LINCOLN — Gov. Pete Ricketts kicked off his 2018 re-election campaign Sunday with a promise to seek "tax relief every single year I am governor."
"The only way we can have sustainable tax relief is to control spending," Ricketts said, pledging he would continue to apply the brakes to growth in state government.
During his first three years in office, the governor said, state spending growth has been reduced by 90 percent, a figure dramatically impacted by approval this year of an austere 2017-19 state budget in response to sharp reductions in anticipated state revenue.
Ricketts was given a warm send-off by a gathering of supporters crowded into Republican state headquarters in downtown Lincoln on a 90-degree early afternoon.
"We are getting the job done," Ricketts said as he reviewed a series of recent announcements by national business firms that are investing in expansion in the state.
"What this is about is growing Nebraska," he said.
"We have delivered on our promises," the governor added.
Lt. Gov. Mike Foley, who will remain on the GOP ticket as the governor's running mate, praised Ricketts as "smart, ethical, rooted in values" and a dependable supporter of "life and religious liberty."
Former Gov. Kay Orr said that in his first term Ricketts has "helped (Nebraska) grow significantly" through wise economic policies, trade missions and reduced state spending.
Ricketts saluted this year's freshman class of conservative members of the Legislature as "a tremendous group (who) really helped make this a successful legislative session."
On hand for the announcement were freshmen Sens. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln and Tom Brewer of Gordon, two conservative Republicans who assumed office in January.
Ricketts said he would continue to focus on delivering "more effective, efficient and customer-focused" government services while controlling costs.
And next year, he said, he will renew his effort to enact a package of income and property tax reductions. That bill stalled in the Legislature this year, but Ricketts has said he's open to negotiations to amend the proposal in a fashion that could gain its enactment.
Many of the participants at Sunday's event were families with children along with a lineup of state and local officeholders.
Outside, a small gathering of anti-Ricketts protesters stood across the street holding a variety of signs while two demonstrators dressed in black paced the sidewalk in front of the building carrying obscene signs containing a four-letter word directed at the governor.
Two local religious and community leaders will be moving on at the end of June.
St. John's Lutheran Church Pastor Ruth Boettcher is retiring and Christ United Methodist Church Pastor Pat Norris is transferring to another parish to be closer to family.
Boettcher lived in Newman Grove until she entered elementary school and her parents moved to Columbus. Her parents were very involved at Trinity Lutheran Church in Newman Grove, and one of her uncles became a Lutheran pastor.
During a service, her uncle leaned across Boettcher to tell her brother that he should consider becoming a pastor.
“I'm going, 'Why didn't he say that to me?'" she said.
The Lutheran church didn’t ordain women until 1970, and even then it wasn’t common to see female pastors.
Boettcher became a pastor following a career as a librarian. In her early 40s she said she began to feel restless and was considering going back to school for a second master's degree.
“One Saturday morning I was sorting through some papers and the tears started streaming,” she said. “It was my spirit saying, ‘You're avoiding making a decision here.’”
Norris is also a second-career pastor. Originally from Davenport, she had gone through a few careers and was also in her 40s, living in Denton, when she was called to the ministry.
“I was in banking when I heard my call,” she said. “I finished my bachelor’s at Doane (University) in 2005 and went straight into seminary.”
While at the Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, she served part time at churches in southeast Nebraska. After graduation, she served at First United Methodist Church in York and Waco United Methodist Church for six years.
When she was officially ordained, Norris was sent to lead the United Methodist churches in Schuyler, Rising City and Brainard, where she’s been the head pastor for four years.
Boettcher graduated from what is now the Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota, and returned to Nebraska. She served as an interim pastor for a few congregations, including the one Norris attended when she was growing up.
In 2006, Boettcher was asked to serve as the interim pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Schuyler. A year later, she was officially called on by the congregation to serve as their first female pastor.
Boettcher and Norris have both been involved with the Schuyler Ministerial Association, which brings together several congregations in town to provide assistance to the community, such as the food bank based at Schuyler Middle School.
“In Schuyler, I've enjoyed the ecumenical relationships,” said Boettcher. “It’s that kind of helping and exchange and working together and saying, our unity is in Christ, we just have different ways of practicing our faith.”
Two years ago they ran a campaign to provide basic supplies to unaccompanied minors who arrived in Schuyler from Central America.
“They were coming with nothing,” said Boettcher.
Members of Schuyler Ministerial Association also formed the Schuyler Housing and Hospitality Committee, which is working to address the local housing shortage.
Boettcher and Norris also had a hand in collaborating with Habitat for Humanity of Columbus to build a Habitat house in Schuyler. A lot along Gold Street between Fifth and Sixth streets was recently selected for the project and the committee is in the process of selecting a family to receive the home.
Seeing so much activity and progress in the community gives Boettcher mixed feelings about her retirement.
“I'm leaving when there's lots of exciting things happening in Schuyler,” she said. “There's these wonderful things happening in this community. I'm leaving at a good time.”
The other challenge is the Lutheran church is fairly strict about former pastors removing themselves from their congregations.
“There's a stipulation that when you leave, you leave,” she said.
Boettcher bought her parents’ home in Newman Grove so she can be close to her mother, who lives in a care center in that community. She will serve as head pastor at St. John’s until June 30.
Norris is moving back in with her husband, who still resides in Denton. She will serve part time at the United Methodist churches in Fairmont and Milligan.
United Methodist Church is less strict about visiting former congregations, so Norris hopes to be at the groundbreaking for the Habitat for Humanity house in Schuyler and may bring a group from her new congregations to help build it.
Her last services will be Sunday in Brainard and Rising City and June 18 in Schuyler. A celebration of ministry will be held June 25 to say goodbye to Norris.
Pastor Dennis Wheeler with Calvary United Methodist Church in Fremont and Faith United Methodist Church in Hooper will assume the head pastor position at United Methodist Church in Schuyler.
Pastor Dale Coates, who is currently assisting at the United Methodist churches in Brainard and Rising City, will lead those congregations.
A 27-year-old Schuyler man was jailed last week in connection with a hit-and-run accident after a young boy was run over by a vehicle while riding a bike.
Oscar Rodriguez was booked into the Butler County Jail for leaving the scene of an injury accident following the May 31 incident in downtown Schuyler.
Officers responded to the hit-and-run around 3:30 p.m. near the intersection of B and East 11th streets.
The victim, a 10-year-old boy, had tire marks on both his legs indicating that he’d been run over by a vehicle, according to the probable cause affidavit supporting Rodriguez’s arrest.
The boy, who complained of pain in both his legs, was treated by officers before paramedics arrived. Additional information about his condition was unavailable.
The boy’s bike was located in the west entrance to a nearby alley and officers noticed a nearly 15-feet-long acceleration mark on the brick street indicating the vehicle left the scene to the south along B Street, the affidavit states.
Sergeant Drew Behn reviewed surveillance video from Pinnacle Bank, 301 E. 11th St., that showed the vehicle, identified as a 2005 Toyota Corolla by its license plate number, striking the boy before leaving the area south on B Street at a high rate of speed, according to the affidavit. A witness also reported seeing the hit-and-run.
The vehicle was located in the 200 block of West 13th Street and Rodriguez was identified as the owner by a neighbor.
During questioning at the police station, Rodriguez told officers he was traveling 5 mph and attempted to stop before his vehicle hit the boy, the arrest affidavit states. Rodriguez, who doesn’t have a driver’s license, said he got “scared,” which is why he left the scene and parked his vehicle at a neighbor’s house in an attempt to hide it from police, according to the report.