Omaha World-Herald. Nov. 8

Nebraska Legislature faces challenges in 2021 session

The 2020 elections for the Nebraska Legislature are complete, setting the stage for a challenging session at the State Capitol come January. The elections left the Legislature’s ideological and partisan dynamics essentially the same. The Legislature, in short, remains widely divided among conservatives, centrists and progressives.

Since it takes only 17 members to sustain a filibuster, it’s entirely possible the Legislature could fall into delay and stalemate next year on a range of complex issues (social justice, redistricting, prison policy, taxes, budgeting) — unless lawmakers make it a priority to build trust with each other and promote consensus-building.

The state legislative election results in the Omaha area are encouraging. Terrell McKinney, an energetic Nebraskan with strong roots in North Omaha, will be the new senator for District 11, currently represented by Ernie Chambers, who is term-limited. Two other freshmen — John Cavanaugh and Jen Day — are thoughtful Omahans with great potential to be bridge-builders. Former Bellevue Mayor Rita Sanders, elected in Sarpy County, has proven ability.

The Omaha area reelected a set of strong incumbents (Sens. Carol Blood, Tony Vargas, Mike McDonnell and Lou Ann Linehan) and will be returning Rich Pahls to the Millard- area seat he held during previous two-term service at the Legislature. Pahls has demonstrated notable independent-mindedness on the Omaha City Council in recent years, and that approach should serve him well during his renewed service in Lincoln.

With the elections over, state senators have entered the pre-session period that could be called the Weeks of Intrigue. That is the post-election period when senators plan strategy for running for speaker or committee positions, and the Legislature’s various informal factions gauge prospective vote counts to elect contenders.

Such jockeying is a regular part of pre-session activity, but lawmakers — as well as the Governor’s Office, which exerts great influence on some senators — need to keep the politicking within proper bounds. Ample experience at the Legislature shows the harm when too many senators and executive-branch operatives focus excessively on political scheming, sowing division and a lack of trust that hinder cooperative policy-making.

Many of the issues next session will be challenging enough as it is. Conservatives and progressives could easily sink into deadlock over proposals involving social justice and prison policy. Senators will need to negotiate constructively if they’re going to take up the tax-policy overhaul proposed by the Blueprint Nebraska initiative. And redistricting always brings out fierce partisan struggles.

Senators will choose a new speaker next session, and he or she will play a crucial role in setting the tone. The speaker must send a vital message: All senators are equal, and the focus must be on collaborative policy-making, not politicking.

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Kearney Hub. Nov. 5

Staying

The spread of the coronavirus reminds us that everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. That would include an infectious disease outbreak that requires social distancing, quarantine or isolation, said Mikayla Johnson, disaster behavioral health coordinator and administrator for the Division of Behavioral Health with the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.

“An outbreak like this affects everyone, and an emotional response to its impact is normal,” Johnson said. “However, don’t allow worries about the virus to control your life.”

She advised that in addition to following processes intended to protect physical health, it’s important to pay attention to mental health related to the outbreak. People may feel:

Anxiety, worry or fear related to health status.

Worried about time taken off from work and the potential loss of income and job security.

The challenges of acquiring necessities, such as groceries and personal care items.

Loneliness associated with feeling cut off from the world and from loved ones.

Anger at being exposed to the disease because of others’ perceived negligence.

Boredom and frustration at not being able to work or engage in regular activities.

Ambivalence about the situation.

A desire to use alcohol or drugs to cope.

Feelings of hopelessness, changes in appetite, or sleeping too little or too much.

People who experience these emotions can prevent them from dominating their lives. Get busy and help yourself, advises Johnson.

Manage your fears and anxieties by accessing reliable information. Social media frequently is used to spread rumors. It’s important to remember that fact because a bombardment of rumors and questionable information will negatively affect mental health.

Also, although election season is behind us, the national media will continue broadcasting news that may cause anxiety and distress. The sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried. Get the facts.

Rely on and share trusted sources of information about the causes of outbreaks from reputable sources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Nebraska DHHS’s dedicated coronavirus page.

Maintaining social networks can help maintain a sense of normalcy,

Be certain to stay connected.

Don’t focus on factors you can’t control. Public health agencies and experts in all Nebraska counties are working on the outbreak to ensure the availability of the best care to those affected.

Finally, look out for your physical health. Get started on an exercise routine, but don’t stop there. Exercising regularly can help a lot, and so can regular sleep routines and healthy food. Minding your physical fitness will reduce some of the stress and anxiety that may be afflicting you, but remember, you don’t have to fight alone.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Nov. 8

Other states should follow Nebraska’s, Maine’s lead on splitting electoral votes

Omaha’s 2nd Congressional District turned heads nationally and internationally in 2008 when voters there bucked the rest of the state and supported Barack Obama over John McCain.

The district again split its vote this year, providing a vital Electoral College tally for Joe Biden, and it’s been joined in the last two elections by one of the congressional districts in Maine that has broken for Donald Trump over his Democratic challengers.

As is the case with its unicameral state Legislature, Nebraska was a pioneer in good governance when it adopted a system that could split electoral votes.

Accordingly, other states should follow our lead and adopt a more democratic system that better reflects their voters.

Voices from the left have loudly called for the abolition of the Electoral College for a nationwide popular vote. Considering the Democratic candidate has won the popular vote but lost the presidency twice this century, the motive for such a move is simple. But mustering support for the required constitutional amendment – which small states fear would dilute their impact – makes it all but impossible.

Instead, the best way to get a better, more representative cross-section of the electorate is to follow the lead of Nebraska and Maine and split votes by House district. Rather than making elections all about certain states and depressing motivation among voters in the minority party, the vote-splitting system encourages more competitive and representative elections.

Introduced by former Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, the state’s current system was approved on 25-23 vote in 1991 and signed into law by then-Gov. Ben Nelson. It mirrored Maine’s approach, which was approved in 1972 and took effect in the following year’s presidential election.

Republicans in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature have unsuccessfully pushed since then – nearly succeeding in 2016 – to return Nebraska to the winner-take-all method. The reason why isn’t hard to see, as Trump beat Biden by a roughly 60-40 margin statewide in this week’s general election.

But rather than considering how Nebraska’s system is wrong, other states should remove their partisan shades and see the light – and consider adopting it to better reflect their voters.

Consider that Biden appears to have won Wisconsin by about the same votes (around 20,000) that he did in Nebraska’s 2nd District, yet he claims all 11 of the state’s electoral votes. Or that Trump could claim 100% of North Carolina’s allotment despite being selected by only a plurality of its voters.

Such a seismic shift would no doubt be a huge lift for reform-minded state legislators across the country, given that elections are almost entirely state affairs. Political parties in the majority wouldn’t like to see their electoral strength weakened, and swing states seem to enjoy their outsized impact on presidential races and the result policy.

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