- Associated Press - Monday, January 1, 2018

Omaha World Herald. December 27, 2017

Nebraska’s population trends look promising

Nebraska’s estimated population growth for 2017 is encouraging - the rate of increase was good enough to rank it 20th among the states.

Births exceeded deaths by 11,000 residents - a key statistic. And although Nebraska lost a net of about 3,500 residents to other states, an increase of 5,000 in international migrants helped make for net growth, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Nebraska’s population in July was 1.92 million, up 12,473 people over a year earlier, the bureau says. That makes for a growth rate of .65 of 1 percent, not far behind the national growth rate of .72 percent.

David Drozd, a demographer with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research, highlighted an important indicator: The numbers show that Nebraska has a strong chance to retain three seats in the U.S. House after the 2020 Census.

Nebraska can’t do anything about the rough winter weather, but it can pursue goals that help the state grow - boosting economic opportunities and promoting a welcoming climate for all residents, strengthening local communities, supporting educational excellence, building a supportive environment for business growth.

Steady, manageable growth is the right way forward.

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Kearney Hub. December 28, 2017.

Red Cross: Fires, carbon monoxide in homes can be deadly

If your home has a space heater or is equipped with a fireplace or wood-burning stove, you are among the nearly half of American families who use alternative heating sources in the winter. Although alternative heat sources can make a home considerably more comfortable, they also can raise the fire risk, according to the American Red Cross.

Fixed and portable space heaters, including wood stoves, are a leading cause of home fires, and are involved in 74-percent of fire related deaths, the Red Cross reported this week.

Carbon monoxide also is deadly. The Red Cross warns that each year more than 200 Americans die from carbon monoxide produced by fuel burning appliances in the home, including furnaces, ranges, water heaters and room heaters.

Readers probably know where this opinion is headed. First, we’re writing to remind everyone to install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and ensure that batteries are in operating order.

Second, see that everyone in the home knows how to properly use space heaters and wood burning stoves. They might seem like simple devices, but they’re extremely risky if used by someone who isn’t familiar with their functions and potential hazards.

People should keep paper, clothing, bedding, rugs or anything that could be a potential source of fuel at least three feet away from space heaters, stoves or fireplaces.

Here are other tips from the Red Cross:

- Don’t leave portable heaters and fireplaces unattended. Turn off space heaters and make sure embers in the fireplace are extinguished before going to bed or leaving home.

- Use space heaters only on level, hard and nonflammable surfaces, such as ceramic tile floors - never on rugs or carpets.

- Don’t buy space heaters that don’t shut off automatically if tipped over.

- Keep children and pets away from space heaters.

For lots of other safety tips, people can download the Red Cross Emergency app which combines more than 35 emergency alerts to help keep users safe.

Also, you can visit redcross.org/homefires to find out more about how to protect yourself and your loved ones from fire.

Red Cross volunteers respond to nearly 64,000 fires and other disasters every year, so give them a break by preventing fires in your house.

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Lincoln Journal Star. December 28, 2017

Nebraskans deserve competitive elections

After Omaha attorney Evangelos Argyrakis filed his paperwork to run as a Democratic candidate for Nebraska attorney general, he told the Journal Star that “Nebraskans deserve to have a choice on the ballot.”

The first-time political candidate also correctly assessed his chances of unseating the incumbent, Republican Doug Peterson, seeking a second term as “very difficult, if not almost impossible, to win.”

Nebraskans are better off when they have to choose an oval to darken rather than sigh during a formality of an unopposed election. Competition among qualified candidates increases the quality of debate on the marketplace of ideas and ensures voters have the opportunity to hold accountable an elected official - even if that person is excelling in his or her position.

Representative democracy in America requires everyday citizens to make a choice on who they think is best suited to embody their interests in office. When that decision is reduced to one individual, whether by a lack of interest or fear of a foregone conclusion, voters lose the ability to have that say.

And, in a state as dominated by one party as Nebraska, it’s easy to assume that one-party rule is inevitable. After all, every federal and statewide elected office is currently held by a Republican.

Among registered voters in the state, GOP voters outnumber Democrats by a more than 3-to-2 margin, according to 2016 data from the Nebraska Secretary of State’s Office. The same table shows only five of the state’s 93 counties - Dakota, Douglas, Greeley, Saline and Thurston - report more Democratic voters than Republicans and only 12 where Republicans don’t comprise a majority of registered voters.

Despite this, a number of candidates like Argyrakis who have, over the years, announced their intentions to seek public office were largely inspired by an effort to prevent an elected official from running unopposed. Whether in primaries or general elections, few of these people claimed victory - but they served an important role for the electorate.

On the flip side, too much of a good thing is entirely possible.

Last year saw the most accomplished presidential primary field ever, with nearly all of the 17 Republicans in the field boasting an impressive array of elected offices and achievements. Instead, the unwieldy debates stemming from a crowd that size too often devolved into shouting matches where talking the loudest overwhelmed the traditional and necessary focus on policy.

Still, having too many qualified candidates is infinitely preferable compared with having too few.

Voters, even those who are tickled pink with the status quo, deserve a choice at the polls. As Nebraska’s primary filing deadline approaches, we encourage other potential candidates to step up to ensure their fellow citizens have options beyond unopposed candidates when they cast a ballot.

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McCook Daily Gazette. December 26, 2017

Rural America should overcome simple resentment

Nebraska is as “red” a state as they come, with all five of our congressional delegates members of the Republican Party.

You’ve probably seen a red/blue political map of the United States, with the vast majority of the land covered in red, blue concentrated in the heavily populated urban areas.

Yes, Nebraska is a “red” state, but we’ve always had an independent, populist streak that defies strict, party-line loyalty. Sen. George W. Norris was one example, considered the father of our non-partisan Legislature. Sen. Ben Nelson was another, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, with the exception, perhaps, of his pivotal Obamacare vote.

The GOP still held sway during the last election, with about 48 percent of registered Nebraska voters Republicans and 31 percent Democrats, but the number of independents grew to 20 percent, up by more than 11 percent since the last mid-term election.

The red/blue map may do a better job of explaining the current political climate than a simple discussion of political parties.

In her new book, “The Politics of Resentment,” Kathy Cramer points to the role the rural/urban split played in the recent U.S. Senate race in Alabama, where Republican candidate Roy Moore was narrowly defeated, despite having been accused of inappropriate sexual advances toward teenage girls years ago.

Cramer says her research shows many rural Americans resent people who hold the power, feeling they are being condescended to by the Democratic Party.

“They’re also talking about racial and ethnic minorities. There’s an element of racism here that we need to pay careful attention to.”

The politics of resentment that played a huge role in the election of Donald Trump will likely continue to factor into political outcomes, she said, with rural voters, especially, voting against any candidate they see as an establishment politician.

“If you’re perceiving that you’re not getting your fair share, there’s a lot of room for someone, a political entrepreneur, someone who sees some gain to be made by tapping into that sentiment by saying, ‘You’re right, you’re not getting what you deserve,’ and offering up a target of blame for the people,” she said.

Nebraska is blessed with low unemployment rates, but lower corn prices have put the brakes on a farm economy that was booming a few short years ago.

But for all its faults, America is blessed with a system that can be bent to the will of the people. The rural-urban disparity, for example, is kept in check, in part, through the Electoral College.

Better than simply voting for resentment, the answer is to keep up with the issues through reliable news sources, get involved in politics at any level and, at a bare minimum, register and vote.

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