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On July 31 we held our last regular meeting of the year for the Legislature’s Building Maintenance Committee, of which I am the chairman. This time we held our meeting at the University of Nebraska’s West Central Research and Extension Center, which is part of the University of Nebraska’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources. The campus was established back in 1904 in North Platte, and continues to address important agricultural problems and natural resource concerns specifically related to the counties of West and Central Nebraska.
The West Central Research and Extension Center provides vital research in the agricultural sciences and in natural resources which have a direct bearing upon the way we farm and ranch in Nebraska. The campus performs research and employs specialists in eight related areas, including: Agricultural Economics, Beef Nutrition, Beef Reproduction, Entomology, Field Crops, Irrigation and Water Resources, Plant Pathology, Range and Forage Management, Soil Science, and Weed Science and Application Technology.
Perhaps, the most interesting fact about the West Central Research and Extension Center is that it houses the only laboratory in the United States where Entomologists can do year-long research on the Western Bean Cutworm. The trick is figuring out how to keep this little bug alive during the off season and they’ve figured out how to do it at the West Central Research and Extension Center.
Another fascinating observation about the Center is how they do research in herbicide application technology. The West Central Research and Extension Center is home to a large chamber which can reproduce different speeds of crop spraying in a laboratory setting. Consequently, they can observe how herbicides settle on crops and weeds, especially those of the broadleaf kind. They can even adjust their research for wind speed and direction.
The 309 Task Force along with the oversight of the Building Maintenance Committee have approved three renovation projects for the West Central Research and Extension Center. The first project will overlay existing siding with new metal siding on a structure they refer to as shop #28. The second project will replace the roof on their plant materials building. But, the third project is certainly the most fashionable, classy and chic. The third project will replace windows and doors on what they call the Old Horse Barn. What makes these renovations to the Old Horse Barn so unique is that the structure still gets used frequently by couples on their wedding day as the backdrop for their wedding pictures.
Finally, you may be interested to know how all of these projects of the Building Maintenance Committee get funded. Well, seven cents from the sale of every pack of cigarettes in Nebraska goes to funding these renovation projects. So, many of us State Senators who sit on the Building Maintenance Committee feel compelled to tell our constituents to buy more cigarettes, but as Doug Hanson, who is Director of the 309 Task Force likes to say, “Buy more cigarettes – just don’t smoke any of them!”
Scott Frost, the Huskers new Head Football Coach, has made an important new hire. Frost has re-hired Nebraska’s former Wide Receivers’ Coach, Ron Brown, to be the Huskers new Director of Player Development. Frost doesn’t want to just win football games, he also wants to build character within his football players similar to the way Coach Tom Osborne did back in the 1990’s. In other words, Scott Frost wants to make Husker football great again!
Ron Brown is a man who has never shied away from his religious views both on and off the field. In fact, when the story of Jerry Sandusky’s sex abuse scandal with young boys broke at Penn State University and long-time Head Coach, Joe Paterno, was fired, Brown was there at the next football game on November 12, 2011 to unite the players of both teams on the field, leading them through a time of repentance, healing and prayer.
However, Brown has also become a controversial figure due to certain religious statements he has made about homosexuality in the past. In short, Brown believes that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior as sinful. Brown’s most controversial statements came back in 2012 when he testified before Omaha’s City Council, urging them against adopting a new city ordinance aimed at protecting LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. Brown told the Omaha City Council members that day: “If you don’t have a personal relationship with the Lord through Christ…you’ll be held to great accountability for the decision you’re making.”
Since the announcement that Brown would be joining the team, social justice warriors from the Left have begun crying ‘foul’ and calling for his dismissal before he has even had time to unpack his bags. Such was the case with Sally J. Herrin, a resident of Lincoln, who called Brown’s brand of Christianity “poison” and asserted that Brown’s hiring defies UNL’s values in an opinion letter she submitted to the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper, and Joe Shaw, chairman of the Nebraska Democrat Party’s LGBTQIA caucus, who told the Lincoln Journal Star that he and his caucus would “…hold the athletic department and the university accountable to the promise of promoting diversity and inclusion.” Apparently, diversity and inclusion does not include conservative Christians who believe that the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is wrong.
Instead of rushing to judgment, we should remember that Brown has gone on record before as saying, “I have and will embrace every player I coach gay or straight.” He has never called for the dismissal of any player based upon that player’s sexual preferences or orientation. In fact, when Eric Leushen, Nebraska’s first openly gay football player, was asked if Brown had ever treated him with disrespect or animosity, he responded by saying, “No.” So, there simply is no evidence to suggest that Brown has ever discriminated against any player because of his sexual preferences or orientation.
But, this lack of evidence has not stopped these social justice warriors of the Left from openly discriminating against Brown by calling for his dismissal. To be sure, what they are asking the athletic department and the university to do is nothing short of religious bigotry and Christian persecution. Whether these social justice warriors from the Left realize it or not, our Founding Fathers recognized that all human beings have an inherent right to worship God freely according to the dictates of their own consciences, and they valued this concept of religious liberty so highly that they embedded it as a fundamental right in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. So, contrary to the opinion of Sally J. Herrin, the hiring of Ron Brown not only reflects what should be the values of the athletic department and the university, it also reflects one of the most important and sacred American values of all.
Although the University of Nebraska continues to complain about their lack of state funding, a search has begun to hire a new kind of Vice Chancellor. A sixteen member committee has begun the search for NU’s first ever Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion. This will not be the first time NU has hired an individual to focus on diversity and inclusion, but the hiring of a six-figure-salaried Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion means that major changes are in store for the University and that the culture of the University will soon be changing in order to justify the new hire.
Recent Left-wing movements, such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, have undoubtedly put tremendous pressure upon the administration to do more about diversity and inclusion. While nobody I know advocates for racial, gender or sexual orientation discrimination, we should still ask why NU needs a Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, if not to impose favoritism upon these groups. We should also ask why NU is hiring a new Vice Chancellor when they are eliminating vital sports programs at their Kearney campus.
The hiring of a Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion cannot possibly be good for our flagship university, and today I would like to expose why this is a very bad decision.
Hiring a Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion means that NU will be hiring less qualified faculty in the future. For instance, some of the fields of study most dominated by White professors at NU are in the agricultural sciences. However, the department head, Mark A. Balschweid, now serves NU as a Diversity Officer, and the new addition of a Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion means that faculty in all departments, but especially agricultural sciences, must now become racially diverse regardless of talent, education, experience, or expertise in the field.
The addition of a Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion also means that every word spoken by White Christian conservative males at the school will be excruciatingly scrutinized against the backdrop of the new Vice Chancellor’s extremist progressive worldview. For instance, any student who dares to suggest that marriage should be defined as the union between a man and a woman will quickly find himself being beaten down by a torrent of LGBTQ complaints followed by psycho-analysis and reprogramming. If the student doesn’t understand the underlying reasons for his stereo-typical beliefs, one will be provided for him. Such was the case when Courtney Lawton projected onto Kaitlyn Mullen that she hates DACA Kids and public schools. Notice how the administration at UNL never reprimanded Lawton for making these kinds of false statements.
Favoring people by way of their genitalia, the color of their skin, and their sexual orientation is as much an insult as discriminating against them for these very same reasons. To the contrary, I believe individuals should be favored in academia on the basis of their unique talents, abilities and aptitude for learning.
For instance, after he was kicked out of Highland University because of his race, George Washington Carver applied to college again and became the first Black student at Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames, Iowa. But Carver was not accepted into the college because they needed another Black student to fill a seat, but because he had a unique interest in botany and displayed an uncanny ability to paint flowers. After graduating with a degree in Botany, his college professors recognized his talent and encouraged him to continue on in his studies. After obtaining a master’s degree, he went on to start Tuskegee Institute, which later became Tuskegee University. So, just like Iowa State’s Agricultural College, the University of Nebraska should neither discriminate nor favor anyone on the basis of their gender, race or sexual orientation.
It’s Christmas in July here at the Nebraska State Capitol Building in Lincoln. Every year in November the State puts up a large evergreen Christmas tree in the rotunda on the second floor of the Capitol Building. However, many of the handmade ornaments used to decorate the tree were made back in the 80’s and 90’s. So, the time has come to make new ornaments for the tree.
Nebraska’s First Lady, Susanne Shore, together with Liz Shea-McCoy, are directing a project to make new hand-crafted ornaments for the State’s official holiday tree. This is where you come in. Any kind of artist, professional, novice, or starving may submit his or her own creations to be considered as ornaments for the tree. Personally, I would like to see Western Nebraska well represented among the finalists, whose creations will get accepted and make it onto the tree.
The State is looking to create 150 new ornaments for the tree. Each ornament will be cast in the shape of the State of Nebraska and may depict agricultural, cultural, historical, local, or traditional motifs. Designs can be traditional, modern, contemporary, or abstract, and artists are free to use just about any artistic medium they want, including, fibers, glass, metals, tiles, and wood.
Each artist may submit up to five designs for consideration. Each design should be accompanied by a title, a brief inspirational statement about the design, and the artists contact information. Designs should be in the shape of the state of Nebraska and should be submitted on 8 ½ – by- 11 inch paper. The deadline to submit proposals is August 14.
Please mail your proposals to: Project Director – 2700 Sheridan Blvd. – Lincoln, NE 68502. If you have additional questions about the project’s requirements, please call Liz Shea-McCoy at (402) 430-5923 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All proposals will be judged by a panel. Each finalist will receive a white fiberglass blank in the shape of Nebraska in order to complete his or her ornament for the tree. The white fiberglass blank will measure 10 ¾ inch length – by 5 1/8 inch width – by ¼ inch depth. The ornaments must be returned to the State by October 29.
A reception will be held for the finalists at the Governor’s mansion, and a public open house will be held on Dec. 2 in the Capitol rotunda to honor the artists and to showcase their work.
It may be Christmas in July at the Capitol, but those viewing the State’s Christmas tree in the rotunda this December need to know that Santa Claus is no stranger to Toadstool, Chimney Rock and the lighthouse at Lake Minatare! How does he land his sleigh and eight tiny reindeer on top of that lighthouse?
NU President and former Blueprint Mississippi Chairman, Hank Bounds, has introduced Blueprint Nebraska as a way of growing Nebraska by improving various conditions around our state. Bounds tried a similar program in his home state of Mississippi, but the results were dismal because the committees’ action plans were mostly drawn up to benefit business and industry rather than the best interests of people of that state. Last week I exposed how Blueprint Mississippi failed to improve education in that state; this week I will reveal how Blueprint Mississippi failed by aiding the healthcare industry at the expense of that state’s most pressing healthcare needs.
One of the expressly stated goals of Blueprint Mississippi was to improve the “quality of life” for the people of Mississippi, and the 2012 Blueprint Mississippi Healthcare Project Charter specifically stated that two of their primary goals were to improve “healthcare access and wellness.” So, it should be fair game for us to ask if Blueprint Mississippi improved both “healthcare access” and “wellness” throughout the state.
Did Blueprint Mississippi increase access to healthcare? President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law on March 23, 2010, the same year that Bounds launched Blueprint Mississippi. The major components of the ACA were first enacted four years later in 2014, but according to Sara Varney of Kaiser Health News, “The first year of the Affordable Care Act in Mississippi was, by almost every measure, an unmitigated disaster.” Out of nearly 300,000 people who were eligible to buy coverage in Mississippi only 61,494 did so. For many Mississippians, they either could not afford the premiums or they could not successfully navigate their way through the Obamacare marketplace. Consequently, that same year Mississippi became the only state in the union where the percentage of uninsured residents actually increased. Earlier this year U.S. News and World Report ranked Mississippi dead last among the 50 states when it comes to the quality of their healthcare system. So, Blueprint Mississippi has failed to improve both the quality of that state’s healthcare system as well as access to their healthcare system.
Did Blueprint Mississippi improve wellness? Blueprint Mississippi failed to improve the health conditions of that state just four years after it was implemented. For instance, according to CalorieLab.com in 2014 Mississippi had the highest obesity rate in the nation set at 35.5 percent of the population, and according to Gallup-Healthway’s Wellness Index Mississippi also had the lowest life expectancy rate in the nation in 2014, which had been set at 75 years. According to the CDC in 2014 Mississippi ranked first in the nation for deaths caused by heart disease, stroke, and Septicemia. The state ranked second in the nation for deaths caused by diabetes, flu/pneumonia, and kidney disease, and the state ranked third in the nation for deaths caused by cancer. According to the CDC Mississippi also ranked first in the nation for the percentage of births to unmarried mothers, preterm births, and low birthweight births. Mississippi also had an 8.1 infant mortality rate, which was the second highest rate in the nation, and according to the website for Power-to-Decide, Mississippi also had the second highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation in 2014. Just four years after its implementation, Blueprint Mississippi gave the state of Mississippi a well-being index rate of 63.7, one of the lowest in the nation, causing journalists to label it as one of the most miserable states to live in. So much for quality of life!
Blueprint Mississippi duped Mississippians into believing that their action plan would somehow improve their “quality of life”. After all, one of the projects main goals was about “educating the community” about healthcare. But, buried deep within the program itself was their secretive bait-and-switch caveat, which said: “Specific health issues such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and social/health issues like teen pregnancy are not the focus and were not included in the scope of this study.” By removing these metrics the Healthcare Committee had avoided its responsibility to improve public health and it tried to avert any objective criticism of its work. But how else is the public supposed to evaluate the success of a wellness program, if not by these wellness metrics? A wellness program which does not address wellness is not a wellness program. The Healthcare Committee had no intention of ever helping the State resolve its most important and pressing healthcare problems. It was all just a ruse.
What happened to the residents of Mississippi could very easily happen to us if we let down our guard. Instead of cutting taxes and putting more money into the pockets of its citizens, so they could afford to pay their healthcare premiums, Blueprint Mississippi led that state to cut state aid to schools and gave huge tax breaks and incentives to big businesses, including hospitals, healthcare clinics, and pharmaceutical companies, and the results were a failed economy, a failed education system, and a failed healthcare system for the people.
The people, not business and industry, must come first! I have already seen the polling and the research, and I have listened to you, and I know that 80 percent of Nebraskans desperately need property tax relief. In Morrill County, where I live, we saw our countywide property taxes increase more than $1 million per year from 2006-2016. These kinds of numbers are unsustainable for a county with only 5,042 residents. The last thing Morrill County needs is another tax exempt business. So, unless we demonstrate that we can learn from history, and unless we can hold Hank Bounds and the 21 member steering committee accountable for doing the will of the people, instead of implementing their own bad ideas, we will be destined to become as miserable as Mississippi.
Mississippi’s former Commissioner of Education and current NU President, Hank Bounds, has introduced Blueprint Nebraska as a way to grow Nebraska and to improve conditions around our state. When Bounds tried a similar program in his home state of Mississippi, the results were dismal. Last week I exposed how Blueprint Mississippi failed to turn around the economic conditions of that state; this week I will reveal how it failed in the area of education.
The fourth stated milepost of the Blueprint Mississippi action plan was to “increase the educational achievement level of Mississippians,” but just four years after it was implemented, Blueprint Mississippi failed to improve education in that state. According to StateMaster.com Mississippi ranked dead last in the nation for the percentage of people who had completed high school in 2014, including those with a GED. Only 77.3 percent of Mississippi residents had completed high school that year. And according to Business Mississippi Journal, in 2014 the state of Mississippi ranked 51st out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C. when it came to overall school performance in K-12 schools. According to the report, “Mississippi also ranked among the 10 lowest states in providing young people a chance for success in life, financing schools, and improving teaching.” Earlier this year U.S. News and World Report ranked Mississippi as the 46th worst state in the nation for K-12 education.
In 2013 state legislators voted to reduce state spending on K-12 education by $648 per pupil. Instead of providing the citizens with some much needed tax relief, they took the people’s education money, gambled with it, and lost. They acted in accordance with Blueprint Mississippi and gave $1.33 billion in tax breaks and incentives to Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi auto plant in return for a promise to create higher paying, full-time jobs. Nissan pocketed most of the money, used a temp agency for new hires, hired mostly part-time workers at half the rate of pay and no benefits, and implemented a five year wage freeze. What happened with Nissan is a perfect example of why tax incentives for businesses seldom ever result in economic growth for the state. To the contrary, when you reduce taxes everyone gets incentivized and everyone benefits.
Blueprint Mississippi failed in the area of higher education as well. The University of Mississippi is that state’s primary research university. In 2010 U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Mississippi at #143 among the nation’s top universities. However, by 2014 the university had slipped six places in their rankings to #149. Earlier this year U.S. News & World Report ranked the University of Mississippi at #145. So, Mississippi’s primary research university has never recovered in the rankings since Bounds launched Blueprint Mississippi back in 2010. Therefore, it appears that Blueprint Mississippi has done very little, if anything at all, to improve education in that state.
As I stated last week, I am not against the overall idea of Blueprint Nebraska. However, if the committees associated with Blueprint Nebraska don’t listen to the people and put the people of Nebraska first, I’m afraid we will only repeat the mistakes of Mississippi. As you can see, giving tax breaks to big businesses or incentivizing new businesses is not the way to grow the state, especially when it is done at the expense of K-12 education; in fact, incentivizing business is nothing more than a high-risk, high-stakes crapshoot.
I believe it is time for Nebraskans to make an assent from the Good Life to the Great Life, and the best way to make that happen is for government to get out of the way and to let the people keep their own money and to spend it on what they already know they need, such as a college savings plan.
People tend to make better decisions with their money than do politicians or government bureaucrats. Education spending is fraught with fraud and waste primarily because it is a third party (i.e. government) transaction, instead of a first party (i.e. consumer) transaction. When people buy merchandise or services for themselves, they tend to care a lot more about the quality and the value than when politicians or government bureaucrats buy it for them. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Government should only do those things that a man cannot do for himself.” Parents, not the government, are the ones responsible for educating their children. So, without a plan to cut spending, and reduce taxes, and put more money back into the pockets of our own citizens, we will likely become just like Mississippi.
Earlier this Month University of Nebraska President, Hank Bounds, unveiled a new plan to grow our state called, Blueprint Nebraska. Blueprint Nebraska is a comprehensive approach to improving conditions throughout the state, which includes areas such as economics, education and healthcare. Blueprint Nebraska has a 21-member steering committee, which will soon be forming 15 different industry councils consisting of a dozen members each. These councils will tour the state later this summer in order to publish an action plan for improving conditions around the state, making it more attractive for people and businesses to move here. Blueprint Nebraska has received enthusiastic support from Governor Ricketts and the Chamber of Commerce.
At first glance Blueprint Nebraska may seem like a much needed and welcomed approach for improving the economic, educational, and health conditions of our state. After all, who knows more about these subjects than the President of our flagship university, the Governor, and the Chamber of Commerce? Right? Unfortunately, nobody ever bothered to ask if this approach had ever been used before, or if it had even succeeded. That is, until now! This approach has been tried before, and the results were dismal. Over the course of the next three weeks, I will expose how Blueprint Mississippi failed that state through a trilogy of newspaper articles.
Before he came to Nebraska in 2012, Hank Bounds used this same approach in his home state of Mississippi. In 2010 Bounds launched Blueprint Mississippi. So, how well did Blueprint Mississippi do to reform conditions in his home state? As you will see, Blueprint Mississippi failed the state of Mississippi in nearly every major category just four years after it was implemented and two years after he left the state. This week I will expose how Blueprint Mississippi failed to turn around that state’s economy.
So, how well did Blueprint Mississippi help the economy of that state? According to Business Insider, in 2014, just four years after Bounds implemented Blueprint Mississippi, Mississippi’s economy ranked dead last among the 50 states. According to the report, Mississippi had the lowest GDP per capita among all 50 states, and they had the second lowest GDP growth rate in the nation. In 2014, 24.2 percent of Mississippi residents lived below the poverty line, which was the highest percentage in the nation, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Mississippi had the highest unemployment rate in the nation set at 6.5 percent. Moreover, Mississippi Business Journal reported that personal income grew that year by less than 2 percent even though Bounds had promised he could deliver on higher paying jobs.
Bounds recently told the Norfolk Daily News that Blueprint Mississippi generated thousands of new, high-paying, lasting jobs, but this simply is not true. According to the Department of numbers, Mississippi has created 91,400 jobs since 2010, but these jobs only make up the difference for the ones which had been lost during the recession of 2008. According to the Current Population Survey (CPS), employment in Mississippi reached its maximum high in May 2000. Mississippi has never recovered. In fact, earlier this Month Wallethub ranked Mississippi as the second worst economy in the nation for 2018. So, since its implementation back in 2010 it appears that Blueprint Mississippi has failed to improve the economic conditions of that state.
So, why has Hank Bounds introduced his formerly failed state program here in Nebraska? Judging from his past performance, it cannot be to improve the economic conditions of our state. Instead, I believe the real reason Bounds has introduced Blueprint Nebraska is to secure future funding for the University of Nebraska System. Bounds would like us all to believe that Blueprint Nebraska and the University of Nebraska somehow hold the keys to growing our state. This is what he led the people of Mississippi to believe, but as you can see, the numbers have never backed up his grandiose claims.
While I am not against the idea of surveying Nebraskans about how to improve the economic conditions of our state, I am against the idea of raising state revenues by incentivizing out-of-state businesses and people to move to Nebraska without also cutting spending and helping those who are already here. People and businesses don’t come to Nebraska because our taxes are too high. The only state with higher taxes than Nebraska is Illinois. Cut spending in order to lower taxes, especially property taxes, and everyone will want to live and do business in Nebraska!
On Thursday the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) revealed its decision in the case of South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc. The high court closed a loophole in the law which has prevented states from collecting sales taxes from online venders. SCOTUS had created the problem back in 1992 when they ruled in Quill Corp. v. North Dakota that states could not collect sales taxes from a business unless the business had a substantial connection to that state. But, thanks to the high court’s ruling on Thursday, states now have the legal authority they need to pass legislation to begin collecting these monies.
I, as well as other legislators, such as Sen. Dan Watermeier of Syracuse and Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, saw this ruling coming. Therefore, they introduced LB44 and LB564 respectively, which would have required remote sellers to collect sales taxes, and I introduced LB601 which would have directed all revenues collected from these remote sellers to the Property Tax Cash Credit Fund. Unfortunately, none of these bills were passed into law.
Writing for the majority in the 5-4 ruling Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy indicated that the 1992 Quill decision had cost states up to $33 billion annually in lost revenues. Furthermore, a recent report released by the United States Government Accountability Office noted that Nebraska could stand to generate anywhere between $69 million to $97 million dollars annually in state and local revenues through the collection of these online sales taxes. This is money which could have reduced your property taxes next year had the legislature taken appropriate action and passed either LB 44 or LB564, and my bill LB601.
Unfortunately, lawmakers and lobbyists have already begun frothing at the mouth! Because the Legislature failed to pass LB601, lawmakers and lobbyists are already salivating over all of the creative ways they can think of to spend this extra revenue flowing into the state’s coffers, even though lawmakers still need to update our laws. Make no mistake about it, in the days ahead you will continue to hear Hank Bounds whining about state funding for the University of Nebraska, and Nebraska Appleseed will never stop crying for Medicaid expansion. But none of these fine institutions needs this money as much as you do, and that is why I introduced LB601.
I reside in Morrill County. Morrill County has a population of 5,042 people, according to the 2010 Census. From 2006 – 2016 we saw our countywide property taxes increase more than $1 million per year. That is a ten year increase of more than $2,000 per person or an increase of more than $8,000 for a family of four. These kinds of trends are not sustainable. Because of these increases in our property taxes, farmers have begun selling their farms and moving to other states. Agriculture is the engine which drives the economy of our state. Perhaps, that is why Governor Ricketts announced after the ruling that “Any increased revenue attributable to total enforcement of our sales tax laws must be steered towards property tax relief.” I wholeheartedly agree!
2018 is shaping up to be the year for scrutinizing the ways Americans vote. All around the country states are passing new laws, launching investigations, conducting petition drives, and deciding court cases which will affect the way Americans vote in future elections. Here are some of the highlights.
Earlier this Month Maine became the first state to use ranked-choice voting. Instead of voting for a single candidate, voters ranked their choices from the most desirable candidate to the least desirable candidate on their ballots. If no candidate receives a majority vote, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and the votes are re-tabulated. This process continues on through additional rounds of counting until someone finally wins with a majority vote. The process sometimes takes weeks to resolve who the winner is. Several cities have been using ranked-choice voting, including Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Santa Fe, and several states are now considering switching to ranked-choice voting, mostly because it makes it harder for third party candidates to play a spoiler role by splitting the vote with another candidate.
Ranked-choice voting also effects the way candidates run for office. For instance, Maine’s Democratic primary race for governor featured seven candidates. So, Betsy Sweet formed an alliance with Mark Eves when making their campaign videos. Sweet’s video asked voters to rank her first and Eves second. Similarly, Eves’s video asked voters to rank him first and Sweet second. So much for mudslinging!
Californians have successfully completed a petition drive to put a measure on their November ballot which would split California into three separate states, namely California, Northern California, and Southern California. If the measure passes, the United States Senate would have to add four extra seats to the upper chamber of Congress, and we would all have to add two more stars to the American flag. Moreover, the new states of California and Southern California would have to write their own state constitutions, form new state governments, and build new capitol buildings or legislative houses.
The United States Supreme Court recently decided that the state of Ohio could clean-up its voter rolls. A lawsuit was filed against Ohio’s Secretary of State because some did not like the way he was cleaning up the voter rolls. Upon missing a general election, voters in the state would get a notice in the mail asking them to confirm their eligibility to vote. If they failed to respond and did not vote in the next two general elections, they would be removed from the rolls. The lawsuit went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court, where it was decided on a 5-4 vote. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito affirmed the High Court’s ruling, saying that Ohio was in compliance with the 1993 National Voter Registration Act.
Finally, Pennsylvania is auditing its voter registration system out of fear that the Russians may have tampered with their voter registration rolls in their SURE system. State auditors are also evaluating the state’s voting machines to see if they meet federal and state standards. They will mostly be looking to see if Russian hackers altered their voter registration rolls. Auditor General, Eugene DePasquale, who is leading the investigation has stated publicly that: “To the best of our knowledge, they [i.e. the Russians] were not successful.”
Voting is essential to maintaining our republic as well as our state. I believe every American citizen has at the very least a minimum obligation to be well-informed and to vote. May we always cherish our God-given right for self-governance, may we perfect the voting process, and may we ensure the integrity and security of our voter registration rolls for all future generations of Americans.
This week I would like to give you an update on my recent work at the Capitol and elsewhere around the State and let you know about some important things happening in District 47.
On June 5 we held another Building Maintenance Committee meeting at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, Nebraska. The committee replaced the roof over the maintenance building which houses the boilers and generators which feed the entire campus. We replaced a leaking 100 year-old roof with deteriorating wooden rafters with a new steel roof with steel rafters. This work was necessary because UNMC can never afford to experience a power outage due to the many surgeries and delicate research being conducted at the medical school.
Speaking of the University, the University of Nebraska landed a major defense contract on June 6. The National Strategic Research Institute renewed a five year contract with the Air Force, which will divert $92 million from the Department of Defense to the University of Nebraska in order to continue funding their anti-terrorism research.
Following our visit to UNMC we toured the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center. The Building Maintenance Committee repaired the building’s foundation. The Ford Conservation Center is a very unique State building located next to the house where former U.S. President, Gerald R. Ford, was born in Omaha. The Ford Conservation Center restores artifacts from the past. They have laboratories which restore old objects, paintings, and papers. While many of these artifacts come from Nebraska’s past, some are much older than our history as a state. For instance, one of the objects currently being restored at the center is a portion of fence from the ancient Roman Empire.
When I spoke at the State Veteran Cemetery in Alliance on Memorial Day, I could not help but notice how much space was still available at the cemetery. Only 291 people had been buried there since the cemetery opened back in 2010. Consequently, the State Veteran Cemetery in Alliance would like the public to know that: “The State of Nebraska recognizes the sacrifices of all veterans in honor of them,” and that “services are provided at the State Veteran Cemetery without regard for residency.” They would also like our veterans to know that there are no burial charges for veterans or their eligible dependents. If you have questions, please call the Nebraska Department of Veterans Affairs in Alliance at (308) 763-2958.
Finally, I have been in communication with Sen. Groene, who is chair of the Education Committee at the Capitol, concerning a new bill on Americanism. Two years ago, Sen. Lydia Brasch introduced LB 308, a bill that would have updated our public schools on Americanism, but the bill was indefinitely postponed on April 18 of this year. Sen. Brasch has reached her term limits and won’t be back next year. So, someone else will have to take up the cause for next year’s legislative session.
Americanism first became law in our public schools back in 1940. However, the 1940 statute made it a misdemeanor crime, enforceable by the Sheriff, if a teacher failed to follow the statute. SCOTUS has since ruled that the 1940 statute violates a teacher’s right to free speech. While a teacher cannot be arrested for failing to teach Americanism, he or she can still be fired. Therefore, Sen. Groene’s proposal would put enforcement of the statute into the hands of the State Board of Education, and replace the word ‘Americanism’ with ‘American Citizenship.’
The bottom line is that our public school students need to be adequately versed in American values. They need to know our history well, develop a love for liberty, have the fire for justice fanned into flame within their hearts, learn to respect our flag, and be instilled with a deep sense of loyalty to our great republic. Failure to instill our students with these kinds of American values will only lead to our eventual demise as a nation.