Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. Sept. 15, 2021.

Editorial: An unbalanced redistricting map for Nebraska? Legislature must say no

Question: Republican lawmakers in the Nebraska Legislature are all in lockstep support of the GOP-boosting redistricting map proposed last week for state legislative races, right?

No, not at all. And that lack of unity explains much about Nebraska politics — and about a threat now hanging over the Legislature’s future.

The map may be called a “Republican” map, but it actually is skewed in major ways toward helping a certain kind of Republican: hard-shell conservatives expected to line up in support of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ approach to politics.

Nebraskans may be surprised to learn that the map would redraw districts to undercut the reelection chances of two independent-minded Republicans (Sens. Myron Dorn and Tom Brandt) who dared support overriding a gubernatorial veto. And it would eliminate outright the current District 24, west of Lincoln, whose voters for 15 years have sent independent-thinking Republicans to the Legislature (current Sen. Mark Kolterman and former Speaker Greg Adams).

In addition to targeting swing-vote Republicans, the map hobbles the reelection opportunities for several Democratic incumbents in western and north-central Douglas County. The current map for the Legislature, adopted in 2011, splits seven counties. The new “Republican” map more than doubles that number — it splits 16.

In this case, dominance in Nebraska government for the most right-wing and uncompromising brand of Republicanism.

Swing-vote Republican senators who are being pushed out by term limits in 2023 roundly express concern that the proposed map would shift the Legislature toward a rigidly controlled, partisan body rather than one in which lawmakers are liberated to make up their own mind.

Self-serving maneuvering by both parties is par for the course during Nebraska redistricting, but in the end, the Legislature must negotiate a state legislative map through responsible compromise. Nebraska, now and always, needs a Legislature whose ideological makeup generally mirrors that of the state. Such a body would contain a large contingent of staunch conservatives, but also a significant number of moderates and liberals.

So, lawmakers must reach agreement that produces a final map no group is fully happy with. The same goes for addressing the redistricting tensions between urban and rural interests. That’s the nature of fair-minded redistricting that serves the public interest. And only through such sober-minded give-and-take can the Legislature develop a map that can garner the necessary 33 votes to withstand a filibuster.

This task is doable. The current Legislature has capable lawmakers, on the Redistricting Committee and outside it, with the ability to achieve constructive agreement.

Attention then will turn to Ricketts. A gubernatorial veto, followed by a successful effort in the Legislature to sustain it, would mean stalemate at the very time Speaker Mike Hilgers is pressing for a resolution of redistricting by the end of this month. Hilgers has all-important duties both to manage this special session responsibly and to help the governor develop confidence in the value of negotiations.

Nebraska’s Legislature must reflect the complexity of our state in the 21st century. The way to achieve that is through responsible redistricting. Lawmakers and the governor must not fail at that crucial task.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Sept. 16, 2021.

Editorial: NU enrollment trends highlight both successes and challenges

With the COVID-19 pandemic throwing the entire world into flux in 2020 and beyond, drawing too many conclusions about the University of Nebraska’s enrollment figures would be a challenge.

Yes, the university saw a decline of about 2% over last year, with NU President Ted Carter attributing that to being unable to replace the largest graduating class in its history and a sharp decline in international students – both of which can be inferred from last year’s environment.

However, with the oddity of the previous school year, the decline is a solitary orange in rows upon rows of big red apples. And with graduating classes at Nebraska high schools being projected to shrink further over the coming years, the university must continue its streak of increasing access and creativity to attract and retain students.

As has often been said in this space, the university is the state’s greatest investment in its future. That often manifests itself in discussions about training Nebraska’s future workforce, but it’s also a vital tool to attract new residents to help fight the brain drain, of educated Nebraskans leaving for other locales, the state has failed to reverse in recent years.

Given that magnitude of that task, then, it’s imperative to ensure the NU continues its upward trajectory.

Perhaps the best success story in that arena comes from the Kearney campus. The school instituted its New Nebraskan scholarship program, which targeted Kansas and Colorado with reduced tuition prices, fueling a 70% growth in the out-of-state freshman class.

The move, which mirrors similar moves by state schools in South Dakota to entice prospective students from neighboring states, is an excellent recruitment tool for that campus. Paired with the Nebraska Promise program – free tuition for students from median-income households – the entire NU system is make significant progress toward increasing access for students from the Cornhusker State and elsewhere.

Also, over the last decade, the percentage of students of color at NU has more than doubled, from 9% to 20%. That rapid growth is laudable, and make the state’s university more representative of the increasing diversity of the state, particularly among youth.

And nowhere is that increase more pronounced than at UNK, which is situated near some of Nebraska’s most diverse communities.

The state has more work to do, far before students even reach the college level, as the graduation gap along racial lines persists in high schools across the state and country. But ensuring Nebraska’s institutions of higher education welcome students of all backgrounds is critical to the state’s future.

Indeed, the 2021-22 enrollment numbers are indicative of the challenges ahead for NU, but those same figures also illustrate the right turns along the university’s path forward.

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Kearney Hub. Sept. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Nebraska must unite against our common enemy

Statements earlier this week from two of Nebraska’s elected leaders baffle us. Gov. Pete Ricketts and U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse both issued statements with biting criticism of President Joe Biden’s announcement he plans to issue executive orders mandating coronavirus vaccinations for health care workers and companies with 100 or more employers.

Ricketts called Biden’s announcement a federal overreach and violation of personal freedom. Sasse chimed in by claiming the executive orders are “constitutionally dubious.”

If requiring Americans to be vaccinated against a deadly virus is against the U.S. Constitution, perhaps Sasse should explain how, for decades, American schools have been able to require children to be vaccinated against a list contagious and crippling diseases.

Ricketts said, “Americans — not the federal government — are responsible for taking charge of their personal health. It is not the role of the federal government to mandate their choices.”

He promised “Nebraska will stand up to President Biden’s overreach, and we will be working with the attorney general to explore all our options.”

The governor said Biden’s push for a vaccine mandate is a stunning overreach, but Ricketts is guilty of forcing Nebraskans’ response to the coronavirus. As governor, he issued daily updates that educated and directed Nebraskans’ response to the virus. He issued directed health measures. Restricting seating capacity for restaurants and ordering other unpopular responses to COVID certainly was challenging, but Ricketts rose to the occasion. He was an effective leader during a crisis that demanded tough decisions.

We would like to see the old Pete Ricketts taking charge of Nebraska’s response. Sasse, too, could do a lot better by his constituents.

Rather than setting so many Nebraskans against the president and his administration’s efforts to fight the pandemic, we encourage Ricketts and Sasse to be more a part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem by seeding distrust and disunity. Let’s invite both of them to outline their plans to rid the nation of this deadly virus.

Times of crisis normally unify the nation. We should be unified today, but too many Americans are fooling themselves into believing efforts to end the pandemic — mask and vaccine mandates — are assaults on their freedoms. We should remind ourselves that freedom comes with responsibility. Chief among our responsibilities as Americans is to unite against a common enemy. The faster we fight together against COVID, the sooner our economy will recover, and our schools will safely open.

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