Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. Dec. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Diversity plans are not ‘anti-American’

Dear America:

This is Nebraska, your solid, typically quiet middle sibling. We’re writing to encourage you not to see us as racist.

Yes, our governor is busy condemning the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s latest diversity plan as “anti-American,” “Marxist and communist,” but that’s not what our sober-minded leaders think. Many, from NU system President Ted Carter, a retired vice admiral who was superintendent of the Naval Academy; to the Lincoln and Omaha chapters of the NAACP, are pushing back.

You know how ridiculously extreme politics are these days. We see Gov. Pete Ricketts’ over-the-top statements about UNL’s goals in that context as he reads from the GOP playbook that won last month in Virginia and seeks to influence the race to determine his successor.

But we certainly don’t minimize the harm of his comments, not least to Nebraskans of color, who remain Ricketts’ constituents even as he whips up and panders to unfounded White fears. We understand how his statements can easily be seen as denying that people of color face obstacles to equality and that leaders and institutions ought to address that. We get how you might think his comments criticizing the playing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at Husker basketball games gave license to fans shouting at Maryland volleyball players who knelt during the national anthem.

Agree or disagree with the players, taunting student-athletes is not a good look.

We worry a lot that in a state with a critical labor shortage — we recorded the nation’s lowest-ever state unemployment rate last month — his rhetoric is undercutting business and education leaders’ efforts to attract a younger, more diverse workforce.

Just last year, Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, summed up statewide business sentiment this way: “As we go forward, diversity and inclusion is not an option, it’s not something nice — it’s fundamental to the economic development of our state.”

Ricketts’ comments threaten NU’s power as an economic engine for the state in many ways.

For example, is he endangering our chances of federal funding for Project NexT at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, which would enhance the nation’s response to contagions, natural disasters, environmental accidents and more? Omaha is one of five pilot sites for the program, which could bring 8,700 high-paying, permanent jobs and have a projected $1.3 billion total annual economic impact.

Longtime Omaha pundit Tom Becka, trying to make the stakes evident to broad swaths of Nebraskans, argued that Ricketts even could keep top athletes from attending the university. He noted that the “attacks also hurt the university from recruiting the best professors and brightest students. Or corporations from recruiting the best talent as well. But the football program is what really gets Nebraskans’ attention.”

He added, “Nebraska. It should be for everyone. Why isn’t it?”

Most of us, in our hearts, want it to be. Ricketts himself, in the aftermath of protests following George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer, told Black radio personality William King, “My heart is with working with the communities of North and South Omaha to improve the lives of people there.”

While Ricketts’ approach to helping clearly would be different, UNL’s “Journey Toward Anti-Racism and Racial Equity” grew from that moment 18 months ago, when hundreds of Nebraska’s White leaders and the institutions they dominate vowed to make lasting change. The danger then was that the commitment would fade and fall to backlash, as it has throughout America’s fraught racial history.

And here we are.

UNL’s plan is not extreme.

While critics of diversity, equity and inclusion plans seek to define “equity” to fit their purpose, Merriam-Webster says the word means “fairness or justice in the way people are treated.”

Critics argue that “equity” means engineering outcomes, but such plans do not move the finish line. They seek to put the starting line in the same place for everyone and to be sure that some people don’t have to clear hurdles when others don’t. The race should be fair for anyone willing to run hard.

Making your own definitions to suit political ends is manipulation and misinformation straight from the novel “1984.”

We suspect that much of Ricketts’ goal here is to help Regent Jim Pillen, who appears to be the governor’s favorite to succeed him, stay far enough to the right to take votes from Chuck Herbster, whom Ricketts declared unqualified to be governor when Donald Trump endorsed Herbster.

Beyond UNL, other parts of state government see diversity and equity as healthy.

Health and Human Services: “Racial ethnic minorities experience health disparities. ... Raising awareness of disparities and health equity is accomplished through data, reports and training, which also influences health outcomes.”

Game and Parks: “We are committed to fostering a diverse workforce and creating an environment that is welcoming and inclusive for our staff and constituents. Our actions and our programs will reflect this culture of belonging and equity for Nebraska’s communities and visitors.”

None of this is anti-American. No, it is deeply American to seek to ensure that everyone has equal opportunity to pursue happiness.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Dec. 5, 2021.

Editorial, 12/5: State Board of Education must remain independent

A proposed petition that seeks to dismantle the Nebraska State Board of Education and reorganize directly under the purview of the governor is a disastrous idea that should never come before voters.

Taking away an elected commission doesn’t make Nebraska schools more responsive to parents. Nor does adding power to the executive branch square with the admirable ideals of limited government and local control.

In reality, it would add even more political pressure for the state’s K-12 schools to bend to the whims of whoever occupies the governor’s office – from which there’s been plenty of pressure in recent months.

Gov. Pete Ricketts was a loud critic of the consideration of draft standards on health education – which were nonbinding at the state level and needed to be adopted by individual school boards, the epitome of local control – and his involvement prompted unfounded, ridiculous claims they would be used by teachers seeking to groom students.

That has since been followed up by Ricketts’ whipping up of opposition to teaching critical race theory at the University of Nebraska and the more recent diversity and anti-racism plans, the latter of which he continues to double down on.

The governor clearly doesn’t feel bound by the landmark Nebraska Supreme Court decision of Exon v. Board of Regents, which states the eight regents have “the power and responsibility to manage and operate the University as free from political influence and control as possible.”

Nebraska’s educational system doesn’t need more political influence or control from the governor’s office. Its leaders need the independence to fulfill the duties voters elected them to carry out – without interference from external partisan officeholders.

If Nebraskans sought to have people who shared Ricketts’ opinions on how to govern education in the state, they would have elected them to those offices. If Nebraskans want to replace the current officeholders for their positions on these topics, they have the power to do so at the ballot box.

Power shouldn’t be taken from the voters who make the decisions on what they would like to see in each of the eight districts across the state.

However, this discussion doesn’t stop with Ricketts, whom term limits will prevent from seeking reelection. One of the organizers of the petition drive is seeking the GOP nomination, and the other gubernatorial candidates seeking to replace him must tell Nebraskans where they stand on this proposal.

If all politics is indeed local, as former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said, then power to govern the State Board of Education and accountability must remain with the voters in each district, rather than depending on the whims of any governor.

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Kearney Hub. Dec. 4, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t allow idle voters to torpedo complex

Language scholars tell us that the saying, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” has been around since 350 A.D. You would think that after 1,670 years, any saying would go out of fashion, but “idle hands” has staying power. After centuries the saying still is relevant because it is truthful and gets to the point.

We humans are at our best when we’re busy. We’re endowed with strengths and talents that must be exercised or our lives turn stale and rotten. Imagine spending eternity on the couch playing video games or watching “America’s Got Talent.” Humans are not on this earth to do nothing. To remain idle is to waste time and talents that are meant for bigger and better things.

We would wager that proponents of the $34 million mega sports complex that Kearney voters are considering probably worried about “idle hands” and the best way to support active lifestyles as they planned the sports facility. The ballot proposal certainly shines a spotlight on fitness, which should top of mind for voters as they consider how to mark their ballots. If you’ve not marked your ballot and mailed or delivered it to the Buffalo County Election Commissioner, time is winding down. The final day to vote is Dec. 14.

A vote in favor will deliver a lot. The 206,000-square-foot complex will accommodate multiple sports, ensuring a year-round place to play basketball, volleyball, soccer, running and other sports. On weekends, the complex will host regional athletic events.

Today, Kearney-area families drive hours and spend hundreds of dollars per weekend so kids can compete in regional events. The tables will be turned when the sports complex is built. Competitors from Lincoln, Omaha, Kansas City and Denver areas will come to Kearney, and while they’re in town they’ll stay at our hotels and motels, eat at our restaurants and help support Kearney’s 1,800 hospitality jobs.

Some of the state sales taxes that visitors pay — about half of the $34 million cost — will come in the form of a state sales tax turnback from businesses in a special district within 600 yards of the complex. The district includes the Crowne Plaza hotel and conference center that’s opening soon. Crowne Plaza owner Paul Younes is donating the 15 acres where the sports complex will be built. Additional capital for the project will come from Kearney’s 1% restaurant tax and from stimulus funds.

Advocates for the complex say the various funding sources are a “perfect storm” because they’ll be derived without increasing local taxes, other than extending the current restaurant tax.

It is critical that Kearney voters approve the complex. It will bolster Kearney’s assorted facilities that promote fitness. The complex also is important to the economy, especially the hospitality industry. Kearney’s hotels, restaurants, attractions and events face strong competition from other Nebraska cities. The challenge will be even stronger in the coming years as other cities open casinos — as approved by voters in 2020. Some cities, including Grand Island, will pursue both casinos and sports centers.

Kearneyites are voting for the physical and financial health of the community. Don’t be caught with idle hands. Get busy and vote now.

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