When all is said and done ...

November 28, 2018

A majority of those who ran for or got elected to the Nebraska Legislature earlier this month gave lip service to the property tax problem that must be discussed during the coming session.

Even Gov. Pete Ricketts promised, again, that this would be his priority. Let’s hope that such talk evolves into an overhaul of the state’s entire tax system. He says cutting taxes and promoting business growth will remain his top priorities for his next four years in office. He also says he thinks a similar measure in the last session wasn’t fully debated or understood.

Let’s hope, as well, that such talk doesn’t overshadow the other elephant in the room – the ailing Department of Corrections. Both issues absolutely have to be addressed.

Omaha Senator Steve Lathrop is coming back after his four-year term limit time out. He proved himself to be intrepid when he was hired during his absence as counsel to a special committee tracking down problems with the department. His presence was visibly discomforting to Corrections Director Scott Frakes and the governor. And that is a good thing, a very good thing.

I look forward to a continuing investigation into the execution of Carey Dean Moore which was done with questionable drugs in a questionable fashion by a seemingly zealous team of Ricketts, Frakes and Attorney General Doug Peterson. Their hurry to get the killing of a fellow Nebraskan done before the election was highly suspect to me. Almost as suspect as Ricketts funding of a ballot measure to reinstate the death penalty in the 2016 election.

All this from the same governor who proudly posed with the newly minted Choose Life Nebraska license plates and proclaimed that Nebraska is a pro-life state. I guess that applies only to the unborn and not the men on death row. Oh well, we’ve grown accustomed to this double standard from the executive branch. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

When Frakes refused to answer questions from the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, the committee tried to subpoena him. Peterson sued the Legislature and Lancaster County District Judge Lori Maret – who scored the lowest approval ranking in a recent Nebraska Bar Association survey – sided with the AG’s office and said he can sue the Legislature.

All of that unprecedented legal wrangling, coupled with the governor’s open dislike of Crete Senator Laura Ebke, the Judiciary Committee chair, likely cost her re-election. Ebke left the Republican party two years ago after Ricketts called out senators who didn’t vote the party line. And all this time we thought we had a nonpartisan Legislature.

Does any of this smell to you, especially at a time when we have people screaming and hollering about this happening on a national level?

While the Republican majority trips over themselves to secure committee chairmanships and rules they can use to bludgeon the minority in the 106th Legislature, the important issue of tax reform gets talked about, but the unsolved murders of at least two inmates – that we know of – in a Mother’s Day 2015 riot at the Tecumseh Prison, isn’t even on the table anymore. Oh yes, there was a second riot there – excuse me, the Governor and Department of Corrections prefer we call them incidents – in March 2017 and charges have been filed in at least one of the two deaths during that “incident”.

But the number of assaults and employee turnover and lack of programming availability and overcrowding continues to grow as well. That’s not talk, that’s fact.

Enough talk. Let’s have some action.

J.L. Schmidt has been covering Nebraska government and politics since 1979. He has been a registered Independent for 19 years.

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