(Written by Lincoln resident Mary Anne Andrei)
Back when smaller was better, Christa Yoakum spent her childhood days at a one-room, white clapboard schoolhouse on Haines Branch, a tributary of Salt Creek that winds through prairie and farmland just outside of Lincoln. She remembers science classes spent wading into the water to explore its aquatic life. And she fondly recalls her teacher introducing her to civics, all of the children writing out the branches of government
on butcher paper that they hung in the back of the room.
In 1969, Christa’s family moved to Lincoln, but she never forgot the value of the clean creek water that sustained life on Haines Branch. That’s why she sees routing of the Keystone XL Pipeline as one of the most important issues the Nebraska Public Service Commission (PSC) is charged with resolving. Last year the PSC approved a route for the pipeline, allowing TransCanada, a foreign corporation, to use eminent domain to seize private land from Nebraska farmers and ranchers across the state, threatening their surface and groundwater in the event of a spill. “It’s crucially important that landowners are treated fairly when siting any pipeline,” says Christa. “Taking land by eminent domain for private corporate gain is never okay and Landowners shouldn’t have to assume all of the risk and get none of the rewards.”
Christa’s concern is that in the past, the very corporations the PSC regulates have had too much influence. TransCanada has made tens of thousands of dollars in donations to the Nebraska GOP and Republican lawmakers in the last year alone, including Christa’s opponent State Senator Dan Watermeier. Regarding the donations, Watermeier said, “I don’t think it’s a big deal.” Well, Christa does. She will inject fairness into the process by giving citizens a voice. “I will make decisions based on what’s best for the future of our families, neighbors, rural communities, and our land and water. My first priority is, and will always be, the people of Nebraska.”
“My campaign theme is ‘Putting People First,’” Christa says with a broad smile. She means it. Not a career politician but a mother and grandmother who cares about the future of her family and her community. “A lot of the work I’ve done over the years has been helping Nebraskans. From seniors with disease to new immigrant families, it’s been my passion to help individuals and families find the resources that they need to make hard decisions and realize their goals. You have to get to know people before you can help them.”
Christa vows to approach decision-making as a Public Service Commissioner in the same way. It was Christa’s mother-in-law Carol Yoakum who inspired her to become a civic leader. Carol saw a real need for social services in the Arnold Heights neighborhood where she lived and became an advocate for families living at or near the poverty level. Carol taught Christa that access to information and services is critical to making good decisions. That’s why Christa will make it a priority to expand access to affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband internet across the state. With well-informed, connected communities, Nebraska’s rural economies will be in a position to compete with urban centers in eastern Nebraska and beyond. Campaigning with Carol became a family pastime for the Yoakums.
Today, Christa’s ten grandchildren are learning how important it is to participate in our government, knocking on doors with her and distributing fliers. “It’s important for my grandkids and especially my granddaughters to see women taking on leadership roles and participating in the process,” she says. Christa has dedicated a lifetime to building her professional career around helping others—what she calls “feeding her soul.” For many years, she worked as a nurse’s aide in a long-term Alzheimer’s care facility.
Christa is now a program coordinator for Nebraska Appleseed where she works in the Immigrants and Communities program, helping to promote local policies that create welcoming and inclusive communities for immigrants and refugees. “I want people to feel like they matter,” she says, “and to see that anybody can make a difference in their community.”