Nebraska governor won’t honor book by ‘political activist’ who has criticized Trump

In this Jan. 3, 2019 photo, Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks during an interview in his office in Lincoln, Neb. Ricketts is preparing to start his second and final term in office next week with a focus on jobs, lowering taxes and promoting Nebraska domestically and abroad. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
In this Jan. 3, 2019 photo, Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks during an interview in his office in Lincoln, Neb. Ricketts is preparing to start his second and final term in office next week with a focus on jobs, lowering taxes and promoting Nebraska domestically and abroad. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik) AP

Nebraska’s Republican governor Pete Ricketts has refused to sign a proclamation honoring a book about a farm family in the state, calling the author a “political activist” and suggesting the book is divisive.

Rickets has not read the book, he told reporters on Monday.

“This Blessed Earth,” written by Nebraska writer and journalist Ted Genoways, is the 2019 “One Book One Nebraska” selection chosen by The Nebraska Center for the Book. The nonprofit, affiliated with the Library of Congress, “supports programs to celebrate and stimulate public interest in books, reading, and the written word,” according to its website.

The center’s annual selection of a recommended book with Nebraska ties has been marked by a proclamation from the governor since 2005, the Omaha World-Herald reports.

But on Monday, Ricketts told reporters that “If you just go look, this author has been a political activist, has been very critical of our national leaders and so forth, and not really saying things that are going to bring Nebraskans together, but really trying to be somebody who is more divisive,” according to the World-Herald.

Genoways has “written critically about President Donald Trump, the Keystone XL pipeline and Nebraska’s all-GOP congressional delegation, but says he has also questioned Obama administration policies,” the Associated Press reported.

“I think it’s really disappointing and shocking that the governor would say he doesn’t want the people of Nebraska to hear from a farm family that’s been confronting major issues, and to hear their thoughts as they work through them and try to keep the farm in the family for the next generation,” he told the World-Herald.

The farm family in his book “opposes the Keystone XL pipeline, struggles with the impact of GMOs and, in the recently released paperback edition of the book, is critical of President Donald Trump’s trade war with China,” writes the Lincoln Journal Star.

“We tend to think of farmers as distant from the modern world and the cares of politics, but a farmer in the combine in Hamilton or York county is more at the nexus of international policies set by the U.S. government than anybody,” Genoways told the Lincoln newspaper.

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Genoways, who was a teenager when he moved to Nebraska where both his parents are from, has been “exploring narratives of how America reaps its food” for more than 15 years, according to a 2017 profile by the Nieman Storyboard, a publication of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

“In 2014, Genoways documented modern workers in the industrial meat industry with his nonfiction book “The Chain: Farm, Factory and The Fate of Our Food.”

He is not shy about sounding off on social media and in interviews about how Trump administration policies affect farmers in the field. In October 2017 he wrote a piece for The Washington Post about how the White House “isn’t helping American farmers.”

The same month, as he discussed his book, he talked to NPR “about the death of small towns and how it helped created a Trump presidency — even as he stands for policies that threaten to destroy rural economies,” he told his Facebook followers.

In “This Blessed Earth,” Genoways and his wife, photographer Mary Anne Andrei, spent a year following Nebraska soybean farmer Rick Hammond and his family “to give farmers a voice in a system where they are often talked about or dictated to, but rarely heard from,” Genoways told Nieman.

“It’s an award-winning book,” Rod Wagner, director of the Nebraska Library Commission, told the World-Herald. “It’s received national attention. Of course there are ideas in the book that people will not agree to, but I think that’s also a reason why it makes for a good one to consider and discuss.

“It’s a contrast of the modern farm with that of 40 years ago. It’s one that’s a subject of interest across Nebraska. People who have disagreements with ideas in the book will be able to talk about those.”

Authors whose books have been selected as One Book One Nebraska choices in the past criticized the governor’s decision.

Literature allows us to talk about difficult topics,” Karen Shoemaker of Lincoln, author of “The Meaning of Names” told the Lincoln Journal Star, calling the move a “disservice” to readers.

Genoways slammed Ricketts on social media for being “petty.”

Withholding or rescinding ceremonial honors is petty and shows a narrowness of spirit and of mind,” he tweeted. “More importantly, it’s a message to educators in public schools & universities and now to librarians & humanities officials: Don’t give a platform to opposing viewpoints.”

The governor told reporters on Monday that he gets to decide who he signs a proclamation for.

“Which is true,” the Journal Star wrote. “In 2017, Ricketts refused to sign a proclamation to honor the Nebraska State Education Association’s 150th anniversary. More recently, he pulled Nebraska Navy Admiralships from both a UNL professor and a graduate student/instructor.”

“I hope that people will read the book and see for themselves that it’s not what the governor is portraying it as,” Genoways told the Journal Star.

He tweeted an invitation for the governor to read the book, too.

“Strange that the governor objects to the book without reading it. Maybe if he gives it a try, he’ll find that it’s not the book he imagines.” Genoways tweeted. “Ricketts says he dislikes division. So let’s read & talk.”