- Associated Press - Monday, March 14, 2016

Omaha World-Herald. Mar. 11, 2016

A water deal good for all.

Last fall, visitors to Grand Island’s popular Husker Harvest Days event witnessed something unusual: the ceremonial signing of a landmark agreement to manage the Niobrara River basin.

It was appropriate that the signing took place at Husker Harvest Days, given the event’s focus on Nebraska agriculture.

The Niobrara agreement is an impressive achievement that balances the interests of the Nebraska Public Power District, irrigators and the recreation industry.

Credit goes to the varied interests who came together to resolve differences that arose in 2007, when NPPD asserted a long-dormant water right on the Niobrara in order to maintain operation of a hydropower plant during a severe drought.

The assertion of the water right spurred concern among irrigators. Tensions increased when the State Department of Natural Resources declared the river basin fully appropriated, halting new water allocations from the river.

Meanwhile, federal regulators insisted that wildlife species receive protection because of the Niobrara’s designation as a national scenic river. The basin’s recreation industry wanted its interests to be taken into account amid the multiple demands on the river.

After the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled in NPPD’s favor on the water-right issue, the natural resources districts in the basin approached the utility to negotiate a mutually agreeable resolution.

The result is the Niobrara agreement. Under it, NPPD will shut its hydropower plant and transfer its water right, along with land and easements, to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and five NRDs located in the river basin. The utility will be compensated with a $9 million payment.

The funds are to come from several sources: $4 million from the coalition of five NRDs; $1.5 million from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, through the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission; and $3.5 million from the state’s Water Sustainability Fund.

The agreement is designed to ensure that enough water will be set aside for agriculture, fish, wildlife and recreation.

Nebraska lawmakers need to sign off on several parts of the agreement. Approval is needed through state law, for example, so NPPD’s water right can be converted to multiple uses by the NRDs and Game and Parks.

The mechanism for approval is Legislative Bill 1038, introduced by Sen. Al Davis. Sen. Ken Schilz, chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, has been extensively involved on the issue.

Discussions are ongoing on several matters, including whether the legislation could apply to the Platte River basin, plus the priority to be given to the converted water right. Jeff Fassett, director of the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, has shown commendable leadership in explaining how his department would address key issues.

Negotiators faced a daunting situation and found a sensible, practical way forward. Their commendable compromise deserves approval. It’s needed to best serve the Niobrara basin.___

The Lincoln Journal Star. Mar. 11, 2016

Earlier primary would benefit.

Based on the historical evidence, it’s clear that Nebraska can make itself more relevant in presidential politics by holding its primaries or caucuses earlier in the process.

It obviously has worked for Nebraska Democrats, who under the leadership of State Chairman Vince Powers decided to caucus in March in 2008 rather than rely on results in the May primary.

That year Barack Obama visited the state on his way to eventual nomination. Last week Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigned in Lincoln in person. Former president Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton visited the state to campaign for Hillary.

Now Gretna Sen. John Murante, a Republican, has proposed moving Nebraska’s primary from May to early March.

The editorial board hopes the idea meets with legislative approval.

For confirmation that moving the date would give Nebraskans a bigger voice in the selection of presidential nominees, take a look at Idaho.

Last year Idaho, a sparsely populated state with about as many voters as Nebraska, moved its Republican primary up by two months. Last weekend Sen. Ted Cruz visited the state. On Tuesday he posted an upset win over Donald Trump. Polls had predicted a big Trump win.

“Campaigns matter, and Mr. Trump wasn’t able to come to Idaho,” Rod Beck, Trump’s Idaho chairman, told the Idaho Statesman.

Marco Rubio also visited the state several times, but failed to generate support.

Kansas, which held its caucuses March 5, was visited by Cruz, Trump, Marco Rubio, Sanders and Hillary Clinton.

Even though the early caucus has been successful for Nebraska Democrats in generating interest and luring candidates to the state, it seems reasonable to assume that they might also opt in for an early primary. The caucus format has not been universally popular with the state’s Democrats because the time required and other reasons. Powers in fact said he prefers a primary.

In a national context there is almost constant jockeying between the states for advantage in the primary process. Usually that translates to attempts to move the primary date earlier. Rhode Island, however, in 2011 moved its date from “Super Tuesday,” in early March to late April. “Super Tuesday” involves mainly southern states. Rhode Island hoped to be part of a regional bloc in the Northeast by voting with Pennsylvania and Connecticut. Attempts are already underway to move it back to an earlier date.

Holding a presidential primary in early March in addition to the regular primary in May would cost about $1.6 million. Murante pointed out that the cost would be offset by economic activity generated by the campaigns.

In any event it seems like small price to pay for Nebraskans to have a larger role in choosing the nation’s president.___

The McCook Daily Gazette. Mar. 8, 2016

Company proves profits, humanity can go hand-in-hand.

With self-proclaimed democratic socialist Bernie Sanders winning votes, including Nebraska’s Democratic caucus, Americans are taking a new look at the basic tenets of our society.

Sanders has struck a nerve, thanks to outrage over Wall Street abuses and bank bailouts, and the perception that a disproportionate amount of wealth finds its way to the top 1 percent at the expense of a shrinking middle class.

Such abuses have made Sanders’ message inviting to marginalized young voters, suspicious of successful businesses and their motives.

We depend on successful businesses for employment, but beyond that, can a business do good by doing well?


Consider Pacha Soap Co. of Hastings, Neb.

The company has an unusual business model; creating jobs through sustainable businesses in third-world countries while promoting better hygiene and sanitation.

Owned by McCook native Abi (Burrows) Vrbas and her husband, Atwood, Kan., native Andrew Vrbas, the company has sold more than 400,000 bars of soap and distributed a matching amount to developing nations through the company’s Raise the Bar campaign.

It takes money to produce that much soap - of various scents, colors and names like “Dirty Hippie,” ”Pocket Full of Cozy” or “Scarfunkle” - and the Hastings Economic Development Corp. stepped in a few years ago to provide a zero percent, deferred-payment loan to help with expansion.

While Pacha wasn’t obligated to start repayments until 2017, and had until 2021 to complete them, the company repaid the $30,000 loan Monday, five years early.

Andrew told the Hastings Tribune the $30,000 represents about half the indebtedness Pacha has taken on to expand the business, which has grown to 18 employees.

“This company started with a dream to help people, but also be a successful business and that those two things are not mutually exclusive,” he said “They contribute and help each other, this idea that capitalism can be a force for good is what this company was based on.”

Pacha describes itself as “a bunch of Dirty Hippies with a Clean Purpose,” to “implement sustainable solutions to the poverty cycle, to promote health and well-being around the world, and to provide quality products for our customers.”

Through its buy-one, give-one campaign, Pacha Soap customers can help provide clean water for a community, soap for school children and jobs for men and women around the world.

Pacha Soaps are available at the New Life Christian Bookstore, 212 Norris Ave. in McCook and many other retailers.______

Kearny Hub. Mar. 10, 2016

Secret NU searches risk loss of trust, support .

Nebraska lawmakers committed a grave mistake earlier this week when they advanced LB1109 on a 36-1 vote. The measure, introduced on behalf of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents, would allow secret searches for NU presidents and campus chancellors.

Rather than allowing regents and university officials a free pass for secrecy, lawmakers should reject LB1109 and stand by the current system that allows public scrutiny of the top four applicants. Lawmakers should pause and think hard whenever they’re asked to sanction secrecy, especially when it cuts off the public’s participation in government and risks the loss of trust and support.

Nebraskans have been witnessing the benefits of the current open system as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln seeks to replace its retiring chancellor, Harvey Perlman. During the past two weeks, the four finalists for Perlman’s job have visited Lincoln and met with students, faculty and UNL supporters. The applicants have shared their philosophies of higher education and their visions for UNL, and because of the open process, UNL patrons have had the opportunity to size up the group and weigh in on the finalists’ strengths and qualifications.

That would not occur under the NU regents’ proposal. Rather than naming four finalists, regents would announce only their top pick. A 30-day public review process would follow, and the regents could then officially install their pick.

LB1109 supporters claim that it achieves transparency and accountability, but there is no comparison to the current system that invites stakeholders to meet candidates and weigh in. By its very nature, the open, participatory approach creates a consensus among students, faculty and supporters that opens the door for new leaders to begin their duties and pursue their goals.

When regents, via secret searches, assume all the responsibility for recruiting and vetting candidates, it risks alienating stakeholders. That’s what occurred last year when the University of Iowa Board of Regents conducted a secret search and appointed a president with no academic experience. A national faculty association investigating the UI search found the board’s “blatant disregard for the shared nature of university governance” to be “inescapable,” and students shouted “resign” at a regents meeting.

Nebraskans feel a sense of ownership in their state and local government, including the university system that gets 23 percent of its funding from taxpayers. Why risk good will by sanctioning secrecy? We urge LB1109 supporters - including Sens. Galen Hadley of Kearney and Matt Williams of Gothenburg - to reconsider their positions. Vote “yes” for openness by voting “no” on LB1109.

University of Texas board of regents votes to raise tuition system-wide


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