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Local View: Don't silence rural voice

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Mark McHargue Nebraska Farm Bureau president

Atop the Nebraska State Capitol stands “The Sower.” It faces north and west toward the majority of our fertile land as a reminder that the state’s foundation is agriculture and that our government represents all people across the entire state of Nebraska.

The Lincoln Journal Star May 26 editorial entitled “Initiative rules need to reflect new demographics” really got my attention. The editorial calls for the end of constitutional requirements that signatures for ballot measures need to be gathered from 5% of the voters in 38 counties.

This dangerous proposal essentially silences the rural voice, and that is not acceptable. Nebraska agriculture is responsible for more than one-third of our state’s economic output or business receipts and nearly one in four jobs are directly and indirectly related to agriculture. Ending this requirement would consolidate political power to urban cities of Nebraska. How could this proposed change represent all Nebraskans?

It is paramount that actions taken by state government consider the perspectives of all citizens, no matter where they reside. The most recent legislative session is filled with examples of urban and rural senators working together to get things accomplished.

Distributing federal COVID assistance dollars, economic development initiatives, tax policy and many more were all shaped with consideration of both rural and urban views and packages ultimately passed for the best interests of the entire state.

If the model supported by the editorial board is enacted, the statewide perspective on petition measures would be lost. Lincoln and Omaha voters could provide enough signatures to get a petition measure on the ballot that only considers the needs and wants of the more populated areas of the state to the detriment of rural citizens.

This is a consolidation of political power in the largest populated areas and loss of voice for rural Nebraskans.

While not taking a position on Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana ballot measure itself, the lawsuit on the Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana ballot measure would change the petition gathering requirements and sweep the rural vote under the rug.

It draws concern for the accountability of state elections to all Nebraskans. As a state that has agriculture as its foundation, the Lincoln Journal Star should reevaluate its position on petition requirements before they effectively silence the rights, votes, and voices of rural Nebraskans.

Mark McHargue is president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau and a fourth-generation farmer from Central City.


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