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Democrat Warnock wins Senate race; 2nd too early to call
Democrat Raphael Warnock has won one of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs, becoming the first Black senator in his state’s history and putting the Senate majority within the Democrats’ reach
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ATLANTA (AP) — Democrat Raphael Warnock won one of Georgia’s two Senate runoffs Wednesday, becoming the first Black senator in his state’s history and putting the Senate majority within the Democrats’ reach.

A pastor who spent the past 15 years leading the Atlanta church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached, Warnock defeated Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler. It was a stinging rebuke of outgoing President Donald Trump, who made one of his final trips in office to Georgia to rally his loyal base behind Loeffler and the Republican running for the other seat, David Perdue.

The focus now shifts to the second race between Perdue and Democrat Jon Ossoff. That contest was too early to call as votes were still being counted. If Ossoff wins, Democrats will have complete control of Congress, strengthening President-elect Joe Biden’s standing as he prepares to take office on Jan. 20.

Warnock’s victory is a symbol of a striking shift in Georgia’s politics as the swelling number of diverse, college-educated voters flex their power in the heart of the Deep South. It marks the end of nearly two decades in which Democrats have been shut out of statewide office and follows Biden’s victory in November, when he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992.

Warnock, 51, acknowledged his improbable victory in a message to supporters early Wednesday, citing his family’s experience with poverty. His mother, he said, used to pick “somebody else’s cotton” as a teenager.

“The other day, because this is America, the 82-year-old hands that used to pick somebody else’s cotton picked her youngest son to be a United States senator,” he said. “Tonight, we proved with hope, hard work and the people by our side, anything is possible.”

Loeffler refused to concede in a brief message to supporters shortly after midnight.

“We’ve got some work to do here. This is a game of inches. We’re going to win this election,” insisted Loeffler, a 50-year-old former businesswoman who was appointed to the Senate less than a year ago by the state’s governor.

Loeffler, who remains a Georgia senator until the results of Tuesday’s election are finalized, said she would return to Washington on Wednesday morning to join a small group of senators planning to challenge Congress’ vote to certify Biden’s victory.

“We are going to keep fighting for you,” Loeffler said, “This is about protecting the American dream.”

Georgia’s other runoff election pitted Perdue, a 71-year-old former business executive who held his Senate seat until his term expired on Sunday, against Ossoff, a former congressional aide and journalist. At just 33 years old, Ossoff would be the Senate’s youngest member.

Trump’s false claims of voter fraud cast a dark shadow over the runoff elections, which were held only because no candidate hit the 50% threshold in the general election. He attacked the state’s election chief on the eve of the election and raised the prospect that some votes might not be counted even as votes were being cast Tuesday afternoon.

Republican state officials on the ground reported no significant problems.

This week’s elections mark the formal finale to the turbulent 2020 election season more than two months after the rest of the nation finished voting. The unusually high stakes transformed Georgia, once a solidly Republican state, into one of the nation’s premier battlegrounds for the final days of Trump’s presidency -- and likely beyond.

Both contests tested whether the political coalition that fueled Biden’s November victory was an anti-Trump anomaly or part of a new electoral landscape. To win in Tuesday's elections — and in the future -- Democrats needed strong African American support.

Drawing on his popularity with Black voters, among other groups, Biden won Georgia’s 16 electoral votes by about 12,000 votes out of 5 million cast in November.

Trump's claims about voter fraud in the 2020 election, while meritless, resonated with Republican voters in Georgia. About 7 in 10 agreed with his false assertion that Biden was not the legitimately elected president, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 3,600 voters in the runoff elections.

Election officials across the country, including the Republican governors in Arizona and Georgia, as well as Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, have confirmed that there was no widespread fraud in the November election. Nearly all the legal challenges from Trump and his allies have been dismissed by judges, including two tossed by the Supreme Court, where three Trump-nominated justices preside.

Even with Trump’s claims, voters in both parties were drawn to the polls because of the high stakes. AP VoteCast found that 6 in 10 Georgia voters say Senate party control was the most important factor in their vote.

In Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood, 37-year-old Kari Callaghan said she voted “all Democrat” on Tuesday, an experience that was new for her.

“I’ve always been Republican, but I’ve been pretty disgusted by Trump and just the way the Republicans are working,” she said. “I feel like for the Republican candidates to still stand there with Trump and campaign with Trump feels pretty rotten. This isn’t the conservative values that I grew up with.”

But 56-year-old Will James said he voted “straight GOP.”

He said he was concerned by the Republican candidates’ recent support of Trump’s challenges of the presidential election results in Georgia, “but it didn’t really change the reasons I voted.”

“I believe in balance of power, and I don’t want either party to have a referendum, basically,” he said.

Even before Tuesday, Georgia had shattered its turnout record for a runoff with more than 3 million votes by mail or during in-person advance voting in December. The state’s previous record was 2.1 million in a 2008 Senate runoff.

Peoples reported from New York. Bynum reported from Savannah, Ga. Associated Press writers Haleluya Hadero, Angie Wang, Sophia Tulp, Ben Nadler and Kate Brumback in Atlanta contributed to this report.

Passion for fashion inspires boutique
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Amanda Hoffman’s passion for clothing as a teenager inspired her to open her own boutique in Hastings.

“I worked in retail when I was in high school and college and that’s really where my passion came from,” Hoffman said.

Having six kids herself, Hoffman felt the need to have another option for children’s clothes in Hastings so she opened I AM Me boutique on Oct. 3, 2017.

Since then, other stores in Hastings that offered clothing have closed.

“Now it’s harder to find them,” Hoffman said.

At first, Hoffman planned to only have the store be online, but a space she liked downtown opened up.

“The space at 838 West Second became available and I could envision opening a storefront,” Hoffman said.

This week, Hoffman relocated to 617 W. Second St.

The store offers infant to women’s clothing as well as some men’s clothing.

They also carry gift items and baby accessories, such as bibs.

“I AM Me will carry your style of clothing, shoes and accessories to match any occasion,” Hoffman said.

She said that for those people who have the notion that I AM Me won’t have anything for them, she hopes they give her a chance by coming in and seeing the variety of things the store offers.

“I would just challenge everybody to come in and shop and look and see,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman believes that clothing is a form of self-expression for who you are and how you want to feel.

She said that is why the store carries a variety of clothing to help customers express themselves in the way that they want.

“We provide an ever-changing selection of clothing in various styles so that you can express yourself in the way that fits you best,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman said she has tried to make I AM Me as comfortable as she can by offering an atmosphere that is welcoming.

She said she likes for customers to feel at home in the store and encourages those customers with children to bring them.

“We have a kids table for coloring, toys for kids to play with or books from Brook’s Bookshelf available to entertain kids while shopping,” Hoffman said.

She said that one of her favorite things about running a small business in Hastings is finding out that she made someone’s day, which only adds enjoyment to her day.

“Just getting to see or hear the stories from our other employees,” Hoffman said.

Supervisors to become Commissioners on Thursday

Tuesday’s meeting of the Adams County Board of Supervisors was the last for board member Scott Thomsen as well as the last one in which board members will be known as supervisors.

Thomsen, who represented District 4 and west Hastings for 10 years, was defeated by challenger Harold Johnson during the 2020 Republican primary election. Johnson then was unopposed in the general election.

Thomsen thanked his fellow board members and the public for support over the course of his tenure on the board.

“I’ve enjoyed working with you,” he said.

Board chairman Lee Hogan presented Thomsen with a card from the rest of the board.

“We appreciate what you do and hope you will continue to help us out,” he said.

Thomsen waved to his fellow board members and other meeting attendees when he left a few minutes early to attend a family gathering, which marked his first opportunity to see his mother in quite a while due to novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, restrictions.

Johnson will be sworn in during a meeting on Thursday. At the advice of Deputy County Attorney David Bergin, all seven board members will be sworn in — not just Johnson and re-elected board members Glen Larsen and Chuck Neumann — because Thursday’s meeting is the first in which the county board will be the Adams County of Commissioners, instead of Supervisors.

Voters in Adams County approved during the 2018 general election discontinuing the township form of government. That change takes effect Thursday. Without the township boards in place, the supervisors now will switch titles and henceforth will be known as commissioners.

Also during the meeting, county officials discussed recommendations from the Nebraska State Auditor’s Office regarding the structure of funding for the county’s Health Reimbursement Account, which sets aside money for participating county employees to use on health-related expenses.

Money collected through payroll sits in an account, which has around $600,000 and is handled by the County Clerk’s Office.

County Information Technology Coordinator Ron Kucera, who serves on the county budget committee, said the auditor’s report recommended combining the HRA fund with the county’s health fund, which has a balance of around $200,000.

Those funds are left over from the county’s flex spending account.

County Clerk Ramona Thomas said the company administering the county’s HRA program is reimbursing the employee’s health care provider and the county is reimbursing the administrating company.

Neumann, who chairs the county budget committee, called Deann Haeffner, county coordinator for the state auditor’s office, during the discussion.

She recommended first using the $200,000 leftover flex spending account funds to pay HRA claims. Those are already in the current budget.

Then, to prevent having to go through the bi-monthly claim process with the county board for every HRA claim, Haeffner recommended establishing a petty cash account as a clearinghouse from which HRA claims can be paid. That account could be replenished as needed.

No action was taken.

In other business, the supervisors:

  • Cast unanimous ballots for Lee Hogan to continue serving as board chairman and Neumann to serve as vice chairman, except Neumann abstained in voting for himself.
  • Unanimously approved authorizing a list of financial institutions to serve as Adams County depositories: Wells Fargo, Heritage Bank, Pinnacle, Adams County Bank, Nebraska Public Agency Investment Trust, Five Points Bank, U.S. Bank, Heartland Bank, Bank of Doniphan and Union Bank.
  • Unanimously approved authorizing the County Treasurer to deposit funds in local financial institutions: Wells Fargo, Heritage Bank, Adams County Bank, Nebraska Public Agency Investment Trust, Five Points Bank, U.S. Bank, Heartland Bank, Bank of Doniphan and Union Bank. Unanimously approved giving consent to the County Treasurer to deposit 100% of capital stock and surplus in any of the depository banks named.
  • Unanimously approved designating the Hastings Tribune as the county’s legal newspaper.
  • Unanimously approved the 2021-2022 Memorandum of Understanding for the Juvenile Services Community Based grant.
  • Unanimously approved a pledged security letter of credit.
  • Unanimously approved the Murman Subdivision on Riverview Avenue. Members of the Adams County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval of the item at their meeting Monday.
  • Received the county’s 2020 Livestock Friendly Report from Zoning Administrator Judy Mignery.
  • Unanimously approved requesting the county personnel committee to review and make a recommendation at a future meeting about extending the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
  • Unanimously approved an Adams County Office Building meeting room rental request for Jan. 26 and 28 by the Richard Alexander Law Office.

NSAA allowing more spectators at high school events
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After more than a month of waiting due to public health precautions, community fans of high school activities including basketball and wrestling may soon have their first opportunity of this winter season to watch competitions in person.

Thanks to the ongoing novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic, however, the fans will continue to find procedures and rules different from what is familiar, however.

Effective Monday, the Nebraska School Activities Association has relaxed its statewide guidelines for winter activities to allow more spectators at indoor events, which also include speech contests.

In accordance with the scheduled update, NSAA now is permitting 50% occupancy, as opposed to 25% as before, in gyms and other indoor competition venues.

Back in November 2020, as the winter activities season was just getting under way, the only spectators allowed to attend competitions were household members of participants. In December, that rule was liberalized slightly so that grandparents, too, could attend. Now, other non-household members also may attend, as long as the 50% occupancy guideline is followed.

As before, all spectators, as well as coaches and non-active participants (those not currently on the court, mat or stage), are required to wear face coverings at all times at indoor events. Those face coverings must cover both the nose and mouth.

Active participants are permitted to wear face coverings while playing or performing, but they aren’t required to do so.

Host schools are allowed to impose additional requirements in consultation with their local health department — but those rules must be the same for all participating schools, officials, judges and spectators.

Specific questions about local requirements, then, would need to be referred to those host schools.

NSAA continues to recommend that all host schools require 6 feet of physical distance be maintained between household groups in stands and spectator areas.

Other recommendations include:

  • Creating separate points of entry and seating for home and visitor teams and spectators
  • Either providing no concession stands, or else separate/multiple concession stands for home and visitor spectators
  • Providing separate/multiple restrooms for home and visitor spectators
  • Using signage, stanchions or floor markings to ensure social distancing of 6 feet at concession stands and restrooms
  • Communicating availability of locker room space for the opposing team and the officials to allow for 6 feet of physical distancing
  • Implementing “diligent and effective” cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched objects and surfaces.

In its guidelines document, NSAA states that as circumstances related to COVID-19 continue to constantly change and vary from community to community, “difficult decisions will have to be made from week to week or even day to day.”

“The health and safety of students, staff, and local communities remain the priority of the NSAA as we provide opportunities to participate in the winter sports season,” the association states.

In his cover note accompanying the updated guidelines, Jay Bellar, NSAA executive director, said he has been working with local health department leaders, the Nebraska Department of Education and the Governor’s Office to gather the information needed for the decision-making process.

In December, NSAA declined to open up attendance at its competitions to individuals other than household members and grandparents even after Gov. Pete Ricketts relaxed statewide directed health measures in a way that would have allowed it.

Bellar said the association’s goal remains to be able to have state championships for the winter activities this year.