Democrats urge Heineman, lawmakers to solve Whiteclay problems

Published April 15, 2005

LINCOLN, Neb. — Gov. Dave Heineman and Nebraska lawmakers have a “moral and civic duty” to address problems related to alcohol sales in the border town of Whiteclay, the state Democratic Party chairman said Thursday.

“This is a call to action,” state Democratic Party Chairman Steve Achelpohl said at a news conference in the state Capitol Rotunda. “Something has to be done.”

The timing of the news conference had nothing to do with Republican Heineman’s announcement four days earlier that he would seek election as governor next year, Achelpohl said.

Heineman was the state’s lieutenant governor until taking the governor’s post in January after President Bush appointed Gov. Mike Johanns as U.S. agriculture secretary.
Whiteclay is a humanitarian and moral issue, not a partisan one, Achelpohl said, and finding a solution should be a bipartisan concern.

No Republicans spoke at the news conference, but Heineman’s chief of staff, Larry Bare, observed it from a bench in the Rotunda. Bare declined to comment.

Heineman’s spokesman, Aaron Sanderford, said the issues in Whiteclay have not been forgotten.

“The governor understands the sensitive issues of enforcement at Whiteclay and he knows the state patrol and liquor control commission are working hard to resolve them,” Sanderford said.

Whiteclay, in Sheridan County, has about a dozen residents and three stores that sell thousands of cans of beer each week to residents of the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Alcohol is banned on the 5,000-square-mile South Dakota reservation, home to 15,000 Oglala Sioux, and it has one of the nation’s highest alcoholism-related mortality rates.

The Democrats called for a round table discussion to study issues related to Whiteclay, including concerns over liquor licensing, legal roadblocks to effective regulation and possible legislative solutions.

“At this point, Gov. Heineman is more focused on action and progress, not another task force,” Sanderford said.

A march starting in Whiteclay to highlight the concerns there is set for June 11, said Frank LaMere, a Winnebago tribal member from South Sioux City. He is also a longtime member of the Nebraska Democratic Party and serves on the party’s national committee.

A 1999 march on Whiteclay resulted in the arrests of nine American Indians, including LaMere, as hundreds of Oglala Sioux gathered to protest the beer sales and the unsolved murders of two American Indians in the area.

LaMere said when Heineman first came to office, LaMere asked him during a visit to South Sioux City to address problems in Whiteclay, but he has not gotten a response. Now is the time to act, LaMere said.

“We can always find a reason to put Whiteclay on the back burner,” he said.

Repeated attempts have failed in the past four years to pass bills in the Nebraska Legislature that would either shut down alcohol sales or make it easier for the state to regulate alcohol sales in Whiteclay.

Activists including Nebraskans for Peace, LaMere and others for years have called for more police presence in the town to crack down on what they say are numerous law violations, including public intoxication and open container offenses.

To help with Whiteclay law enforcement, Nebraska is receiving $100,000 from the federal government, which authorities have said will be used to help fund a cross-deputization effort of police on the reservation, allowing them to patrol in Nebraska.

Achelpohl and LaMere commended U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., for securing that funding. They also called on the state Legislature to approve a $20,000 increase in the Nebraska State Patrol budget to pay for undercover compliance checks in Whiteclay.

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