Nebraska Race Headliner In Year Of Female Gubernatorial Candidates
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Hard-hit Nebraska, where the farm depression is approached only by the Cornhuskers football team as chief topic of many conversations, may seem an unlikely setting for a groundbreaking assault on the political gender gap.
But that’s exactly what is attracting attention to the statehouse race between Republican Kay Orr and Democrat Helen Boosalis: It’s the first time two women have squared off as gubernatoriale nominees.
″We did fool everybody, didn’t we, but then they don’t understand what we’re all about here in Nebraska,″ said Mrs. Orr, 47, for five years the state’s treasurer.
″Perhaps it’s political maturity that we have here. We simply looked at the qualifications, experience and campaign styles of two individuals. They just happen to wear skirts,″ she added.
Mrs. Boosalis, 67, a former councilwoman and two-term mayor of Lincoln - a city of 100,000 - won the nomination in a field of seven after the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Robert Kerrey, startled the state by declining to seek a second term.
Mrs. Orr, an activist in the GOP’s conservative wing for more than 20 years, similarly won her nomination in a field of eight - including another credible woman candidate and a fundamentalist preacher who called the nomination of a female a ″sure sign of God’s curse.″
″I think it’s the openness of our system that made it possible for that many women to get into it,″ said Mrs. Boosalis. ″There isn’t a party apparatus that makes the selection.″
While their race is unique, they are merely headliners in a year in which women have emerged as nominees for statewide offices in an unusual number of races.
Democrats have two other women running this year: Vermont Gov. Madeleine Kunin, whose re-election is clouded by a third-party candidate, and Arizona’s Carolyn Warner, whose nomination prompted Democrat Bill Schulz to attempt a last-minute, independent entry in what shapes up as a close three-way race.
The Republicans have five women nominees for governorships, and GOP strategists believe several have good chances.
In Oregon, moderate Republican Norma Paulus had an 8-point lead over her Democratic opponent, former Carter administration Cabinet member Neil Goldschmidt, in a Sept. 15 poll by The Oregonian newspaper.
In Alaska, Republican Arliss Sturgulewski defeated a former governor for the nomination and is bidding for an open seat, since Democratic Gov. Bill Sheffieled was upset in a primary.
In Connecticut, moderate Julie Belaga is making a strong run at Gov. William O’Neill. A recent poll showed O’Neill slightly ahead, but by a statistically insignificant margin.
In Nevada, Republican state Treasurer Patricia Cafferata faces long odds against the incumbent.
The two Nebraska women were running even in polls during the summer, but Mrs. Orr jumped to an 11-point lead in a poll by the Omaha World-Herald earlier this month. That was after the Republicans began television ads charging that Mrs. Boosalis’ statement in favor of equalizing the tax base - now more reliant on property taxes - would mean big increases in income and sales taxes.
The Democrat, who also backs a 1-percent sales tax increase on the ballot, countered with a TV ad accusing Mrs. Orr of misleading voters. But the exchange clearly stung the Boosalis camp, which hopes a dose of its commercials and a no-tax-increase pledge will allow her to catch up.
The major national women’s political organizations, including the National Organization for Women, are officially on the sidelines in the Nebraska race.
At a Boosalis rally at the Croatian Cultural Society in Bellevue, a meeting hall decorated with a mixture of Slavic pictures and the red symbols of the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football team, NOW state coordinator Liz Stawycznyg was working for the Democrat.
She called Mrs. Orr ″anti-women″ and said nearly all her members back Mrs. Boosalis. But they haven’t endorsed her; the reason is abortion.
Mrs. Orr strongly opposes abortion under any circumstances, and opposes an equal rights amendment and other so-called women’s issues such as legislated pay equity. Mrs. Boosalis, a former president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, says she personally opposes abortion in most cases and refuses to elaborate. That position isn’t sufficient for the women’s groups that support a woman’s right to have an abortion.
″I know what their litmus test is. Their big issue is choice, and if that’s their big issue than neither one of us qualify,″ Mrs. Boosalis said in an interview.
″I think what could happen,″ she added, ″is by refusing to support women who are very strongly supportive, as I am, on other issues, they are perhaps helping to elect people who could set women’s issues back, which is the danger.″
Mrs. Orr is a long-time Reagan backer, elected as a Reagan delegate in 1976 when he failed to win the presidential nomination. He stumped for her here last week, and Mrs. Boosalis has tried to turn that to her favor, saying the president should have visited Nebraska farms to see the ″devastation″ his farm policies have wrought.
Mrs. Orr says Reagan’s popularity - he got 71 percent of the vote here in 1984 - hasn’t been diminished by the farm turmoil and bankruptcies that brought out protesters for his rally.