With more than 16 months remaining in his second term as Nebraska governor, Pete Ricketts took a trip to Texas this month to discuss the pressing issue facing the states of the northern Great Plains: national security on the southern border.
And Ricketts wasn’t the only one making a trip of more than 1,000 miles to address the crisis. Republican governors from Ohio, Iowa, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho also attended a press conference to talk about a 10-point plan to address immigration through a conservative approach.
To be clear, there is a humanitarian crisis occurring on our nation’s southern border, and something clearly needs to change. But is it really the job of governors from states thousands of miles away to leave their home states to grandstand on the Rio Grande?
I have no issue with people from states not bordering Mexico who want to solve the immigration crisis. Its impact is felt, for better or worse, throughout the country. However, that’s what federal representatives, activists and political action groups are for — not a state’s governor.
As opinion columnist Emma Krab wrote last month, there are plenty of other things Ricketts can be doing with his time in the Governor’s mansion. But that’s not ultimately what I care about, nor should most Nebraskans.
It’s easy to dismiss this fixation on federal issues as a big Pete Ricketts political stunt and, to an extent, I believe that to be true. However, my real issue is not that Ricketts is wasting Nebraskans’ precious tax dollars to fly out of state, but that these events are given media attention in the first place.
The Omaha World-Herald recently updated an article about Ricketts sending state troopers to the southern border over the summer and, though it is filled with good reporting, the controversy ultimately does not amount to much.
Ricketts only sent 25 state troopers to the border, all for less than one month, which is expected to cost the state $500,000. While that may be a large sum for an individual, that number represents only 0.01% of Nebraska’s annual budget, or 1/10,000th.
A poll embedded in that article revealed that 68.5% of readers said the action was a political stunt, while only 22.5% called it a worthy mission. 8.9% said Texas needed help, but should have paid for it.
Omaha World-Herald readers took the poll, so it’s certainly subject to bias, but calling Ricketts’ move a political stunt is not exactly a hot take, especially among people in the media. At the end of the day, calling something a political stunt doesn’t really solve anything or advance the conversation. In fact, such indignation only provides fuel for the next political stunt, as outrage feeds into more coverage and the cycle continues. Love him or hate him, this strategy worked well for former President Donald Trump.
These may be issues that should be addressed, but the governor has very little power to address them, other than expressing his opposition. The only difference between Ricketts and an average guy on the internet is that the media will provide coverage to these political stunts, and often, the intended audience is not just Nebraskans, but a national audience of enamored and indignant individuals who can give Ricketts greater name recognition.
This isn’t just a Pete Ricketts problem. Current gubernatorial candidate and University of Nebraska regent Jim Pillen highlighted the importance of protecting the southern border in one of his campaign ads and governors from several states closer to Canada than Mexico have made immigration one of their top priorities.
Democrats aren’t above making a name for themselves in order to gain national recognition either, though the trend seems particularly concentrated among Republicans, given the current Democrat in the White House. California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently released a statement on the Texas abortion ban. Newsom’s condemnation may not have resulted in any California policy, but as governor of a state that has its own fair share of problems, taking the time to release a statement on Texas’ policy seems like a strange priority outside of a national context.
These political stunts provide easy righteous indignation fodder for a Facebook post, but with larger issues facing the states — ones that the governor actually has the power to change — perhaps the media needs to focus on what actually gets done, and not just what gets said.
And since the media ultimately caters to consumer tastes in today’s world that revolves around online metrics, it’s on media content consumers to recognize and adjust the outrage accordingly.
Brian Beach is a junior journalism major. Reach him at email@example.com