Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers

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The Grand Island Independent. June 1, 2014.

Heineman compromises fairness of NU president search

After months of posturing for a run at the coveted office of president of the University of Nebraska, Gov. Dave Heineman made it official. A crystal-clear distinction was made that "governor" Heineman was applying for the job and not "citizen" Heineman.

The announcement and manner in which he made it drew harsh criticism from the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, university faculty members, and not surprisingly his political adversaries.

Heineman, the shrewd, long-tenured political powerbroker, carefully chose the time and place to fully leverage his final months in office to his personal advantage. Over the span of nine years, Heineman has accumulated deep ties to people in positions of power and affluence including a number of key figures serving now as regents and search committee members. Many of those ties were forged on favors brokered, influence pedaled, and IOUs promised. This is the nature of how things work in the political sphere.

The questions Nebraskans are asking themselves this week are: Will the regents and search committee members be able to make unbiased assessments in the vetting of candidates given their history with Heineman? Will qualified candidates be dissuaded from applying due to the spotlight shining on a popular sitting governor? What do the governor's actions say about his judgment, integrity and motives?

Time will provide the answers to the first two questions. On the question of character there is much to be said.

Heineman did use state resources to tender his application and stage a press conference in the governor's hearing room to make the grand announcement to the press, which he said supported his belief in "open and transparent government." He also said he didn't expect preferential treatment and believed his announcement wouldn't discourage others from applying. What is unknown at present is how much time has Gov. Heineman spent lobbying for the position.

Howard Hawks, chairman of the NU Board of Regents was quick to separate Heineman's grandstanding from the mission of the search effort. He said fewer applicants would surface because of the announcement.

Hawks publicly chastised Heineman for requesting preferential treatment, stating: "Now that the governor has publicly announced his candidacy . his current requests for one-on-one meetings with the members of the Board of Regents, chancellors and other administrators, and search committee members are inappropriate and will not be honored. To do so would present a problem of fairness . to all candidates."

Heineman is an intelligent, calculating politician. He alone knows how deep into the woods his footsteps trace back on the path to his announcement. Upon encountering the proverbial ethical brink, he chose to cross it and, thus, compromised the process to recruit the leader best suited to lead one of the nation's most prestigious and well-run university programs.

Outgoing president J.B. Milliken is leaving Nebraska to serve as chancellor of the City University of New York. He led the university system through a challenging 10-year period, but managed to boost the institution's enrollment and standing in the academic world while earning the respect and admiration of all constituents of the University of Nebraska. The Board of Regents hopes to reveal the top four candidates for the position at the end of the year. Their stated objective is to maintain the university's momentum. We hope the sideshow won't detract from the recruitment of top tier candidates and we trust that the regents will hold true to their pledge to conduct a fair and open process.

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Lincoln Journal Star. May 31, 2014.

The man who called out the NRA

You have to hand it to the father of one of the victims in the California stabbing/shooting spree.

He called out the National Rifle Association.

That's something, considering the way members of Congress bow and scrape when the NRA is around.

Richard Martinez seems to be made of stronger stuff.

His son, 20-year-old Christopher Michaels-Martinez, was at a deli when he was shot and killed by Elliot Rodger.

"I'm angry with the leadership of the NRA who always want to characterize this as if it's a lone madman. That it's an act of nature we have to tolerate," Martinez said. "I am angered by how they have worked to normalize this."

Martinez said he grew up around guns.

"I understand this is a complicated problem. I have friends who are in the NRA. I grew up on a farm. I hunted. I killed animals. I understand guns," Martinez said. "But assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons? There is no need for those except in war."

There was a time in the previous century when the National Rifle Association was shaped by the values of responsible hunters who immersed themselves in the natural world, respected wildlife and preached responsibility to society.

Now, some among the NRA leadership and gun enthusiasts are swaggering rabble-rousers.

At a press conference last year, more than dozen gun-wielding NRA members delighted in ordering reporters around in the National Press Club, inspecting briefcases and directing some photographers not to take pictures.

In Nebraska, a group of gun enthusiasts has taken to going to out to dinner with guns on their hips.

The managing partner of the Texas Roadhouse in Papillion last week told them they were not welcome after he learned of their plans.

"I want to feed people— not have a circus in here," said Steve Jackson. He said the group was "not good for business."

Most political observers think this latest mass killing has little chance of swaying members of Congress. They're probably right, considering that the slaughter of 20 kids by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School failed to motivate Congress to enact even relatively minor changes in gun laws, like placing a 10-round limit on magazines and improving the woefully inadequate background check system.

The effort will continue. With tears rolling down his cheeks, Martinez asked people to send a postcard to politicians with the words, "Not one more." Despite the odds, Martinez said, "This is a problem that can be solved."

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North Platte Telegraph. June 1, 2014.

If this is what the vets get, what hope do all of us have?

At this point, one might almost feel some sympathy for ardent supporters of the Affordable Care Act.

Almost.

Their life, after all, has been no day at the beach since Congress passed and the president signed the bill to give everyone lots more health care for lots less money, with the added benefit that we could all keep our doctors and our insurance plans.

Early on, when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said Congress had to "pass the bill to find out what's in the bill," every thinking person we know — even the die-hard Democrats — was taken aback. And yet, despite what we all learned in high school government class decades ago, Pelosi got away with it, and as a result, five years later, we are still finding out what's in the bill.

Then there was the "Cornhusker Kickback" and the "Louisiana Purchase" — vote buying in the Senate that was so blatant that even Ben Nelson found it embarrassing and asked that the special provision for Nebraska be extended to everyone. Hard-working Nebraskans were offended to be associated with the slimy wheeling and dealing in Washington.

Then there was the long line of delays and exemptions from Obamacare — dozens at this point — that the president agreed to, even as his supporters talked about "the law of the land." Turns out the law of the land in this case can be parceled out at the whim, and at the political advantage, of the president. Again, many of us were taken back to our high school civics days asking, "Can he do that?"

Apparently so.

And now, in perhaps the crowning blow to the concept of the vast government providing vast benefits at vast savings, we have the Veterans Administration hospital waiting list debacle. If ever there was a living, breathing example of the kind of problems many of us see in Obamacare, and in the "single payer" system our Democrat friends ultimately desire, the VA scandal is it.

Waiting months for an appointment, hopelessly overworked health care providers, endless paperwork and bureaucracy, big promises from the politicians and the bureaucrats with little knowledge of what it actually takes to deliver, and now allegations that veterans have died waiting to be admitted to VA hospitals — it's all part of the government program that serves the most deserving among us, the people who fought for our country, our veterans.

The best question we have heard in months is this: If they treat our veterans this way, how will Obamacare treat the rest of us? Suddenly, when we hear about veterans dying waiting to be admitted to VA hospitals, the prospect of rationing health care doesn't seem so far-fetched. How else could it work?

We can easily imagine our grandchildren asking us someday, "With the VA scandal happening right before your eyes, didn't it give you some reservations about Obamacare? How much more obvious could the limitations of a huge government-provided system have been? Were you people asleep?"

So, considering all the problems, we can almost feel some sympathy for the Obamacare supporters.

Except for the fact that they still seem bound and determined to cripple the best health care system in the world.

Uh-oh.

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Scottsbluff Star-Herald. June 1, 2014.

Tragedy: It's no mystery why underage drinking, drunken driving and hazardous habits are killing kids

The stories are so tragic they make any parent or grandparent of a teenager turn sick with fear.

Young people killed while riding with drunken drivers, or driving while drunk. Killed while they weren't buckled up, or while sending text messages from behind the wheel. Not just this year, but the year before, and the year before that.

If there was some mystery about it, caring people could try harder to prevent it. But there's no mystery. Underage drinking is illegal. Driving while drunk is illegal. So is texting while driving, driving while distracted, driving too fast, not buckling a seat belt. Combine any or all of those behaviors and the real mystery becomes that we don't read about these tragedies every day.

Each occurrence stirs a few moments of remorse and reflection, a youthful determination to "always remember" the victims. But when the classmates of the dead move on, the memories fade. Each new crop of teenagers include some who assume that the adults who make those laws don't know what they're doing. They're convinced that youth equals invincibility, that not dying the last time means you won't die the next. And so the cycle of tragedy continues.

Why do you suppose that is?

Again, there's no mystery. Nebraska consistently ranks among the worst states for binge drinking, with rates well above the national average. Nearly a quarter of the population reports bouts of heavy drinking — often five or more percentage points above the norm. A University of Nebraska Medical Center study found that underage drinking rose in Nebraska while declining almost everywhere else from 2007 through 2011. So it's no surprise that we're also one of the worst states for underage drinking. Kids do what they learn.

So what does the Legislature do about it? End the ban on booze in parks. Extend bar hours until 2 a.m. Attempt to gut laws against selling booze to minors. Seek to make it tougher to determine whether stores and bars are complying with the law. As a result, underage drinkers account for about a quarter of all Nebraska alcohol sales.

It doesn't help that a stubborn knot of the population continues to believe that seat belts and motorcycle helmets are dangerous, despite all evidence to the contrary, that car seats are a waste of money, that teen drinking is a rite of passage, and that serving kids and their friends booze at home provides responsible transition to adulthood.

Maybe part of that problem is that alcohol has a dulling effect on still-developing brains. Drinking at a young age can lead to alcoholism later in life. Nebraska has a culture that often centers around drinking. That influences the way children view alcohol and sends the wrong message to children about drinking. Teenagers and young adults are dying because of it.

Why doesn't somebody do something?

Many people try. The Nebraska State Patrol offers Responsible Beverage Server Training classes designed to provide store clerks, bartenders and anyone else responsible for serving or selling alcohol with the knowledge they need to avoid illegally selling to underage youth or intoxicated customers. The Monument Prevention Coalition preaches the dangers of binge drinking and underage drinking to anyone who'll listen. Schools try to get the message across. Police break up underage drinking parties and try to get parents to take the problem seriously.

But effective influence has to start early, in the home. Infants need to be buckled into car seats, as the law demands. They need to see adults using seat belts. They need adults to model responsible behavior involving alcohol, and to hear that alcohol is off limits for kids, not only because that's the law but because teens involved with alcohol are more vulnerable to accidents, violence, sexual exploitation, adverse health issues and arrest. They need to be warned to stay out of cars when the driver has been drinking. They need to hear that drunks in the adult world are considered disgusting and irresponsible, and that there's nothing cool about drinking until you pass out. They need to hear that texting while driving is as dangerous as being drunk. They won't hear it from their peers.

If anyone has any better ideas, we'd like to share them. It's frustrating to keep writing the same stories and editorials, with only the names and numbers changed. We need to have a community conversation about keeping our kids safe and alive, and giving them an opportunity to grow up and become better role models for the next generation.

We don't have to be like every other community. We can do better. We have to.

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