Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Nebraska's Republican Tourist Trap

by Kyle Michaelis
In this Republican gubernatorial primary, I would really like to know exactly who these jokers think they are kidding. I have listened to Tom Osborne say - in full seriousness - that every dollar Nebraska spends prosecuting teenagers for having a beer will save the state $9 in the long run. I also heard Dave Nabity say - again, in full seriousness - that the only true leader this state has had in the last 40 years was former Gov. Kay Orr, who left office reviled and whose stature remains little changed 16 years later, as evidenced by the little bit of weight her endorsement of Nabity has carried with voters.

Still, on no issue are Osborne and Nabity further removed from reality than in the false and mistaken hope they place in tourism as some form of salvation from Nebraska's long-standing economic development woes.

The Omaha World-Herald reports from La-La Land:
Tapping the economic clout of tourists and creating special attractions to lure them off Interstate 80 have emerged as campaign themes in the Nebraska governor's race.

The state has long ignored its tourism potential and not been as aggressive in promoting itself as South Dakota, Wyoming and other states, according to two of the three Republican candidates.

Both U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne and Omaha financial planner Dave Nabity point to a survey that ranked Nebraska near the bottom in the amount of money spent on tourism promotion as proof that the state has not done enough.

Gov. Dave Heineman agreed that more can be done to boost tourism. He said he supported a $850,000 increase in the state tourism office's budget last year, the bulk of which went for marketing.

"If you don't invest in tourism and marketing, you're not going to reap the dollars," said Osborne, who promises to boost spending on marketing Nebraska nationwide.

Nabity proposes tax and other incentives for those who develop and invest in tourism attractions in what he calls "zones of temptation" located within 10 miles of Interstate 80.

"My goal is to create so many tempting sights and experiences along the Interstate that it will be almost impossible to travel through the state without pulling off to check out a special tourist spot," Nabity said.

He calls for sales taxes to subsidize tourism development in eight destination tourist areas, such as the Niobrara River and Fort Robinson. He envisions a Wild West tourism draw in western Nebraska, for example, that would rival the Wisconsin Dells.

But Heineman said his opponents tell only half the story when they point to Nebraska's spending on tourism.

Despite its low ranking, Nebraska generates more income from tourism than either South Dakota or Wyoming, both of which spend more on their tourism offices. That's contrary to what many people believe - but those people may not be taking into account the large number of drivers on Interstate 80....

The leading Democratic candidate, Lincoln businessman David Hahn, said he does not necessarily believe that the state has dropped the ball on tourism. He also said that unlike Osborne and Nabity, he would not be interested in trying to emulate South Dakota's success in attracting pheasant hunters or creating "pseudo-hunting lodges where the Dick Cheneys of the world shoot at planted pheasants."

He said he would look for ways to open up land in Nebraska for the "average guy to take his son and daughter out on an authentic hunting experience."

"Nebraska should continue to have a consistent and solid approach to tourism development. But, I feel it's fanciful to believe or to suggest that tourism is going to be an economic panacea for this state," Hahn said....

Nebraska spent $2.9 million on tourism in the 2004-05 fiscal year, compared with $8 million that South Dakota spent. Nebraska was second to last on tourism spending among the 47 states responding to an annual survey by the Travel Industry Association of America....Tourists spent an estimated $2.8 billion in Nebraska in 2003, more than the $1.5 billion tourists spent in South Dakota.

"Zones of Temptation"? I don't know; to my ears, that all sounds curiously close to a call for prostitution and casino-gambling along the Interstate. If that's what Nabity means, I wish he'd just come out and say it. Such offerings might actually have a chance to pull in the big dollars Nabity and Osborne are counting on, but, otherwise, these promises that Nebraska is going to suddenly transform into a tourist's Mecca are just pretty darn far-fetched.

The prize for being most ridiculously out-of-touch on this issue certainly goes to Nabity, if only because Osborne's having actually traveled Western Nebraska and seen its terrain while representing its voters in Congress prevents him from sharing the same self-indulgent delusions that Nabity has talked about on the campaign trail. Most notorious of these is Nabity's apparent belief (sadly, not mentioned above) that rather than flooding the town of Ashland as was controversially proposed a few weeks back to create a mega-lake between Omaha and Lincoln, Nebraska should be developing such a mammoth lake in the Panhandle.

Yes, Nabity was talking marinas, sailing - he might even have said something about tugboats; I can't recall because I was dumb-founded by the fact that I was actually listening to such silliness. It seems somewhere along the way, somone failed to explain the whole concept of scarcity to Nabity - especially the scarcity of so precious a commodity as water has been and will remain for Nebraska (particularly during our on-going 7-year drought). Alas, this particular pie in the sky seems to have an orbit closer to Neptune's than anything on our side of the solar system.

And, what's funny is that Osborne has chosen to take the exact same approach as Nabity without offering-up the specifics that make it so abundantly clear the only tourists we can really count on from this plan are Peter Pan, the Lost Boys, and all their friends from Never-Never Land. At the same time, even Gov. Heineman refuses to point-out that someone's been snorting too much pixie dust, instead telling the World-Herald he will "consider Nabity's tourism ideas."

Good grief!

Who else finds it ironic that all these Republicans are running on a platform of making state government more efficient, promising to cut the fat, to cut taxes, and to cut grandma's throat in line at the pharmacy? Yet, here, without anything more than a hunch that it will work, they want to throw millions of dollars more into tourism, without a doubt making Nebraska's current balance, which they could just as well be holding-up as a testament to the triumph of private industry and smaller government, far less efficient with an expanded bureaucracy.

To put it simply, they need to make it look like they have some sort of plan for what to do with this state's economy - selling people a fiction in which Nebraska is the next Disneyland is just a whole lot easier than addressing the actual fundamental problems that have eroded our manufacturing sector to next-to-nothing and now threaten even the agricultural production that has always been the source of Nebraska's strength.

Now, no one is saying Nebraska isn't a beautiful state. But, sadly, it seems Democrat David Hahn is the only candidate responsible and honest enough to admit that its particular beauty - as much a matter of lifestyle as one of natural wonder - does have potential to draw people in to the state but not anywhere near the numbers necessary to make up for economic shortfalls that will only continue to get worse after 8 long years of Republican neglect ... a neglect for which these three candidates carry on the tradition of having little understanding of the problem and even less in the way of real solutions.


Blogger dtarrell said...

Great points about Republicans tripping over each other on silly issues such as "zones of temptation." Also, you wonder why there was a proposal a few years ago to stop Nebraska's "brain drain" by subsidizing those who stayed in Nebraska to work after college. Maybe it's because as a state we routinely push for jail time for status offenses such as minor in possession and then wonder why young people leave us shortly after they have the ability.

More than anything I want to express how excited I was to read about the New Nebraska Network on Fire Dog Lake and other blogs. Just heard the RadioNation podcast last week that talked about how progressives are banding together in so called red and purple states and thought that similar efforts could tap into a lot of potential here in Nebraska. As much as I love reading blogs, such as Digby's, that discuss national politics, it's nice to read about "acting locally" on this one. Keep up the good work. As a progressive, who respects Hagel much more than the Benator, and who is about ready to move out of a state which brought us the "New Zell Miller" as a Senator, it's nice to read about progressives and Democrats who don't try to push Bush Light off as a platform. I think your blog is a little like the building a ballpark in the middle of Iowa: If you build it, they will come. Keep it coming, please!


Post a Comment

<< Home