Lincoln Journal Star. Feb. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Sasse censure vote by state GOP is policy vs. personality

Saturday’s vote by the Nebraska Republican state central committee on whether to censure Sen. Ben Sasse isn’t about policy. It’s all about personality.

Both Sasse and his critics agree that the vote will be about his criticism of former President Donald Trump, despite Sasse’s reliable Republican vote during Trump’s term in office. At some point, Republicans, in Nebraska and nationwide alike, must determine what their future holds with Trump out of office.

Regardless of whether one agrees with Sasse, the gesture of another censure is largely performative. His 2016 censure for not being supportive enough of Trump hasn’t hurt him at the polls.

The tsk-tsk of disapproval means little, especially given the six-year terms of the Senate were designed by the Constitution to insulate those in the Senate, unlike the House, from knee-jerk reactions of this nature. Sasse isn’t on the ballot again until 2026, anyway.

Though plenty of the criticism Sasse has received the past four years is merited, he’s now in the party’s doghouse for speaking the plain truth.

He was one of the first Republican members of Congress to acknowledge now-President Joe Biden’s electoral victory and criticized those who objected to the certification of Electoral College votes. Had those attempts somehow succeeded in invalidating certain states’ votes, Biden still would have won handily.

When Sasse and four other Republican senators voted that a second Senate impeachment trial of Trump was constitutional even though he’s out of office – a precedent exists with War Secretary William Belknap, who resigned in 1876 before being impeached and tried – Nebraska Republicans determined they’d had enough.

At least four counties’ party officials have already issued their own censures – all of which extensively cited Sasse’s rebukes of Trump as their primary rationale. This situation raises the question of the aim of a political party in today’s world: Is it about achieving desired results or orthodoxy?

Sasse voted in line with Trump on 84.8% of votes during the 45th president’s four years in office, according to fivethirtyeight.com. (Sen. Deb Fischer did so 89.1% of the time.) Sasse fell below the average among Republicans, but his percentage still exceeded Sens. Rick Scott, Jerry Moran, Mike Lee and Rand Paul – none of whom are facing censure from their respective state GOPs.

Other Republicans who, like Sasse, crossed the aisle after the Jan. 6 insurrection, such as Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney – the daughter of Lincoln-born former Vice President Dick Cheney – also faced similar condemnation from her state’s Republicans, no matter how much they towed the party line during Trump’s tenure.

If there’s more to the party than Trump’s larger-than-life shadow, Sasse’s upcoming censure vote – which has drawn national attention – provides the state’s Republican leaders a chance to show that policy can and should trump personality.

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Omaha World-Herald. Feb. 12, 2021.

Editorial: Let’s understand COVID’s harm to schools so we can address the problems

COVID has complicated life in countless ways over the past year. One of the most lamentable harms is the negative effect on education. A recent World-Herald examination analyzed the Nebraska data and identified some of the main learning losses.

The greatest the understanding of the specific academic harm, the better the likelihood that our schools can address it effectively. As educators appreciate, tackling these challenges will be a multiyear effort.

This challenge is, of course, by no means limited to Nebraska. It’s a global problem with which educators, students and parents are struggling worldwide.

World-Herald reporters studied academic data from 43 Nebraska school districts. One key finding: COVID complications have undercut achievement in math. This problem generally was universal, affecting districts of all sizes, urban and rural.

Course failure also has increased during the pandemic regardless of which learning mode students used, the data indicate. In Omaha Public Schools, the percentage of high schoolers failing two or more courses has increased from 19.2% pre-COVID to 34% now. That involves about 5,100 OPS high schoolers.

For OPS middle schoolers using remote learning, the two-course fail rate was 38.3%.

Failing two courses can complicate a high school senior’s ability to graduate. At the elementary and middle school level, the problem can indicate a significant academic gap to be addressed.

Melissa Comine, OPS’s chief academic officer, underlines the importance of these findings.

“The data is compelling,” she says. “It’s a call to action.”

The response must, of course, be multipronged. For the immediate future, adequate health protections for students, educators and staff remain imperative. So does helping seniors meet their needs in order to graduate. Longer-range responses, as the nation hopefully moves beyond the pandemic, will involve multiyear support to help students close learning gaps that began in their elementary or middle school years during the COVID era.

Mental health needs also must receive considerable attention. School can be a stressful experience for some students in any case, and for many, COVID unfortunately has increased that emotional burden. And the pandemic has disrupted the school experience for all children. Just one example: Lunchtime at school traditionally has been a daily occasion for relaxation and fellowship among students. But in many schools, COVID-related health protocols mean lunchtime is more of a solitary experience.

Teen suicide is the second-leading cause of death for Nebraska young people, and school personnel are on the front line of helping monitor teens’ emotional well-being. Nebraska has done fine work over the past decade or so in training educators to check for warning signs. That training must continue as our schools welcome new personnel. The Legislature would do well to give serious focus on a current proposal to fund a statewide helpline intended to supporting young people in mental health crisis.

No one denies the magnitude of the challenge facing our schools in the COVID era. By understanding the details of the problem, Nebraska has an important opportunity to shore up our children’s educational foundation to be as strong as it can possibly be.

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Kearney Hub. Feb. 8, 2021.

Editorial: COVID wins if city ends mask mandate

From the start, the city of Kearney’s official response to the coronavirus has been one of extreme caution. We strongly urge that our city’s leaders continue their cautious approach, and that Kearney’s mask mandate remain in effect until a substantial number of area residents have been vaccinated.

On Tuesday, the Kearney City Council will discuss lifting Kearney’s mandate. That would be a mistake. Rescinding the mandate at this moment would needlessly expose people to the coronavirus and signal that all is clear — a gesture that could encourage casual attitudes and lead to risky behavior.

The last thing we want is for COVID cases to rebound, just as we’ve begun to get things under control.

Until 80% of area residents have been vaccinated, mask wearing and other preventive measures must continue. COVID-19 deaths are preventable, but it requires widespread participation — mask wearing, social distancing, sanitizing surfaces and hand washing.

Participation is the beauty of Kearney’s mandate.

Enacted by a unanimous 5-0 vote on Nov. 17 with a sunset date of Feb. 23, the city’s requirement that people wear face coverings in public has contributed greatly to reducing the spread of the virus.

Masks block much of the virus-carrying droplets expelled into the air when people cough or sneeze. People who wear masks help to protect those around them from getting sick.

Kearney’s mandate is doing what the City Council intended when it heeded the urgings of local health care executives. They told council members that their doctors and nurses were overrun with COVID patients. Health care workers were mentally and emotionally exhausted, and fearful because there appeared to be no end in sight.

Today it’s a different picture, thanks in large part to the mandate. Case numbers are down and fewer COVID patients are being treated at Kearney hospitals. Kearney’s cautious strategy is saving lives.

Thanks to the mandate, we’re winning the race against COVID. But let’s not drop out of the race, not yet. We will not achieve herd immunity until 80% of the population is vaccinated. At the moment, about 4.5% of Nebraskans age 16 and older have received their shots.

We urge the City Council — out of an abundance of caution — to stay the course. Don’t pull out of the race early by lifting the mandate before vaccinations truly protect the citizens you govern.

Now is not the time for avoidable risks. Don’t decide — out of an abundance of misplaced confidence — that you’ve done enough. Slow and steady wins the race and, in this case, wearing a mask keeps us in the race.

END