Omaha World-Herald. May 26, 2021.

Editorial: Sound principle, not narrow partisanship, must guide Nebraska’s redistricting

Redistricting, even in Nebraska’s officially nonpartisan Legislature, has often proven a messy affair. And it’s not just the party-focused machinations of some lawmakers — it’s also the difficulty, separate from partisan politics, of redrawing rural districts in the wake of population decline.

Last week the Legislature’s redistricting committee sent a positive message in its initial meeting when some of its members showed independence in their voting. Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, a Republican, voted with the Democratic members on one issue. Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, a Democrat, voted with the Republican members on another.

The more the committee demonstrates that it’s guided by sound redistricting principles and less by narrow partisan scheming, the better the result for Nebraska. The committee will fail that test if its maps consistently favor one political interest over another.

A decade ago, lawmakers bickered furiously along partisan lines over some of the political maps. The Legislature will be making a big mistake if it repeats that pattern this time around. Past disputes sometimes fueled lawsuits — again, not at all what Nebraska needs.

This week, the Legislature considers a resolution from the redistricting committee on guiding principles lawmakers should follow. Honest debate is likely on whether to insist that the core of a district be protected. Many parts of the resolution are sound — that the Legislature should keep districts compact; keep counties politically intact as much as possible; and refrain from “favoring a political party.”

Final census figures won’t be released until mid-August. The Legislature ultimately will decide on the maps in a special session. Big questions include: How will Douglas and Sarpy Counties be drawn in the 2nd U.S. House District, since the district will once again shrink as a result of the Omaha area’s population growth? Will Douglas County remain intact in the 2nd District? What district or districts may be shifted from rural areas to the Omaha or Lincoln areas? How will the addition of one or more districts in eastern Nebraska affect the boundaries of other districts?

Members of the redistricting committee, regardless of party, must aim for fairness, and not partisan opportunism.


Lincoln Journal Star. May 26, 2021.

Editorial: Nebraska’s flag could use a makeover

Let’s get this straight now. No one is suggesting changing the round seal on the state flag to something more football-shaped. Or swapping the hammer-wielding smith with a highway worker holding a SLOW sign.

But our state flag, which, like Florida, Idaho and New Hampshire, simply features the state seal, isn’t so perfect that it doesn’t deserve a little rethinking. Seventeen states feature centered circle shapes. And almost half of the 50 state flags use the same shade of blue as Nebraska for their backgrounds.

Maybe, it is time -- as Jack Sokolik, a UNL junior from Omaha argued in a story in Monday’s Journal Star -- to freshen the look of the banner that represents our state so it delivers a clearer message of what Nebraska was, is and strives to become.

The original state seal was created by legislative action after Nebraska became a state on March 1, 1867. A cast iron press was used for almost 140 years before being retired by then-Secretary of State John Gale.

The crowded emblem packs a lot of history into a tight little circle -- a homestead, sheaves of grain and rows of corn representing agriculture; a steamship navigating the Missouri River and locomotive chugging toward the mountains to the west harken to the nation’s westward movement and the smith; an apron-clad man with his sleeves rolled up plying his trade on an anvil captures the industry of the state. Hovering above it all is the state motto, “Equality before the law.”

But waving in a stiff Nebraska wind, 20 or 50 or 80 feet up in the air, all that detail may be lost. And it’s down right impossible to make out the words of the state motto, which say more about Nebraska at its best than any single image could.

So maybe it’s time to give the artists and the vexillologists (studiers of flags, Journal Star reporter Chris Dunker told us) a shot at this. Dozens of possibilities have already been uploaded to a website dedicated to redesign of the Nebraska flag, Dunker wrote.

The state seal serves a legal purpose as stamp authenticating certain documents. In that use, its design works, the fine details easily readable by someone holding a proclamation or license at arm’s length or closer.

But a new flag could make an even stronger statement about who we are. Elevate the profile of our state motto. Simplify the visual depiction of our heritage -- maybe with a single image, like California’s bear, South Carolina’s palmetto or Colorado’s “C”. Use color to reflect our vibrant landscape. And include a visual hint at what we aspire to be.

Nebraska deserves to stand out. We need a flag that helps us.


North Platte Telegraph. May 30, 2021.

Editorial: Decoration Day and the general who started it

During North Platte’s first century, today — not tomorrow — was the day to observe Memorial Day.

It began in 1868 as Decoration Day, proclaimed by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan, second commander of the Grand Army of the Republic — the preeminent group of Northern Civil War veterans — and namesake of the first county north of here along U.S. Highway 83.

To understand the solemn roots of this day, when we recall those who died in uniform that our nation might live, it’s well to recall its founder and its roots in the original conflict that made it necessary.

Logan (1826-86) lived in southern Illinois, Abraham Lincoln’s adopted state, which bordered slaveholding Kentucky and where secessionist sentiments were rife.

Though elected to Congress from that area in December 1858, Logan strongly defended the Union during the tense years capped by Lincoln’s election as president, the formation of the Confederacy and the April 1861 attack on Fort Sumter.

“Blackjack” Logan volunteered for the Union Army and proved to be one of Gens. Ulysses S. Grant’s and William T. Sherman’s most dependable field commanders through war’s end in 1865.

Three years later, Logan — now a Republican congressman fighting for African American civil rights — learned his wife had visited a cemetery where Southerners had left flowers and planted small flags on graves of Confederate soldiers who died during Grant’s 1864-65 siege of Petersburg, Virginia.

These Confederate “Memorial Days” are still observed in eight Southern states, with dates in January, April or May.

It made Logan uncomfortable. He had complained in a Fourth of July 1866 speech in Salem, Illinois, that “traitors in the South have their gatherings, day after day, to strew garlands of flowers upon the graves of Rebel soldiers, that they may live in their memory as long as life shall last ...”

His comments reflected the feelings of Union veterans who long took a dim view of displays of the Confederate flag against which they had fought four bloody years.

Even so, Logan apparently took inspiration from what his wife had seen and resolved that Northern states should honor their war dead in like fashion.

So on May 5, 1868, he issued General Order No. 11 in his role as national GAR commander in chief:

“The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating, the grave of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, hamlet and churchyard in the land.”

Logan, who would be a GOP vice-presidential candidate in 1884, further paid tribute to the hundreds of thousands who fought to preserve the Union and liberate the slaves:

“Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. ...

“Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time, testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten, as a people, the cost of a free and undivided Republic.”

Believe it or not, Memorial Day didn’t become a national holiday remembering all American war dead until the Monday Holiday Act of 1971 set it on the last Monday of May, not May 30.

If you’re into the Indianapolis 500, watch its annual stirring tribute to our war dead about 15 minutes before the green flag drops today.

It’s because the race not only has always been associated with Memorial Day weekend but long was held precisely on May 30. (Even last year, when finally run in August due to COVID-19, the race’s Memorial Day tribute still took place.)

No matter the date, Decoration Day — which the GAR renamed Memorial Day in 1882 — did indeed endure as John A. Logan had ordered.

In time, it became a unifying day for our once-sundered land, a day to remember that our ancestors fought, bled and died together for decades before and especially after the worst of all our wars, the one we fought against each other.

Let us take the memory of how this day began and use it, both tomorrow and today, to recall how dear and how hard-won our unity as Americans truly is.