inauguration time, of course, there was hardly anything left for the governor to govern, so his campaign manager suggested he take a vacation—a really long one to someplace with good government services where he could think about running for President in 2004.

"Way cool," Governor X said. "Far out. Neato jet."

Then he furrowed his brow.

"Which direction," he asked, "is Canada?"


Lincoln English Professor Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays.


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