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Photographer friends collaborate on painting show in Minden

MINDEN — Having met several years ago through the connection of showing photography at the same art gallery in downtown Hastings, David Lovekin and Rick Houchin have collaborated on a few projects over the last few years.

The friends, who share a studio in downtown Blue Hill, once again are sharing gallery space. This time it is in the Minden Opera House — with their paintings.

therrman / Tony Herrman/Tribune  

Artists Rick Houchin (left) and David Lovekin pose for a photo during a reception Jan. 18 for their exhibition at the Minden Opera House.

“We knew each other’s art,” Lovekin said of their friendship. “We’ve had photography shows in galleries like Graham Gallery (in downtown Hastings). So we’d seen each other’s work, knew each other increasingly and began to get along together beautifully. It was a pretty natural evolution.”

Lovekin, who lives in Hastings and is professor emeritus in the Hastings College Department of Religion and Philosophy, began painting about seven years ago.

The exhibition, on display through the end of February, marks the first public show for Houchin’s paintings. He started painting about three years ago.

“It’s just evolved into something I probably spend 16-20 hours a week doing,” he said.

Houchin, who lives in Blue Hill, is editor of the Blue Hill Leader. He taught photography portfolio classes for five years in Hastings College’s art department.

Earlier, he spent 20 years as chief photographer at the Hastings Tribune.

therrman / Tony Herrman/Tribune  

Paintings by Blue Hill artist Rick Houchin hang in the Minden Opera House gallery.

Fine art photography carried him into the different medium.

Houchin likes the creativity and tactile feeling of working with brush and paint.

“Rather than a cold, mechanical object — a camera — in your hands, it’s more organic; it just really lets me get into the feel of things,” he said.

Houchin still is doing fine art photography and currently is working on a project about dead flowers. But painting has overshadowed photography for him for the time being.

“David had already been into painting and was very patient showing me the ropes,” Houchin said. “I was just having so much fun that I’ve kept it up.”

He is inspired by Lovekin’s work.

“His stuff is just astounding,” he said. “He has so much freedom of expression with everything he does. To watch him paint, it’s a show. He just really feels it. He gets some jazz music on and just goes nuts. It’s really inspirational to me to watch him work.”

Lovekin also is a fan of Houchin’s painting.

“I like his work a great deal,” Lovekin said.

To become a painter, Houchin had to learn the tools and medium.

“You find what tools you need as you go along, what kind of brushes will do the things you’re trying to do,” he said. “What kind of paint will allow you to make mistakes and fix them. Then it comes down to just doing what you enjoy doing, and it evolves on its own and has a mind of its own sometimes.”

Houchin doesn’t normally plan a particular painting. The process starts with gestures and colors.

“Then I just study it and let it tell me what to do next,” he said. “Sometimes it happens right away, and sometimes it takes a couple months.

“I don’t like to plan something because I usually wind up disappointing myself. Photography’s completely the opposite. I get an image in mind and I can pretty much go and create that. With painting, it’s such an ongoing process it doesn’t happen instantly, and it allows you to study it and do this to it or let it show you it wants this.”

therrman / Tony Herrman/Tribune  

Paintings by Hastings artist David Lovekin hang in the Minden Opera House gallery.

While Houchin’s pieces are filled with color, Lovekin’s paintings at the Minden Opera House are black and white, many of which are strongly influenced by Japanese tradition.

“But I got really interested in the ink drawings that the Japanese and the Chinese are doing and how their art evolved from calligraphy combining aesthetic elements,” Lovekin said.

The duo’s studio, The Place, on Gage Street in downtown Blue Hill, also includes display space.

It’s a workshop, too, where Houchin builds cigar box guitars.

“Like David likes to say, we do whatever we want all the time,” Houchin said.

The Minden Opera House gallery, located on the north side of the town square, is open Tuesday through Friday 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Nebraska farm, business groups spar over property tax bill

LINCOLN — A bill that would lower Nebraska’s property taxes by shifting more state aid to schools won support Wednesday from the state’s top agricultural and business groups but faced strong opposition from schools that don’t want restrictions on their taxing power and don’t trust the state to maintain its funding.

The face-off before the Legislature’s Revenue Committee was a troubling sign for the bill’s prospects, although the committee chairwoman said the proposal was likely to change. Opposition from the state’s mid-sized and largest schools is a major hurdle that supporters would likely have to overcome in the one-house Legislature.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, of Omaha, the committee chairwoman.

Nati Harnik/AP  

Nebraska Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, chair of the Revenue Committee, introduces LB 974, a plan to lower Nebraska property taxes, in Lincoln Wednesday.

Committee members pitched the bill as a way to lower property taxes for farmers, ranchers, home owners and business owners without raising other taxes. A bill last year that would have increased sales taxes to lower property taxes died following objections from Gov. Pete Ricketts.

The bill would reduce the percentage of agricultural, residential and commercial property that school districts can tax while triggering a boost in state aid. The state would pay an additional $106.3 million in the first year after the bill becomes law, and the amount would increase over time.

Although some schools would see a funding boost, officials from fast-growing Lincoln and Omaha-area schools said they would effectively lose state assistance at a time when they’re accepting more special education and high-needs students.

The bill would get rid of a part of Nebraska’s school-funding formula that allows big schools with lower per-student costs to collect more money. It would also restrict the amount of money that school boards can generate locally when they receive less state aid than expected.

“I cannot support a bill that takes away the control of locally elected officials,” said Dave Welsch, president of Milford Public Schools’ board of education.

Lawmakers who support the measure argue that some schools are taking more money than they need and driving up property taxes.

School officials also objected to provisions that would tighten restrictions on how much they can increase their spending each year, noting that teacher salaries are their largest expense by far and are driven by labor contracts.

“Freezing growth within a district is simply not feasible without adversely affecting staffing,” said Jason Buckingham, business manager for Ralston Public Schools.

Nati Harnik 

Members of the Revenue Committee including from top left, Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward, Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha, Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson and John McCollister of Omaha, bottom center, consult documents during a hearing on LB 974, a plan to lower Nebraska property taxes, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, in Lincoln, Neb. The plan appears to have enough support to advance out of the Legislature's Revenue Committee, but the state's largest school groups are promising to fight it.

Supporters said lawmakers need to act this year to help farmers who have seen sharp bumps in their property tax bills as well as homeowners who are now starting to see similar increases. The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce & Industry endorsed the legislation, as did the Nebraska Farm Bureau and other business and agricultural groups.

“It’s time to move the ball down the field,” said Bud Synhorst, president and CEO of the Lincoln Independent Business Association.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson noted that many of the state’s smallest, rural schools don’t receive any state equalization aid, forcing them to cover their costs with local property taxes.

“If we really care about attracting and keeping families in rural Nebraska, we must take this step to noticeably reduce Nebraska’s overreliance on property taxes,” he said.

HEDC hopes to be part of mall’s future

Last year saw a lot of development in Industrial Park North and North Park Commons. The Hastings Economic Development Corp. hopes to have a hand in the future of the Imperial Mall property, as well.

That is what HEDC Executive Director Michael Krings said at the HEDC annual meeting Thursday.

“We have been in contact with that company and we are offering our services to be able to provide anything they might need to be able to help develop the mall,” Krings said. “We’ll be in conversations with them.”

The Imperial Mall was sold to a Scottsbluff real estate group Nov. 15, 2019, following an online auction that ended in late October.

Cheema Investments LLC holds the deed to the 33.5-acre, multi-parcel property after purchasing it for $340,000, according to the Adams County Assessor’s website.

Cheema Investments is working with Perry Reid Properties, a property management and development company based in Lincoln.

Krings was part of a meeting with the developers on Thursday.

“We’re interested in making sure something positive happens out there and so we’re going to try to be part of the conversation,” he said. “We’re going to work with local developers, work with the developer who owns it. Right now all we know is that they own it and we’re going to help in any way we can.”

During 2019, HEDC opened 23 acres of industrial property in Industrial Park North with the development of Utecht Circle and Utecht Avenue.

“Our main goal is to make sure we have those industrial properties available for companies that are wanting to expand,” Krings said.

That development is near HEDC’s 97,500-square-foot speculative building, which Central Logistic Services purchased in May to help PaperWorks expand its operations in Hastings.

Development of the building occurred during the second half of 2019. Krings said it is set to open in a few weeks.

North Park Commons continues to develop, as well.

Freddy’s Frozen Custard and Steakburgers opened last week. Work on the Hampton Inn, Coach’s Corner convenience store and 84-unit Pioneer Trail Flats apartment complex continue.

“All together we estimate about $35 million of private investment has been spent in North Park Commons today with regards to phase I and we expect probably the same amount of investment after that moving forward,” Krings said.

The Hasting City Council will address at its regular meeting Monday a proposal for infrastructure to move forward with phases 2 and 3 of North Park Commons, to open up 16 duplex lots and 74 single-family homes.

“Every builder, if you know people who build homes we’d love to have an opportunity to visit with them,” Krings told the crowd.

The development includes a partnership with the Central Community College-Hastings construction management program.

“What I think is neat is we’re going to have kids involved in the development of some townhomes here out at Central Community College,” he said. “When they’re finished with that hopefully they’ll be builders a year from now working in our single-family development. It’s a neat partnership. We’re excited about that. The community college is excited about that and it’s going to be a great opportunity for those students.”

Last year was Krings’ first full year as HEDC executive director. He was hired in September 2018 and started Nov. 1.

During Thursday’s annual meeting he thanked Maggie Vaughan for her role at HEDC. Vaughan stepped down on Dec. 20, 2019, from her position as HEDC director of talent solutions to spend more time at the family business, Vaughans Printers.

Vaughan will also work part time as director of the Small Business Institute at Central Community College.

She was HEDC’s interim director between the tenure of former executive director Dave Rippe and when Krings started.

“While she will no longer be involved with talent solutions, which is what she dealt with before, she’s going to continue to lead the community forward, she’s going to continue to have her great ideas and we’re excited about all the great things she’s going to be able to give her attention to,” Krings said.

He is excited about entrepreneurship in Hastings and continuing to develop a culture that is welcoming and supportive of local entrepreneurship in Hastings.

“Basically we want to make sure people understand how wonderful Hastings is,” he said. “When it comes down to it it’s important everybody understands how important your community is and that you make sure we are selling our community to everybody out there.”

'Bogus' Ukraine theory led to Trump's abuse, Dems tell trial

WASHINGTON — Democratic House prosecutors made an expansive case Thursday at Donald Trump’s impeachment trial that he abused power like no other president in history, swept up by a “completely bogus” Ukraine theory pushed by attorney Rudy Giuliani.

On Friday, the Democrats will press their final day of arguments before skeptical Republican senators, focusing on the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress’ investigation.

As the audience of Senate jurors sat through another long day, and night, the prosecutors outlined how they said Trump abused power for his own personal political benefit ahead of the 2020 election, even as the nation’s top FBI and national security officials were publicly warning off the theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election.

“That’s what Donald Trump wanted investigated or announced — this completely bogus Kremlin-pushed conspiracy theory,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who is leading the prosecution, during Thursday’s session.

Trump is accused of seeking the Ukrainian investigation — and probes of political foe Joe Biden and Biden’s son — while holding back congressionally approved military aid as leverage. Schiff said, “You can imagine what a danger that presents to this country.”

The president is facing trial in the Senate after the House impeached him last month, accusing Trump of abusing his office by asking Ukraine for the investigations while withholding the aid from a U.S. ally at war with bordering Russia. The second article of impeachment accuses him of obstructing Congress by refusing to turn over documents or allow officials to testify in the House probe.

Republicans, growing tired of the long hours of proceedings, have defended Trump’s actions as appropriate and cast the process as a politically motivated effort to weaken him in the midst of his reelection campaign. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, and acquittal is considered likely.

The Democrats’ challenge is clear as they try to convince not just fidgety senators but an American public divided over the Republican president in an election year.

With Chief Justice John Roberts presiding, Democrats argued on Thursday that Trump’s motives were apparent.

“No president has ever used his office to compel a foreign nation to help him cheat in our elections,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told the senators. He said the nation’s founders would be shocked. “The president’s conduct is wrong. It is illegal. It is dangerous.”

Democrats scoffed at Trump’s claim he had good reasons for pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Biden or other political foes.

Rep. Sylvia Garcia of Texas, herself a former judge, aid there is “no evidence, nothing, nada” to suggest that Biden did anything improper in dealings with Ukraine.

Trump, with Giuliani, pursued investigations of Biden and his son, Hunter, who served on a Ukrainian gas company’s board, and sought the probe of debunked theories of what nation was guilty of interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

On dual tracks, Democrats prosecuted their case while answering in advance the arguments expected from the president’s attorneys in the days ahead.

At one point, they showed video of a younger Lindsey Graham, then a South Carolina congressman and now a GOP senator allied with Trump, arguing during Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment that no crime was needed for impeaching a president. Trump’s defense team is now arguing that the impeachment articles against him are invalid because they do not allege he committed a specific crime.

The president’s defenders’ turn will come on Saturday.

“We will be putting on a vigorous defense of both facts, r ebutting what they said,” and the Constitution, said attorney Jay Sekulow.

Ahead of the day’s proceedings, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri said the Democrats were putting forward “admirable presentations.” But he said, “There’s just not much new here.”

During the dinner break, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said it seemed like “Groundhog Day in the Senate.”

The top Senate Democrat, Chuck Schumer, acknowledged that many senators “really don’t want to be here.”

But Schumer said Schiff has been outlining a compelling case that many Republicans are hearing it for only the first time. He contended they can’t help but be “glued” to his testimony.

Once reluctant to take on impeachment during an election year, Democrats are now marching toward a decision by the Senate that the American public also will judge.

Trump blasted the proceedings in a Thursday tweet, declaring them the “Most unfair & corrupt hearing in Congressional history!”

After the House prosecutors finish, the president’s lawyers will have as long as 24 hours. It’s unclear how much time they will actually take, but Trump’s team is not expected to finish Saturday, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the planning and granted anonymity. The Senate is expected to take only Sunday off and push into next week.

After that senators will face the question of whether they do, or do not, want to call witnesses to testify.

Senators were permitted Thursday to review supplemental testimony submitted by an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Jennifer Williams, who was among those who had concerns about Trump’s actions. Democrats said the testimony, which is classified, bolsters their impeachment case. A lawyer for Williams declined to comment.

Holding the room’s attention has been difficult for the Democrats, but senators seemed to pay closer mind to Schiff’s testimony that grew dramatic.

Most senators, even Republicans, sat at their desks throughout the afternoon session, as the rules stipulate, and not as many of them were yawning or standing to stretch as during the previous long nights.

To help senators pass the time, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr of North Carolina, passed out lunch favors of fidget spinners, stress balls and other toys.

Democrats thanked the senators for their time and patience, acknowledging the repetition of some of their presentations.

The impeachment trial is set against the backdrop of the 2020 election. Four senators who are Democratic presidential candidates are off the campaign trail, seated as jurors.

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed the public slightly more likely to say the Senate should convict and remove Trump from office than to say it should not, 45% to 40%. But a sizable percentage, 14%, said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion.

One issue with wide agreement: Trump should allow top aides to appear as witnesses at the trial. About 7 in 10 said so, including majorities of Republicans and Democrats, according to the poll.

The strategy of more witnesses, though, seemed all but settled. Republicans rejected Democratic efforts to get Trump aides including former national security adviser John Bolton and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to testify in back-to-back votes earlier this week.

Senators were likely to repeat that rejection next week.