State of the State address

Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman delivers the State of the State address in the legislative chamber of the Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012. (GWYNETH ROBERTS/Lincoln Journal Star)

The ongoing war of words between Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman and the Humane Society of the United States took a new turn on Monday.

In a letter she hand-delivered to his office, the Humane Society's Jocelyn Nickerson took exception to Heineman's choice of words in an appearance before area cattlemen in Lexington last week.

Nickerson, named the Humane Society's first state director in 2010, was especially disappointed by this one-sentence message the governor said he wanted to share with an audience of about 80: "We're going to kick your ass and send you out of the state."

That drew a standing ovation in Lexington.

In an interview after she dropped off her letter, Nickerson said she took the governor's remarks very personally.

"We have 51,000 members in the state who all love animals. And where does the governor want us to go?"

Hostile relations between Heineman and the national animal welfare group go back at least as far as the 2010 trip Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle made to Lincoln. The Humane Society of the United States is a separate entity from local and state humane societies, including Lincoln's Capital Humane Society.

Pacelle said he came to try to engage agricultural leaders in a dialogue about gestation crates for hogs and other common livestock confinement practices his organization regards as objectionable.

Pacelle used that same appearance to deny that the Humane Society of the United States had any immediate plans for a ballot issue in Nebraska similar to ones it has backed in other states.

But any chance for a dialogue quickly gave way to accusations from Heineman and prominent livestock organizations that the Humane Society is trying to destroy livestock agriculture.

Pacelle countered by saying critics "let their paranoia run away with them" rather than trying to discuss differences.

On Monday, Heineman spokeswoman Jen Rae Hein offered this statement from her boss regarding Nickerson's letter: "HSUS is anti-agriculture, and I am going to continue to stand with Nebraska's farmers and ranchers to fight this leftist organization that wants to destroy the No. 1 industry in our state."

About a year ago, Heineman unloaded on former Lincoln Mayor Don Wesely for lobbying for the Humane Society during the Nebraska legislative session.

Wesely subsequently severed his ties to the group.

Nickerson didn't sound as if she'll be beating a retreat any time soon.

"I urge you to get off your soapbox," she said in her letter to Heineman, "and face the fact that a discussion about animal welfare in agriculture is not only appropriate but necessary.

"When major corporations, including McDonald's and Burger King, and so many others, base procurement decisions on animal welfare, do you really want farmers in Nebraska to stand in place and not make adjustments related to consumer attitudes and the best available science?"

Nor was Nickerson willing to be portrayed as an out-of-state agitator.

"I'm from Nebraska," she said in an interview. "My whole family is from Nebraska."

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Reach Art Hovey at 402-473-7223 or at ahovey@journalstar.com


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