Pete Ricketts: Nebraska Isn’t For Every One
Nebraska is currently suffering a serious brain drain of our best and brightest young people. According to a study from the University of Nebraska, Omaha, Nebraska ranked 10th worst in the country in out-migration of people twenty five and older with at least a bachelor’s degree from 2012 to 2016.
Apparently, Governor Pete Ricketts has realized this is a problem and earlier this fall, the state launched a $10 million national marketing campaign financed by money from the American Rescue Plan -which every Republican opposed. This public relations campaign is aimed at attracting people to come to Nebraska for jobs and to enjoy the so-called” good life” that Nebraska can supposedly provide.
The marketing campaign initially will be targeted to audiences in other midwestern cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago and Kansas City. Ricketts hopes to convince young people to raise their families in Nebraska.
Meanwhile, the University of Nebraska Lincoln is making its own effort to attract young people to Nebraska when it introduced a plan aimed at increasing diversity across the entire institution. The President of the NAACP Omaha Chapter, Michael Williams described the plan as follows: “This plan is a major commitment to action and center around, as Chancellor Ronnie Green puts it, ‘concrete steps built within five themes’ as follows: Advancing diversity and inclusion across the institution; positioning excellence and learning through diversity; promoting community, sense of belonging and mattering; building and sustaining anti-racist infrastructure and accountability; and acknowledging the impact of COVID-19 on communities who are under-resourced or racially minoritized.”
Pete Ricketts, Jim Pillen and their radical right wing allies declared war on UNL in response to its diversity plan. Ricketts falsely claimed that the UNL plan included critical race theory — which isn’t even mentioned anywhere in the document.
Ricketts further escalated his war against Nebraska’s flagship university by essentially calling Chancellor Ronnie Green a liar. Moreover, Ricketts swung wildly when he claimed the diversity plan was Marxist, communist and anti-American. The billionaire governor even alleged that UNL is “racist.”
These allegations are reckless, harmful and simply unhinged. This is probably the first time in American history when a governor has attempted to sully the good reputation of the flagship university of his own state. (Incidentally, our billionaire governor didn’t even attend any of the state universities in Nebraska. Instead, he obtained his degrees from the elite University of Chicago.)
Ricketts’ trashing of UNL caused a firestorm of criticism in response. State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh sent a letter to Ricketts and the pertinent excerpts are as follows: “I fear you are leading our state down a dark and potentially evil path. It is not right for people in positions of power to strike fear in the majority that minority might someday have an equal voice in power.”
Attacking the leader of our flagship university, while he has continuously advocated for budget cuts to the University of Nebraska system. I wonder why young people leave this state and we have a worker shortage? Riley Slezak, third year UNL law student.
Pretty incredible to watch some of our state leaders pretend that our statewide skilled worker shortage is due to vaccines and not years of them proposing backwards policies and making crazy statements for a primary. Then doing nothing substantive to keep young Nebraskans here. State Senator Adam Morfeld tweet.
In a debate on the floor of the legislature earlier this year, Senator Megan Hunt addressed the issue of the exodus of talented young people from Nebraska. Hunt criticized GOP senators for “not doing things to increase the state’s population and grow the tax base, which she has said would include things like increasing the minimum wage and enacting stronger protections for LGBT people.”
“You are all in a hamster wheel, going around and around and around, trying to figure out the solution, trying literally any harebrained idea that comes your way, except for the ideas that’ll actually work,” Hunt said.
Ricketts and his right wing Republican followers are extremists who are harming the state. Their reactionary policies are discouraging workers from locating to Nebraska and encouraging young people to leave the state. As a former candidate and an activist, I have talked to a lot of young people. The perception they get from the likes of Ricketts is that Nebraska is a backwards state that simply isn’t very welcoming.
According to both business and academic leaders in Nebraska, our state’s biggest problem is a shortage of skilled workers. It’s not income taxes or property taxes. “We have a workforce crisis in this state,” said former University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds. “This is now the most pressing economic issue in the state,” agreed Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “It doesn’t get a lot of attention, but we are on the cusp of this becoming the 1,000-pound gorilla.”
In 2020, Slone, summarized statewide business sentiment this way: “As we go forward, diversity and inclusion is not an option, it’s not something nice — it’s fundamental to the economic development of our state.”
If Nebraska is to move forward and retain young people, we need to reject this ideological right wing strait jacket imposed on us by radical Republicans like Ricketts. These so-called leaders have made it clear that our state’s tourism slogan also applies to our citizens — it’s not for everyone. The Governor and his extreme followers are chasing people out of Nebraska who don’t agree with their reactionary world view. Thanks to them, Nebraska is slipping backwards.
This state needs major structural change. We need to create new tax revenue streams by legalizing gambling and marijuana. We also need to welcome immigrants and LGBT citizens. That is the only way Nebraska will move forward as a state. We’ve tried the GOP right wing policies of lower taxes on the wealthy and corporations for the last twenty years. Those policies have failed. It’s time for something new. Now let’s get it done!