Republicans have made voter registration gains in Nebraska’s rural counties while Democrats have achieved gains in Omaha and Lincoln, The World-Herald reported last week. This development raises concern that Nebraska may see an increase in rural-urban tensions in the future, given the disdain the two parties often display toward each other.
Nebraskans need to make sure this partisan divide doesn’t encourage a wider urban-rural divide in the state.
The two political parties are increasingly polarized in their ideological stances, and it’s common to see partisans depict the opposing party as a dangerous threat to the country. Lowering the political temperature and bridging the partisan divide through constructive agreement has become increasingly difficult.
It’s fully legitimate for politically interested people to hold fast to their principles and values, but Nebraskans, urban and rural, should also recognize the crucial need to work together. Otherwise, the state’s efforts to address its challenges could run aground.
A central example is an overhaul of tax policy to address the public’s loud demands for property tax relief. Another example: the distribution of state aid to K-12 education. Those are complex, difficult issues, and they can’t be addressed in a serious way unless Nebraskans, urban and rural, are willing to work together on the needed compromises.
The state needs leaders — in government and the business and nonprofit communities — who promote statewide solidarity and cooperative solutions.
The University of Nebraska has a vital role in promoting connections between urban and rural residents. NU makes impressive contributions in that regard through its programs on agriculture, natural resources science, training in the health care professions, entrepreneurship and the Rural Futures Institute.
The business community, including chambers of commerce, can play an important role. It’s been encouraging in the past, for example, to see Omaha business leaders visit western Nebraska, and vice versa, as part of such relationship-building.
How the Nebraska Legislature addresses urban-rural issues will be especially consequential. The 2020 Census numbers will likely mean an increase in urban seats in the Legislature and a decrease in rural ones.
Urban-rural frictions on some issues are inevitable as lawmakers advocate for their districts’ interests. But state senators who stoke resentment across urban-rural lines undercut the state’s ability to get things done. Lawmakers who encourage mutual respect and cooperative solutions serve the best interests of their district and the state as a whole.
There’s a lesson in that for all Nebraskans. The challenges on issues such as taxes and school aid are difficult enough without letting urban-rural frictions get in the way of finding solutions. We need to move forward together.