Vol. 52, No. 1

In this edition

The Ripon Forum kicks off its 52nd year of publication with an examination of the American electorate as we begin 2018.

In Defense of the Institution of Congress and the Return of Earmarks

After many frustrating appropriations cycles, continuing resolutions, and shutdowns, the earmark ban has accomplished few, if any, of its intended goals.

Keep the Ban on Earmarks

Earmarks are corrupt, unfair, and wasteful. They should be permanently banned, and oversight should be increased into how federal funds are being spent.

Red Ink Reality Check

The return of trillion dollar deficits in the next year or so should be a wake-up call given we are in an expanding economy, not a massive recession.

The Rise of “Letter-Marking”

The earmark ban has given rise to a practice that is even less transparent to taxpayers, and has given even more power to the President over how tax dollars are being spent.

Creating One Out of Many: The Military Way

As America once again debates immigration, we can learn from the military and how they take recruits from different backgrounds and turn them into a cohesive unit.


The results of The Ripon Society’s annual survey of the American voter are analyzed by two of America’s leading political strategists.

Understanding GENERATION Z

Americans born after 1995 had a big impact on the last election. Now that more of them are reaching voting age, their political influence will continue to grow.

How Generation Z Gets their News

Gen Z has the strongest “BS” filter of any generation — that is, they can see through the spin. They also have a worldview that’s shaped by their online friends and social networks.

What Generation Z Thinks of Washington

Six students at Miami University — three Republicans and three Democrats — share their thoughts on their elected leaders and politics in our nation’s capital.

Ripon Profile of Pete Ricketts

The Governor of Nebraska discusses his first job, his accomplishments so far in office, and some of the challenges facing the people of his state.

Ripon Profile of Pete Ricketts

Name & Occupation: Pete Ricketts, Governor of the State of Nebraska

First job & the lesson(s) you learned from it:  My first job was as a paperboy in Omaha in the seventh grade. I loved it. It was like a mini small business that I ran with my brother. We split the route and hired our younger two siblings. We’d deliver the papers in the afternoon on the weekdays and early in the morning on the weekends. That job quickly taught us the value of customer service and work ethic.

It was difficult to go out and work every day of the week, but that didn’t matter to our clients. People loved that they could count on us to do the job and do it well every day. They especially appreciated having the Sunday morning paper on their doorstep before they left for church. Not only did great customer service make my clients happy, it gave me a sense of satisfaction. Who doesn’t love seeing someone’s smile after a job well done? It also didn’t hurt that happy customers tend to throw in larger tips.  I also witnessed the importance of integrity. A few of the other paper boys were less ethical, but they didn’t last long in the business. I encourage all parents to have their children get a job at a young age so they can learn the value of work. It will pay large dividends in their futures.

Book you’ve read that you’re recommending to friends:  I always recommend my favorite book, The Lord of the Rings. I first read its precursor, The Hobbit, when I was 13-years-old. J.R.R. Tolkien’s amazing stories and values have stuck with me ever since. The Lord of the Rings presents its readers with a great, uplifting vision for society, positive examples of cooperation, and an inspiration to fight for good in the world.

The Christian values of love, humility, and duty that run through The Lord of the Rings are so necessary for a fulfilling life today. I love The Lord of the Rings because it’s a tale of how distinct parts of society can come together to fight for what is truly right. While many of the communities in The Lord of the Rings are separated by large cultural and geographic divides, they were able to put aside their differences to work together for the common good. This teaches us an important lesson for our own lives. When personal differences get in the way of the common good, we put them aside and keep our mission as the priority.  I encourage any reader who hasn’t read The Lord of the Rings yet to pick it up, sit down, and enjoy this masterpiece. If you’ve already read The Lord of the Rings, read it again and relive Tolkien’s epic story of teamwork, sacrifice, friendship, faith, and good vs. evil.

Most significant accomplishments of your first three years in office:  The main focus of my administration has been to change the culture of government to provide better service to our people. Governments should have a mindset of effectiveness, efficiency, and customer-focus. This requires us to find innovative solutions to perennial problems.  For instance, Nebraska recently created a first-in-the-nation reemployment system that replaced our unemployment system. This new reemployment system requires participants to sit down with a job coach first as a condition of receiving unemployment benefits. Job-seekers get tips on searching for their next job and direction on how to find resources and training. Participants also post searchable resumes in the state’s job database. We’ve seen great results from this program. Nebraska sees fewer individuals exhaust their unemployment benefits as they get back to work faster. The savings have allowed us to decrease our insurance tax rate for businesses by 25 percent, saving them just under $20 million in 2017. Employers are projected to save another $7.4 million in 2018 from this change.

We’ve also been streamlining processes at our Department of Environmental Quality. Environmental permits that are necessary for construction are now available in one day or less. The same permits can take months to acquire in other states. At our Department of Health and Human Services, we’ve drastically reduced how much time it takes for our nurses to become licensed. In November 2015, it took us 96 days to license our nurses. That same process took just 30 days in December 2017. This connects medical professionals with jobs more quickly. These are a just a few examples of the many improvements we have made in our state agencies. Improving our culture to become effective, efficient, and customer-focused has allowed us to do more with less. Not only are we improving services, we’re also reducing the headcount at our state agencies. As positions open through attrition or retirement, we’re often able to close the position permanently. This has allowed us to reduce the state workforce by 500, about four percent, and eliminate over 1,500 vacant positions. Increased efficiency has stabilized costs in our state agencies, allowing us to drastically cut government growth. I’m proud to say that we managed to cut the growth of government by over 90 percent in my first three years in office, from 6.5 percent to just 0.6 percent.

The virtues that we have cultivated have led to great outcomes for Nebraska.  Our business-friendly environment helped us win the Site Selection Magazine Governor’s Cup in 2016 for having the most qualifying economic development projects per capita in the Union. We had more projects than Kansas, South Dakota, and North Dakota combined! We built on that success in 2017, one of Nebraska’s biggest years of investment ever. Investments from new and established businesses totaled nearly $1.3B in 2017 and brought in over 2,400 jobs to Nebraska. That’s great news for the people of our state. Companies like Facebook and Costco brought major operations to Nebraska for the first time. Our communities are thriving and our citizens have great jobs. Nebraska’s future is in good hands.

Challenge facing the people of Nebraska that you are working to address:  The people of Nebraska are the best in the world. We have great neighborhoods that are characterized by loyalty, hard work, and family values. People love living in Nebraska. The two biggest challenges facing Nebraska involve our budget and taxes. Budget and taxes are two sides of the same coin.  To have sustainable tax relief, we need to control spending. To balance our budget this year, I have proposed a two percent across-the-board cut and a four percent cut next year. This will allow us to balance our budget without raising taxes. While controlling spending, we are still prioritizing key investments like K-12 education, which we have exempted from across-the-board cuts. Controlling spending will not only allow us to balance our budget, but will also set us up for tax relief. In particular, we need to provide relief for the property tax burden facing both agriculture producers and homeowners. Property taxes on agricultural land have risen dramatically over the last 10 years. To provide relief, I’ve introduced a new tax plan with State Senator Jim Smith of Papillion that promises to reduce the property tax burden while staying within the budget. By controlling spending and providing for tax relief, we can make Nebraska more competitive in the future.

Finally, finish this sentence: “If I could have Washington do one thing, it would be…”:  To pass term limits, the single most effective way to reform the culture in Washington, D.C.