Dems say Gov dropped the beer can

Published April 15, 2005

Someday, Frank LaMere said through his tears, Nebraskans might be able to talk in past tense about problems in beer-drenched Whiteclay. But for now, the tiny town that serves as a liquor stop for residents of the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is a “cancer,” he said.

And lawmakers, including Gov. Dave Heineman, aren’t doing enough about it, said LaMere, chairman of the Native American Advisory Council for the Democratic National Committee.

He spoke at a Thursday press conference organized by the Nebraska Democratic Party, held just a couple of days after Heineman, a Republican, formed a campaign committee to help elect him to a full term next year.

“Those good feelings we had about change are lost” because of inaction from lawmakers, including Heineman, LaMere said.

Three beer outlets in Whiteclay, a town of about a dozen residents, sell approximately 11,000 cans of beer a day. Most are sold to Oglala Sioux who live on the dry Pine Ridge Indian Reservation across the South Dakota border.

“This is a call to action,” said Steve Achelpohl, chairman of the state Democratic Party.
Asked why that call is coming now — after Heineman made his political plans known and not at the beginning of the legislative session — Achelpohl responded: “Why anytime?

“It’s time for the chief executive of this state to call for action.”

The Democratic Party wants Heineman to form a committee to discuss the issue and identify legislative remedies for Whiteclay, among other things, he said.

“At this point, the governor is focused more on actions and progress, not another task force,” said Aaron Sanderford, Heineman’s spokesman.

Heineman is sensitive to enforcement issues in Whiteclay, Sanderford said, and the State Patrol and Liquor Control Commission are “working hard to resolve them.”

Concrete proposals that address the problems in Whiteclay are scant this year.

A bill killed by a legislative committee would have given the Liquor Control Commission more leeway to consider the saturation of liquor-selling businesses in a community when determining whether more licenses should be granted.

While chances for legislation are dim, money could be targeted at Whiteclay to help conduct compliance checks of liquor laws. The Appropriations Committee has set aside $20,000 in its preliminary state budget for doing so.

LaMere and Achelpohl commended U.S. Rep. Tom Osborne, R-Neb., for helping secure $100,000 in federal dollars to help with law enforcement in Whiteclay, specifically cross-deputization that would give Pine Ridge officers the ability to enforce the law in Whiteclay.

Sanderford said Heineman supports that effort and the additional $20,000 for compliance checks.

Past governors have formed task forces, but LaMere said a comprehensive effort hasn’t been undertaken since the days of former governor and now U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat.

“Nebraskans tend to ignore that little piece of ground,” LaMere said.

He and others will try to draw attention to it June 11, the scheduled date of a march to Whiteclay that will start about two miles south of the town.


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