- Associated Press - Monday, March 2, 2020

Omaha World-Herald. March 1, 2020

Congress should approve this proposal to boost Midlands flood repairs.

A year ago this month, flooding brought catastrophic devastation to the Midlands. Lamentably, this spring could bring a repeat in many areas. It’s vital that our area maximize our ability to carry out repairs as quickly as possible.

Federal legislation now before Congress can provide such a tool. It would provide federal reimbursement so that local authorities, such as Nebraska’s natural resources districts, could carry out levee repairs and other flood-related relief as a supplement to work by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Sen. Deb Fischer has introduced the proposal in the Senate, and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry has introduced the House version. Fortenberry last week designated it as one of his formal legislative priorities.

Passage by Congress is imperative. This would be one of the biggest supports the federal government could give our region in confronting the threat from such large-scale flooding.

“If this authority would have been in place during the 2019 flood,” said John Winkler, general manager of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, the NRD “would have been able to mobilize and make repairs to flood-damaged infrastructure in a matter of days to prevent further damage from occurring and protect our citizens.”

Fortenberry testified on the legislation last week before a House subcommittee. “The goal is to reduce the time between disaster and repair/recovery,” he told lawmakers. “It’s also important to emphasize the cost component, since local sponsors are often able to make certain repairs for much less than the price paid by the federal government.”

Calling the approach a “force multiplier for the corps,” Winkler notes that such federal support would have enabled the NRD to repair infrastructure such as the Union Dike along the Platte River, for protection of Valley and the nearby area. “With this law change,” Winkler said, “the NRD could make those repairs and get reimbursed by the federal government for the work. Simply put, the measure enhances speed and efficiency of flood emergency repairs.”

Members of Congress, regardless of what part of the country they hail from, need to understand how important this federal support can truly be in helping local communities. In many Midlands communities, the destruction and disruption from the 2019 flooding were almost beyond imagining. This year, a repeat of the flood threat is quite real. The National Weather Service, in preparation, is proposing changes to its definition of flood stages on the Missouri River at Blair and Omaha, which could mean issuing flood watches earlier.

Congress can help greatly by saying yes to the Fischer/Fortenberry legislation.


The North Platte Telegraph. March 1, 2020

State’s first rivalry was north vs. south.

There was a time, one recalls on today’s 153rd birthday of our state, when Omaha and Lincoln weren’t pitted against the rest of Nebraska.

They were pitted against each other. Or, more accurately, their regions were.

Our original geographic rivalry, dating to the birth of Nebraska Territory in the 1854 Kansas-Nebraska Act, wasn’t east vs. west but opposite sides of the Platte River vs. each other.

Strangely, the towns at the heart of the struggle were on the same side of that river.

Bellevue, already settled thanks to Peter Sarpy’s trading post near the Platte’s north bank, expected the most vital prize of territorial status: the capital.

Then some business people crossed the Missouri River from Council Bluffs, Iowa, and founded Omaha City north of Bellevue.

Had President Franklin Pierce’s first territorial governor lived, the “south of the Platte” party might have won the capital even with Bellevue on the wrong side of the river.

But Francis Burt of South Carolina, already ill when he arrived, died soon after taking the oath of office at Bellevue.

Next in line was Pierce’s territorial secretary, Thomas Cuming, a “north of the Platte” man with Omaha business connections.

As acting governor, it fell to Cuming to draw the district lines for the first Territorial Legislature.

When he did, the “north of the Platte” area along the Missouri - though its population was half that living south of the river - got more legislative seats.

Naturally, Cuming summoned the first legislature to meet at Omaha.

He set off strife between the two sides of the river that didn’t let up until after the Civil War, when Nebraska became the only state admitted to the Union by Congress overriding a presidential veto of its statehood bill.

Nebraska Territory’s version of North vs. South (in fact, a handful of slaves were kept south of the river before the war) raged most every winter the Territorial Legislature met, with the south still trying to wrest the capital from Omaha.

In 1858, it got so bad that lawmakers engaged in fistfights on the floor - whereupon the south-of-the-Platte forces “seceded” and met for the rest of the session even farther north in Florence, the “Winter Quarters” of the 1840s Mormon migration to Utah. (Florence would be absorbed into Omaha in 1917.)

Not until President Andrew Johnson reluctantly proclaimed Nebraska a state on March 1, 1867, did the “south of the Platte” people have enough legislative votes - and a “southern” governor in David Butler of Pawnee City - to finally get their way.

The first session of the Nebraska Legislature passed a bill locating a new state capital south of the Platte. Lancaster, a small village within the bill’s designated area, became the choice.

Omaha’s champions weren’t through. They managed to attach an amendment to name the state capital after the dead president many south-of-the-Platte folks never were fond of: Abraham Lincoln.

But their “poison pill” amendment didn’t work. The southern lawmakers agreed.

Lincoln naturally swelled into a much larger city as the new state’s government institutions and brand-new university set up shop there.

While Omaha and Lincoln have never fully shed their rivalry, the geographic axis of Nebraska’s divisions gradually swung from north-south to east-west.

Not until 1916 did Nebraska elect a western governor, North Platte’s Keith Neville. Regional loyalty mattered so much that the city’s Republican-leaning newspaper editors, The Telegraph’s A.P. Kelly and the Semi-Weekly Tribune’s Ira L. Bare, stumped for the young Democrat who became this state’s “boy governor.”

Bare, later a Telegraph columnist, urged “every lover of the west to rally behind Keith Neville and give him the support that he deserves personally and as a representative of that west which has so long been ignored.”

Sound familiar?

Other states have their own stories of big-city dominance and rural resentment, even where their capitals sit at or near the geographic center rather than at one end or the other.

But it’s useful to remember on this Statehood Day that there’s nothing new under the sun, including this strange phenomenon that Nebraska’s 450 miles apparently are so much longer from east to west than from west to east.

(Of course, one does go uphill all the way - very, very slowly - when headed our direction. Don’t tell anyone.)


Lincoln Journal Star. February 27, 2020

UNL’s N2025 strategic plan bold, innovative.

When Lincoln roots for the Huskers, it goes well beyond the field or court.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s success is the city’s success. In reality, the wins and losses of UNL’s sports teams are overshadowed – whether we realize it or not – by what goes on in classrooms and research facilities.

Students, staff and research fuel our economy today and change lives around campus, around town and around the world.

That’s why the university’s N2025 Strategic Plan matters, and why we’re all invested in it.

The phrase “strategic plan” can be used as a sleep aide. And cleverly named initiatives often hide a lack of substance.

But the university’s N2025 plan hangs real meat on the bones of an even bigger vision. A broad-based group of stakeholders built out a 25-year vision in conjunction with the university’s 150th anniversary last year. A smaller, more targeted group built the N2025 plan – unveiled by Chancellor Ronnie Green at his State of the University address — to accomplish the first chunk of the bigger goals.

The plan scales back lofty previous enrollment goals to a modest but solid 15%, a nod to the realities of demographics, and focuses on keeping the students that come, upping its first-to-second-year retention rate from 84.1% to 88%.

Reflecting our community’s and our nation’s diversity, the plan calls for increasing the number of entering underrepresented ethnic and racial groups by 7% and incorporating 20% more employees from underrepresented gender, ethnic and racial groups in leadership development programs.

The plan calls for an ambitious – and first-in-the-nation – goal of sending every graduate out into the world with a documented learning portfolio. The idea behind what Green calls “experiential” learning is that students will get the chance to apply their knowledge to real-world situations whether they be in a profession or a community-focused problem solving exercise.

Other goals are centered around the university’s research mission – both exposing students to cutting-edge concepts and bringing those ideas to bear on the nation’s and the world’s problems. And, of course, behind the research and the teaching is a commitment to attracting, keeping and developing an engaged and diverse faculty.

Underpinning all of this is the philosophy captured in the plan and articulated by Green that “Every person and every interaction matters.”

That sounds like the mantra of an institution that understands its obligation to its students, faculty, staff, Lincoln and the world.


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