Don Walton: Dramatic change underway in Nebraska

September 10, 2018

A rather startling look at undergoing change in Nebraska framed an Open Sky Policy Institute symposium last week about the need to attract new people to the state and develop an adequate and growing workforce.

That means welcoming -- and retaining -- a diverse population that includes minority Americans and a growing influx of immigrants.

Start with these projections presented by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg:

* 69 of Nebraska’s 93 counties are losing population today.

* 60 counties are recording more deaths than births.

* Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties will be home to 68 percent of Nebraska’s population by 2050. That growing urban complex accounted for 52 percent of the state’s population in 2010.

All of that adds up to enormous demographic change that already is underway.

Nebraska has an aging and increasingly diverse population today; while the working age population is shrinking, the increase in aging Nebraskans points to growing health care costs.

And the increase in diversity has hiked some school costs.

“Workforce development is key to the growth of our state,” Williams told participants at the Open Sky event attended by a large number of state senators.

“It is our single largest challenge,” Williams said.

The basic research that paints this picture of dramatic change comes from David Drozd at the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research.

If you look at the ongoing shift of population, with the Omaha-Lincoln urban complex gaining political muscle statewide and within the Legislature while the power of rural Nebraska steadily declines, and factor in the growth of minority and immigrant numbers, you might imagine political change coming to Nebraska.

But, whoa, that’s way too speculative at this point.

Who knows what may lie three decades ahead?

* * *

“I conceive of myself as an independent conservative who happens to caucus with the Republicans,” Sen. Ben Sasse told Chuck Todd on Meet the Press on Sunday.

“But I’m committed to the party of Lincoln and Reagan as long as we can try to reform it and get it back to being a party that’s about the universal dignity of all Americans and the First Amendment as the beating heart of American life.

“But right now, that’s not what the party talks about very much.”

Sasse’s comments came in response to a question from Todd about a Sasse tweet on Saturday that said he “regularly” thinks about dropping his party affiliation, an observation that triggered a Twitter storm.

“I’m the second or third most conservative person in the Senate by the voting record, but I’m not particularly partisan,” Sasse told Todd, speaking from Fremont.

“I don’t care very much about these two parties because I don’t think either of them has a long-term vision.”

Here’s how the conversation with Todd ended:

Todd: “Sorry about those Huskers yesterday, but they look like they’re coming back.”

Sasse: “We’ll be back soon.”

* * *

John McCain.

He was here a number of times when he and Chuck Hagel were buddies.

Full of energy and mischief, he was incredibly open and accessible and conversational, available on his cellphone, even over breakfast along with Hagel.

With Congress now divided into tribes, McCain was the guy who was unafraid to sometimes stride across the aisle. He did it with compromise efforts on immigration reform and campaign finance reform.

And his final act was to literally turn thumbs-down on his party’s bid to essentially scuttle the Affordable Care Act, freezing a stunned Mitch McConnell in place.

Ted Kennedy used to wander across the aisle occasionally on big issues, too.

Who now?

First of all, you have to be bold and unafraid, devoted to more than your incumbency, sometimes willing to oppose a president and your own political party, ready to work with colleagues from the other side on the big stuff.

Not just an amendment or a fluffy piece of legislation; the hard stuff that desperately needs to be resolved.

Sasse delivered some hard words at the confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh last week, speaking the truth in a way that must have annoyed some of his colleagues.

“Most people here (in Congress) want their jobs more than they really want to do legislative work,” Sasse said.

Earlier, in his prepared remarks, he questioned whether “people want to be re-elected over and over again, and that’s your highest goal, if your biggest long-term thought around here is about your own incumbency.”

Finishing up

* In the wake of words spoken at last week’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing, is the solution really “hardening” of our schools? Surely, the Founders didn’t intend that we have to live or work or go to school in fortresses to be safe?

* You could have been a hero, Tristan.

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