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At Capitol, Bush saluted as 'gentle soul'

WASHINGTON — The nation's capital embraced George H.W. Bush in death Monday with solemn ceremony and high tributes to his service and decency, as the remains of the 41st president took their place in the Capitol rotunda for three days of mourning and praise by the political elite and everyday citizens alike.

With Bush's casket atop the Lincoln Catafalque, first used for Abraham Lincoln's 1865 funeral, dignitaries came forward to honor the Texan whose efforts for his country extended three quarters of a century, from World War II through his final years as an advocate for volunteerism and relief for people displaced by natural disaster.

President from 1989 to 1993, Bush died Friday at age 94.

In an invocation opening Monday evening's ceremony, the U.S. House chaplain, the Rev. Patrick J Conroy, praised Bush's commitment to public service, from Navy pilot to congressman, U.N. ambassador, envoy to China and then CIA director before being elected vice president and then president.

"Here lies a great man," said Rep. Paul Ryan, the House speaker, and "a gentle soul. ... His legacy is grace perfected."

Vice President Mike Pence and Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell also spoke.

But political combatants set aside their fights to honor a Republican who led in a less-toxic time and at times found commonality with Democrats despite sharp policy disagreements. Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, past and incoming House speaker, exchanged a warm hug with George W. Bush and came away dabbing her face. Bush himself seemed to be holding back tears.

Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, placed wreaths during the short ceremony before the rotunda was to be opened to the public. It was to remain open overnight.

Sent off from Texas with a 21-gun salute, Bush's casket was carried to Joint Base Andrews outside the capital city aboard an aircraft that often serves as Air Force One and designated "Special Air Mission 41" in honor of Bush's place on the chronological list of presidents.

Cannons roared again outside the Capitol as the sun sank and his eldest son, former President George W. Bush, stood with his hand over his heart, watching the casket's procession up the steps.

Bush was remembered just feet away from what he called "Democracy's front porch," the west-facing steps of the Capitol where he was sworn in as president.

He will lie in state in the Capitol for public visitation through Wednesday. An invitation-only funeral service is set for Wednesday at Washington National Cathedral. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are to attend. They paid their respects Monday night at the Capitol.

Although Bush's funeral services are suffused with the flourishes accorded presidents, by his choice they will not include a formal funeral procession through downtown Washington.

The younger former President Bush, his wife, Laura, and others from the family traveled on the flight from Houston.

Sunday, students, staff and visitors had flocked to Bush's presidential library on the campus of Texas A&M University, with thousands of mourners paying their respects at a weekend candlelight vigil at a nearby pond and others contributing to growing flower memorials at Bush statues at both the library and a park in downtown Houston.

"I think he was one of the kindest, most generous men," said Marge Frazier, who visited the downtown statue Sunday while showing friends from California around.

After services in Washington, Bush's body will be returned to Houston to lie in repose at St. Martin's Episcopal Church before burial Thursday at his family plot on the library grounds. His final resting place will be alongside Barbara Bush, his wife of 73 years who died in April, and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia in 1953 at age 3.

Trump has ordered the federal government closed Wednesday for a national day of mourning. Flags on public buildings are flying at half-staff for 30 days out of respect for Bush.

Bush's passing puts him back in the Washington spotlight after more than two decades living the relatively low-key life of a former president. His death also reduces membership in the ex-presidents' club to four: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

One of Bush's major achievements was assembling the international military coalition that liberated the tiny, oil-rich nation of Kuwait from invading neighbor Iraq in 1991. The war lasted just 100 hours. He also presided over the end of the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

A humble hero of World War II, Bush was just 20 when he survived being shot down during a bombing run over a Japanese island. He had joined the Navy when he turned 18.

Shortly before leaving the service, he married his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, and forged the longest presidential marriage in U.S. history. Bush enrolled at Yale University after military service, becoming a scholar-athlete and captaining the baseball team to two College World Series before graduating Phi Beta Kappa after just 2½ years.

After moving to Texas to work in the oil business, Bush turned his attention to politics in the 1960s. He was elected to the first of two terms in Congress in 1967. He would go on to serve as ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee before being elected to two terms as Ronald Reagan's vice president.

Soon after he reached the height of his political popularity following the liberation of Kuwait, with public approval ratings that are the envy of today's politicians, the U.S. economy began to sour and voters began to believe that Bush, never a great communicator — something even he acknowledged — was out of touch with ordinary people.

He was denied a second term by Clinton, who would later become a close friend. The pair worked together to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and of Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005.

"Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton of all people?" he joked in 2005.

In a recent essay, Clinton declared of Bush: "I just loved him."

KAYLA WOLF, Journal Star 

Camden McKenzie (left) and Nate Stinemates (right) embrace teammate Dimitri Monteith following his tie-breaking throw that gave Fremont the boys state title in the NSAA Unified Bowling championships Monday at Sun Valley Lanes. Results on Page B2. More photos

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Firefighters union pitches using excess sales tax funds to add features back to new stations

Committee members overseeing the financing for the city's new emergency radio system and new police and fire stations said Monday that the Lincoln City Council should solicit public input on how to spend excess funds from the three-year quarter-cent sales tax.

Monday’s meeting was the committee's first since the sales tax ended Oct. 1, and it highlighted the contentious jockeying over how the expected $2.162 million surplus will be best spent.

Some city officials have proposed spending the excess funds on new fire engines and trucks to help in replacing an aging fleet. Others have proposed the surplus be reserved for future police radio system needs.

The Lincoln Firefighters Union believes it should be designated to replace items previously stripped from construction plans for the four new stations as cost-saving measures.

Lincoln Public Safety Director Tom Casady, who sits on the committee, called the deliberative process on how the city should spend extra tax revenue one of the most difficult in his 45-year career.

Several committee members said they wanted to see what trend construction costs take as work on the new stations, including a joint police and fire station, continue through 2020. They noted there isn’t a rush to spend the money.

“If the city council is really interested in what the public wants to know, putting out the call for comments would be a lot better way to find a wider participation,” committee member Tyler Mainquist said.

Voters in 2015 enacted the ballot measure to replace the outdated public safety radio system and build new fire stations to better serve the growing city.

Casady said he believes the four new fire stations can be built for $24 million.

Fire Station 15 at 6601 Pine Lake Road, which includes a joint police station, is expected to be completed by next spring.

Work is progressing on Station 10 at 24th and Superior streets and Station 12 near 84th Street and Pioneers Boulevard, both of which will replace existing fire stations.

Much of the work on Fire Station 16 won’t get underway until spring, Casady said.

Firefighter Union President Ron Trouba attended Monday's meeting, and at times, chimed in with the union’s position on some of the previously eliminated features that could be added back into the stations under construction.

Casady mentioned that one of the union’s recommendations was to add floor drains in the stations' bathrooms, work Trouba said still could be completed on the three stations that haven’t had their floors poured yet.

Another union recommendation, to ensure each station had its own backup generator, could cost up to $160,000, Casady said.

And a union proposal to install fencing around the employee parking at the stations to prevent break-ins has merit, but these break-ins are rare events, Casady said.

And it would be too expensive to do right, he told the committee.

“I don’t think that should be done at all if it isn’t done right,” he said.

Committee member Dick Campbell said he believes the committee should stick to its original proposal to hold onto any excess money to prepare for future radio system needs.

Closing in on the end of his career, Casady said it pains him that his motives in overseeing the project have been questioned.

He’s not running for any political office, he said, and his only goal once he retires will be spending time with his grandchildren.

Until then, his aim is to keep these projects on-budget and deliver a value for both the taxpayers and the public safety workers using the new stations.

“I’m hopeful that as my career winds down we open up four gorgeous public safety facilities that serve this community and the police officers and firefighters very well for the next 30 to 40 years,” Casady said.

EMILY BLOBAUM, Journal Star 

Nebraska guard Glynn Watson goes up for a layup against Illinois at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Sunday.

Retaliatory tariffs cost Nebraska agriculture $1 billion, report finds

Retaliatory tariffs triggered by U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by the Trump administration have led to between $700 million and $1 billion in lost farm income in Nebraska this year, according to a report released Monday by the Nebraska Farm Bureau.

Additional costs include between $164 million and $242 million in lost labor income, along with the loss of 4,100 to 6,000 jobs, the economic analysis stated.

"This report provides a clear picture of how much we've lost due to those tariffs and the need to improve our trade relations," Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said.

President Donald Trump imposed steep U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports earlier this year.

In a news release summarizing the retaliatory impact on Nebraska agriculture, the Farm Bureau steered clear of any criticism of the president, avoiding even mentioning his name.

"International trade is critical to agriculture," Nelson said.

"In most years, the value of agriculture exports will equal roughly 30 percent of the total agricultural commodity receipts or sales for the state of Nebraska."

The economic analysis prepared for the Farm Bureau specifically examined the impact on corn, soybeans and hogs, the products most affected by the retaliatory tariffs.

"The total loss in Nebraska farm revenues due to the retaliatory tariffs ranges from $695 million to $1.026 billion so far in 2018," Jay Rempe, Nebraska Farm Bureau senior economist and co-author of the new report, stated.

"That's roughly 11 to 16 percent of the export values of Nebraska agricultural goods in 2017."

The total loss to the broader Nebraska economy was estimated as high as $1.2 billion. That, Rempe said, is "a significant hit to our state's economy."

Looking forward, the report called for congressional approval of the new trade agreement forged by the United States, Mexico and Canada, along with elimination of the recent U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs.

In addition, the report urged swift action to secure free-trade agreements with Japan and with the European Union, along with U.S. inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement or bilateral trade agreements with TPP nations, as well as a multinational approach toward China.

Earlier, in an upbeat assessment of the potential for substantial property tax relief, Nelson said "we are turning the corner" in gaining legislative support for meaningful action. 

"This issue is no longer headed in the wrong direction," Nelson told more than 350 farmers and ranchers from across the state during an address to the Farm Bureau state convention in Kearney.

"It's headed in the right direction," he said.

"If you walk into the Capitol today, you would be hard-pressed to find many senators who would say property taxes aren't a major issue for their constituents."

But, Nelson noted, "partnerships with other interests will be needed" to secure the votes required to advance a meaningful property tax relief measure during the upcoming legislative session that convenes next month.

"Making significant change to state tax policy is like turning an aircraft carrier," Nelson said. "It takes time. It's large. It's cumbersome. It doesn't turn on a dime."

Nelson's positive assessment of progress in meeting the goal of substantial property tax relief follows in the wake of a standoff earlier this year that ended with Speaker Jim Scheer's unsuccessful effort to seek a compromise tax agreement in the final days of the 2018 legislative session.

Private negotiations that Scheer arranged following an impasse on the floor of the Legislature broke down with no consensus agreement within reach.

"The Nebraska Farm Bureau remains laser-focused on resolving this issue," Nelson said. The farm organization counts 61,000 members.