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Local
editor's pick alert top story
Lynn Ayers: 'Over 16,000 victims. I just need to breathe.'

After 41 rewarding, yet traumatizing, work years, Lynn Ayers is looking forward to having absolutely no plans.

“I need space to figure out what life can be once the weight is lifted,” Ayers said. “Forty-one years of child sex assault cases. Over 16,000 victims. I just need to breathe.”

Ayers intentionally neglected retirement plans because she needs time to let go of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Child Advocacy Center, which she has cared for deeply since founding the “little yellow house” in 1998.

When the advocacy center opened in Antelope Park on a cool, crisp fall evening, she cried tears of joy as a crowd overflowed the area. 

But one of the most “magical” decisions of her life would also bring some of her darkest days, she said. Ayers personally interviewed over 4,000 victims of child sexual assault.

She was on call for emergency interviews for 10 years straight and spent one Christmas working a child homicide.

“Sitting across the table, listening, seeking to understand, and getting the horrific details necessary to prosecute a case,” Ayers said. “And even then, in your gut, you know this isn’t the worst that happened. Not even close. Those times will stay locked away forever."

Ayers did an incredible job with the very depressing task of working with children who have been abused sexually, mentally and physically, said Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner, who serves on the board of directors at the Child Advocacy Center. 

"It's a tough job that only the CAC does to speak for those child victims and to give a voice to those who don't have one," Wagner said. "Lynn did that while still maintaining her sanity." 

It is rewarding to be part of the solution, Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister said, but it is a reality that special-victims workers see society in its darkest hour

"Lynn was so committed to advancing protections for children who are victims of the most egregious crimes you can't even imagine," Bliemeister said. 

There were many victories, accomplishments and special memories created during her tenure. 

Ayers opened two satellite offices, helped train 350 officers across the state on child interviewing, gained national accreditation twice with not a single area for improvement, and built some of her strongest friendships. 

Recently, the child abuse charging justification form at the Lancaster County Attorney's Office was named the "Lynn form."

Despite the intensity of the job, Ayers has no regrets and encourages other people to follow their calling.

“Some people go through life with a 9-to-5 job,” Ayers said. “This was never a job for me … it was my life and my purpose.”

Ayers joked the best part of retirement will be not worrying every single time she hears sirens on a firetruck or a police car passing by.  

She bought a hammock and is helping her daughter plan her wedding. She would like to get involved in politics one day, but is not sure on the specifics.

She will not be doing anything anytime soon.

“Good and bad, this shaped my life,” Ayers said. “Part of retirement is just letting go.”


COURTESY PHOTO 

Lynn Ayers is shown in the 1980s at her office in Wahoo in a photo that illustrates the work caseworkers did with child victims. Ayers was the Director of Saunders County Youth Services before she founded the Child Advocacy Center in Lincoln. 


Govt-and-politics
editor's pick alert top story
Embarrassments heighten difficulty for Democrats in Republican-dominated Nebraska

OMAHA — It's never been easy to be a Democrat in Nebraska, but somehow it keeps getting even harder.

The 29% of Nebraska voters registered as Democrats is the smallest in at least 50 years, and that’s only one indication of the party’s problems.

Just in the last week, the party urged its U.S. Senate nominee to resign after he admitted to sending sexually offensive text messages to a campaign staffer. And its nominee in a largely rural congressional district ditched the party so he could run on the “Legal Marijuana Now” ticket. That followed a recent Democratic nominee for governor endorsing the Republican in the state's sole historically competitive U.S. House district.

The local Republican Party chapter in Omaha put it bluntly in a recent tweet: “Nebraska Dems have a dumpster fire on their hands."

Or as former Nebraska Democratic Party executive director Paul Landow noted, “For a Democrat to win statewide office, something really crazy would have to happen.”

It wasn't always this way.

Although the last Democratic presidential candidate to win Nebraska was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964, members of the party were once competitive. Democrat Bob Kerrey was elected governor and to the U.S. Senate in the 1980s and 1990s, and Ben Nelson served two terms as governor in the 1990s and was twice elected to the U.S. Senate. And in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama won the Omaha-based congressional district, thus earning a single Electoral College vote under Nebraska's unusual system.

But more than a decade has passed since a Democrat won a statewide election, and Republican nominees now aren't even seriously challenged.

Even some Republicans bemoan the situation.

“It’s better to have competitive races, both in the primary and general elections,” said J.L. Spray, a GOP national committee member and former state party chairman. “The voters should have a choice.”

Democrats say their biggest problem is a lack of money, and they argue the national party is short-changing states like Nebraska in favor of states seen as more competitive in presidential politics.

Jane Kleeb, the state party chairwoman, noted that when Howard Dean was the Democratic Party's chairman, its national committee had a 50-state strategy that guaranteed at least $25,000 a month to every state party regardless of its size. That period of 2005 to 2009 coincided with Nelson's reelection to U.S. Senate and Obama's Electoral College win.

Later, Kleeb said, the party reduced Nebraska’s monthly share to $2,500 a month before raising it again to $10,000. But by then, she said, the party had ceded too much ground to Republicans and had grown disconnected from rural voters, who tend to turn out in greater proportions than those in Omaha and Lincoln.

“We’re having to rebuild relationships with voters who feel like the party has turned its backs on them,” said Kleeb, who published a book this year on how Democrats could win in rural America. “Rural voters used to see our faces and hear our voices, and those years are now gone.”

Kleeb said she’s focused on rebuilding the party and trying to recruit strong candidates even though many are reluctant to jump into races with long odds.

Democrats reelect Kleeb, focus on climate change, racism

Nebraska Democrats reelected Jane Kleeb as state chair, chose a multi-racial mix of party leaders and presidential electors and began consideration of a party platform that focuses on the environment, racism and health care during a weekend virtual state convention.

As the general election approaches, Democrats are facing a host of problems, starting with the effort to unseat Republican Sen. Ben Sasse.

The Democratic nominee, Chris Janicek, was always a long shot, but after a staffer revealed he had sent her text messages asking whether his campaign ought to spend money “getting her laid," the party asked him to quit. Janicek has refused to step down, and under state law, the party can’t force him off the ballot without his consent.

Unless a replacement is found, there will be no Democrat listed in the 3rd Congressional District. Nominee Mark Elworth Jr. had been the nominee but opted to run as a marijuana party candidate.

In the typically competitive 2nd district, it's unclear how much it will damage Democrat Kara Eastman that the party's 2018 nominee for governor endorsed Republican incumbent Don Bacon.

Democrats who have won in Nebraska said they're surprised how dramatically the state's political climate has shifted.

When Kerrey, a decorated Navy SEAL, returned to Nebraska in 2012 to run for his old U.S. Senate seat, Republicans tagged him as an out-of-touch carpetbagger because he had been living in New York. Kerrey lost in a landslide to Republican Deb Fischer, a rancher and state senator.

“There was hardly any party when I ran in 2012,” Kerrey said. “You get out of Omaha and Lincoln, and finding an elected Democrat is like hunting for a unicorn.”

The problem, Kerrey said, is about ideology as much as it is about money and reflects a leftward move of the national Democratic Party.

“If your conclusions about social and economic policy are in the minority, then you’re going to be in the minority,” Kerrey said.

Even in the past, Democrats typically lost unless facing unpopular incumbents, said Kim Robak, a Democratic lieutenant governor under Nelson. Robak said Nelson was able to unseat then-Republican Gov. Kay Orr largely because Orr approved a tax package that some voters viewed as a tax increase.

“Since then, the Republicans have become a lot more careful,” she said.

Nebraska Democrats have fared somewhat better in local elections and the nonpartisan Legislature, but they’re still relegated to the minority.

Democrats thought they might have a winning candidate in Jane Raybould, a moderate Lincoln businesswoman and city councilwoman who ran for U.S. Senate in 2018. Raybould launched her campaign in the heat of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China, outlining a pro-trade agenda as farmers struggled financially.

Still, Fischer coasted to reelection with nearly 58% of the vote in a year when wins elsewhere enabled Democrats to take control of the House.

Raybould said raising money was difficult because the state party's donor base is so small and out-of-state donors consider any Nebraska race to be unwinnable. Equally hard was convincing voters to consider a Democrat.

“It really is challenging to run for statewide office as a Democrat," she said. “You’re already at a tremendous voter disadvantage. You’re already facing an uphill battle.”


International
AP
CORONAVIRUS
World hits coronavirus milestones amid fears worse to come

The world surpassed two sobering coronavirus milestones Sunday — 500,000 confirmed deaths, 10 million confirmed cases — and hit another high mark for daily new infections as governments that attempted reopenings continued to backtrack and warn that worse news could be yet to come.

“COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who allowed businesses to start reopening in early May but on Friday shut down bars and limited restaurant dining amid a spike in cases.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled back reopenings of bars in seven counties, including Los Angeles. He ordered them to close immediately and urged eight other counties to issue local health orders mandating the same.

More Florida beaches will be closing again to avoid further spread of the new coronavirus as officials try to tamp down on large gatherings amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said interactions among young people are driving the surge.

“Caution was thrown to the wind and so we are where we are," DeSantis said.

South Africa’s health minister warned that the country’s current surge of cases is expected to rapidly increase in the coming weeks and push hospitals to the limit. Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said the current rise in infections has come from people who “moved back into the workplace."

New clusters of cases at a Swiss nightclub and in the central English city of Leicester showed that the virus was still circulating widely in Europe, though not with the rapidly growing infection rate seen in parts of the U.S., Latin America and India.

Poland and France, meanwhile, attempted a step toward normalcy as the countries held elections that had been delayed by the virus.

Wearing mandatory masks, social distancing in lines and carrying their own pens to sign voting registers, French voters cast ballots in a second round of municipal elections. Poles also wore masks and used hand sanitizer, and some in virus-hit areas were told to mail in their ballots.

In Texas, Abbott appeared with Vice President Mike Pence, who cut campaign events from upcoming visits to Florida and Arizona because of rising virus cases in those states.

Pence praised Abbott for both his decision to reopen the state, and to roll back the reopening plans.

“You flattened the curve here in Texas ... but about two weeks ago something changed,” Pence said.

Pence urged people to wear masks when unable to practice social distancing. He and Abbott wore face masks as they entered and left the room, taking them off while speaking to reporters.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, meanwhile, defended the fact that President Donald Trump has rarely worn a mask in public, saying he doesn’t have to follow his own administration’s guidance because as a leader of the free world he’s tested regularly and is in “very different circumstances than the rest of us.”

Addressing spikes in reported coronavirus cases in some states, Azar said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that people “have to take ownership” of their own behaviors by social distancing and wearing masks if possible.

A reported tally Sunday from Johns Hopkins University researchers said the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic had topped 500,00.

About 1 in 4 of those deaths — more than 125,000 — have been reported in the U.S. The country with the next highest death toll is Brazil, with more than 57,000, or about 1 in 9.

The true death toll from the virus, which first emerged in China late last year, is widely believed to be significantly higher. Experts say that especially early on, many victims died of COVID-19 without being tested for it.

To date, more than 10 million confirmed cases have been reported globally. About a quarter of them have been reported in the U.S.

The World Health Organization announced another daily record in the number of confirmed coronavirus cases across the world — topping over 189,000 in a single 24-hour period. The tally eclipses the previous record a week earlier at over 183,000 cases, showing case counts continue to progress worldwide.

Overall the U.S. still has far and away the most total cases at more than 2,450,000 — roughly twice that of Brazil. The number of actual cases worldwide is much higher.

New York, once the nation’s pandemic epicenter, is now “on the exact opposite end,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in an interview with “Meet the Press.”

The state reported five new virus deaths Saturday, its lowest reported daily death toll since March 15. During the state’s peak pandemic in April, nearly 800 people were dying every day. New York still leads the nation in COVID-19 deaths with nearly 25,000.

In the state of Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee put a hold on plans to move counties to the fourth phase of his reopening plan as cases continue to increase. But in Hawaii, the city of Honolulu announced that campgrounds will reopen for the first time in three months with limited permits to ensure social distancing.

Britain’s government, meanwhile, is considering whether a local lockdown is needed for Leicester amid reports about a spike in COVID-19 among its Asian community. It would be Britain’s first local lockdown.

“We have seen flare-ups across the country in recent weeks,” Home Secretary Priti Patel told the BBC on Sunday.

Africa’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 continued to climb to a new high of more than 371,000, including 9,484 deaths, according to figures released Sunday by the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.