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By Pete Ricketts
Nebraska Governor 

Let the States Lead


February 3, 2021 | View PDF

On January 20, the United States carried out a distinctive national tradition: Our country underwent a peaceful transition of power. Looking back on the history of nations, this is not typical. Transfers of power between leaders have often been tumultuous.

While the federal government is responsible for our country’s defense and certain policy areas, the U.S. Constitution is structured to let state governments take the lead in many areas that impact the day-to-day lives of Americans. Our Republic’s federal system acknowledges that we’re a very diverse country with 50 different states. 

As President Joe Biden begins his term, my hope is that governors will continue to lead as they have throughout our country’s history.

The Cornhusker State is a great example of why federalism matters.  For instance, Nebraska is the least indebted state in the country. That’s because our state constitution does not allow us to take on a lot of debt. This has helped us avoid some of the financial problems other states have run into. Thanks to our federal system, Nebraska has positioned our state as a great place to grow for farm and ranch families.  We protect our Second Amendment. We’re a pro-life state. And we are working to become the most veteran-friendly state in the nation.

The pandemic response is another good example of why our federal system works for Nebraskans. The 50 states have had 50 different responses to coronavirus according to what state leaders think is best. In turn, state leaders will be accountable to voters for their handling of the pandemic.

If we had to deal with a one-size-fits-all answer, I have no doubt that Nebraska would have been less successful in slowing the spread of the virus. Because states were managing the pandemic response, we were able to go out on our own, as Nebraska, and secure the resources we needed. Launching Test Nebraska in April allowed us to more than double our testing capacity in the state. At the time we started Test Nebraska, the federal government did not have the resources we needed to expand testing. The reagents needed for the tests were all passing through the CDC, which was limiting their availability.  As a state, we successfully secured our own contracts and resources to do tests.

We also used federal assistance to buy PPE.  A small state like Nebraska would have been at a disadvantage if we had been at the mercy of the federal government to provide PPE to us.  Working with great companies like Werner Enterprises in Nebraska, we were able to secure PPE on our own.  We actually have had more success purchasing what we needed than states like California.  Throughout our response, we’ve leveraged our nimbleness to compete and succeed.

Previously, the Trump Administration honored our country’s tried-and-true tradition of state-managed, federally supported emergency response efforts.  This continues to make good sense given the difference between states like Nebraska and New York.  In keeping with federalism, the Trump Administration entrusted states to direct a significant portion of federal coronavirus assistance.  In Nebraska, our reliance on farming and ranching means we have unique, ag-related needs that other states are not experiencing. 

Instead of counting on a bureaucrat in Washington to figure this out and plan accordingly, it’s best to give states a role in assessing needs and directing federal assistance.  We’re closer to what’s happening “on the ground.”  We have relationships at the local level—connections to city mayors, county commissioners, and local economic development groups.  We also regularly interact with statewide associations that can articulate the needs of their members.  Because we understand these relationships, state governments are better suited to identify local needs and respond to them appropriately.

What comes next remains to be seen.  During his first few days in office, President Biden has issued a number of executive orders.  Nebraskans should be aware of how these policies will affect our state.

On January 20th, President Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline.  This is a regrettable decision.  Keystone XL is a critical part of a comprehensive strategy to ensure U.S. energy independence.  Failure to construct the pipeline would mean greater reliance on foreign oil sources, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia.  It would also result in fewer jobs and less property tax relief for Nebraskans. 

The Keystone XL project would greatly benefit not just Nebraska, but the entire country.  Our hope is that TC Energy presses forward despite this temporary roadblock.

We are also likely to see a shift in how the federal government approaches pro-life issues, such as abortion.  Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci told the World Health Organization that the federal government would discontinue the Mexico City policy. 

The Mexico City policy, which has been in effect under pro-life administrations beginning with President Ronald Reagan, bans U.S. foreign aid for non-governmental family planning agencies that perform or promote abortions.  By discontinuing the policy, the Biden Administration would authorize taxpayer dollars to fund abortions around the world.

In the coming days and weeks, we will watch the Biden Administration’s actions closely to see what they mean for Nebraska.  Whatever may come, we will work to put Nebraska first, and continue to move our state forward the Nebraska Way.  If you have questions about how President Biden’s initial actions will impact Nebraska, please email [email protected] or call 402-471-2244.  We look forward to hearing from you.


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