- Associated Press - Monday, October 20, 2014

Lincoln Journal Star. Oct. 18, 2014.

Shorten time for early voting

Some Nebraskans have already cast their votes for governor, U.S. Senate and all the other races on the Nov. 4 ballot.

In fact, a few voters marked their ballots last month.

That’s too early. State lawmakers should shorten the period for mailing ballots and for in-person early voting at election offices.

The mail ballots were sent out on Sept. 29. If a voter received their ballot the next day, they could have dropped it in the mailbox a good month before voters went to the polls.

Lancaster County Election Commissioner Dave Shively said that some voters hand deliver their mail ballots the day they receive them. This year the first ballot was delivered at about 1:30 p.m., he said, which is actually later in the day than some years.

The argument for long early voting periods is that it makes it easier for voters and that any change that makes it easier for voters is beneficial for democracy. Some studies say that early voting boosts turnout by 2 percent to 4 percent.

Generally liberals tend to favor longer voting periods and conservatives tend to favor shorter voting periods.

The Journal Star thinks there is a happy medium that would allow early voting two weeks before the election. That happens to be the early voting period favored by Paul Gronke, director of the Early Voting Information Center. (Military and overseas voters have special circumstances. They deserve the extra time allowed them under federal law.)

The assumption that early voting favors Democrats seems to be based in the success of the Obama campaign in getting out an early vote in the 2008 election. But in reality a long voting period would seem to favor any candidate with deep pockets who can get out his or her message early. In that case the advantage seemingly would go to Republicans, who are perceived as having more campaign funding.

The convenience of early voting should be balanced against the possibility that early voters will be deprived of information that might come out closer to Election Day.

Some important debates, for example, are scheduled after early voting begins. Some candidates with small budgets may not be able to run their ads until late in the campaign.

And there’s another factor. Election Day, when voters traditionally make their way to the polls, provides a sense of common purpose, reminding Americans of their rights, responsibility and their power.

That viewpoint could be seen as anachronistic in an era in which people can talk with someone on the other side of the globe, shop and order a restaurant meal without leaving their apartment. But a sense of community is important too. We’re all in this together.

Two weeks of early voting is enough.


Kearney Hub. Oct. 16, 2014.

Elevator a first stop for crops in global trek

Fall is a favorite time for many Nebraskans, not just because the cool mornings and evenings gently prepare us for the stiff winter weather ahead, but because fall harvest is a reminder of the bounty our state’s farmers produce to feed Americans and people around the globe.

The hundreds and hundreds of combine loads of corn and soybeans we watch on their way to elevators and ethanol plants in our region remind us of the tremendous wealth that our state’s vast cropland produces.

Bushels upon bushels of corn and soybeans, along with thousands of cattle and swine, are headed to distant markets, many of them on the other side of the globe.

Nebraska’s Director of Agriculture, Greg Ibach of Sumner, talked about the global reach of Nebraska agricultural goods during a recent appearance at the Kearney Sertoma Club. Among his points is that Nebraskans have gradually developed relationships with potential overseas customers, and today enjoy an enviable position to cash in on those relationships.

We Nebraskans have always been proud we’re a beef state. At one time we adorned that title on our license plates. Today, Nebraska has more cattle on feed than any other state. Also of importance, our beef is regarded as the best there is in many foreign markets.

Nebraska’s branding as the producer of the world’s best beef is important, Ibach said, because emerging nations are developing an appetite for beef. They want to taste a great steak, and that means sitting down to a meal built around Nebraska beef.

Agriculture remains our state’s No.1 industry, not just because our crops and livestock are purchased by U.S. buyers, but also because of the overseas demand for quality Nebraska commodities and livestock. During 2012, Nebraska sold foreign buyers almost $7.2 billion in agricultural products. Only two other states export more corn. Nebraska exports almost half of its soybeans.

Nebraska’s tremendous success as a producer and exporter of agricultural products is no accident. Hundreds of trade missions, a commitment to continued quality improvements, and tremendous advances in technology contribute to our high profile overseas. However, Nebraskans cannot take our good fortune for granted. Agricultural expansion around the world means other nations are increasingly competitive and can steal coveted markets. Ibach reminded Kearney Sertomans, however, that global population growth ensures an expanding demand for food, regardless of where it’s produced.


McCook Daily Gazette. Oct. 17, 2014.

Cellular phones no longer a luxury to be taxed as such

Remember the “luxury tax”?

The idea is understandable - anyone who can afford luxury items like furs, cars, yachts, private jets and jewelry probably won’t bat an eye at a few extra dollars.

Congress bought the argument, enacting such a tax in 1991, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.

The government estimated it would raise $9 billion in excess revenues over the next five years.

You might remember how that turned out.

Congress never waited to see what would happen in five years. The money didn’t materialize, and people employed in manufacturing, selling and maintaining cars, planes and yachts lost their jobs.

In 1993, the luxury tax was eliminated, although it stayed in place on cars for another 13 years.

At one time, cellular phones were considered a luxury. We remember running a story about one of the first automotive “bag phones,” owned by an attorney who was later disbarred for stealing client funds.

But cellular phones are no longer a luxury - many people living hand-to-mouth rely on them as their sole electronic connection to the outside world, and they’re even available through government subsidy to the elderly and economically disadvantaged.

But vestiges of mobile phones’ luxury status remain.

Nebraskans, for example, pay the second-highest state and local taxes in the United States on their cellular phone service, 18.48 percent, according to a study by the Tax Foundation. Check it out here https://bit.ly/1wPWWVK

Washington State pays the highest, 18.6 percent, Oregon pays the lowest, 1.76 percent.

In recent years, McCook city officials proposed imposing a tax on cellular phones and doubling the tax on land lines. After citizens objected, however, the city backed off, leaving cellular phones alone and cutting the landline tax from 3 to 1.5 percent.

The “Lifeline” system to provide phones to the needy has drawn fire for being too loosely applied for ineligible people, and some providers have run afoul of regulators. Like all such programs, that subsidy must be watched closely to eliminate waste and fraud.

Today, those in the lower rungs of the economic ladder rely on them more than those with more resources. The time when a cellular phone was a luxury are long gone, and so are the days when a luxury tax is appropriate.


Scottsbluff Star-Herald. Oct. 16, 2014.

Ecotourism: Center works with landowners to recraft Nebraska’s reputation as flyover country

New England lobster fishermen and Northwest salmon trawlers probably smirk when out-of-towners stand along the rocky shorelines and gawk at their boats. Hawaiians must question the sanity of people who’d fly halfway across an ocean to sit in the sand in the shade of a coconut palm. Africans probably wonder what gets safari-goers so excited about zebras and baboons.

Even when they love the places they live in, residents sometimes can’t see the appeal they have to outsiders. But when travelers get off the interstate in Nebraska, they’re often dazzled by our bluffs, rivers, native grasslands and other ecological wonders.

For example, here’s what a runner in the recent Monument Marathon posted on her blog:

“I did extensive research on things do to in the area of Scottsbluff, and by ‘extensive’ I mean I watched the Nebraska episode of Aerial America. If you don’t know about this show, get on it! I’m addicted! I discovered that there are several things to see in the area - Scotts Bluff National Monument, the Oregon Trail, Chimney Rock, Courthouse and Jail Rocks, and Carhenge. … I have had the privilege to run some amazing races in amazing places this year (Bataan, Big Sur, New River, and Jackson Hole just to name a few) and I have to say that this race ranks as one of my favorites.”

Based on such reactions from visitors, the Center for Great Plains Studies is launching a project to build Nebraska and the Great Plains into a premier destination for “ecotourism” - defined by the International Ecotourism Society as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people.”

That puts people (in Nebraska’s case, landowners) as well as the environment in the forefront of the effort. For six months, center research assistant Kat Shiffler has been touring Nebraska, visiting privately held ecotourism attractions and interviewing the owners to find out what’s offered, what’s in the works and documenting the successes and obstacles they have encountered. When she completes her tour, Shiffler will provide a summary of her findings.

Already, the center has identified a common need among owners - more promotion.

“We have been asking, ‘What can we do in the center, to contribute to the promotion of ecotourism?’” Director Richard Edwards said in a press release. “One of the things we think we can do is help these small, private enterprises with marketing.”

To kick off the effort, the center is releasing posters featuring 12 images depicting the state’s finest offerings. Each week beginning Sept. 30, in advance of the Center’s November First Friday event, two images will be released at https://www.visittheprairie.com. The images are being developed into posters, postcards and other items and will be available for use by ecotourism sites. They’ll be available for purchase online after the whole set is released. A sneak preview of two of the posters features one with bison and one with prairie chickens, rendered in a watercolor style inspired by a 1930s series of National Parks posters produced by the Works Progress Administration.

Organizers of the effort, including Edwards, have been pushing ecotourism in the Great Plains for years, beginning with the development of a website and ecotourism map. The effort focused on highlighting Nebraska state parks and conservatories and marked the center’s first ecotourism marketing venture. Now, the center is expanding the effort by developing the promotions and working with the coalition to boost ecotourism as a job creator.

“The idea behind all of this work (with private enterprise) is that you can build thriving communities, job opportunities and economic development, as well as promote conservation of natural resources with ecotourism,” Edwards said.

What tourism insiders have been preaching in recent years is that visitors aren’t interested in places so much as experiences. Giving them something to do as well as to see provides an opportunity for them to stay longer and learn (and spend) more. Like that marathon blogger, each satisfied customer becomes an ambassador for the region, helping to spread the message about what we’ve got.

By promoting experiences that feature the best of Nebraska’s wild places, the center hopes to establish a cohesive message for Great Plains ecotourism. The newly established Great Plains Ecotourism Coalition can provide resources to unify the various players who get involved, such as bed-and-breakfast inns, working ranches, hunting and fishing destinations, and bird-watching venues.

“We have a group of faculty members who are interested in helping us promote ecotourism, getting their students into the field and working with these private enterprises,” Shiffler said.

“What we’re showing is this isn’t flyover country,” she added. “There are actually many diverse opportunities of experiences you can have with nature.”

As one of the most scenic and historic parts of our great state, western Nebraska has a lot to offer visitors. If the private owners of the 97 percent of Nebraska that’s in private hands leave it to state and federal government to provide ecotourism opportunities, they’re missing a growing opportunity.

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