Nebraska's Redistricting News

 

 Omaha World-Herald : "Democrats drop redistricting lawsuit." February 13, 2002
 Omaha World-Herald: "Reshuffling of Nebraska legislative districts brings crowd to hearing." February 6, 2002
 Lincoln Journal Star: "Redistricting hearing draws huge crowd." February 5, 2002
 Omaha World-Herald: "Opinion gives boost to new redistricting bill." January 30, 2002
 Lincoln Journal Star: "Amendment would add 6 state senators." January 15, 2002
 Lincoln Star Journal: "Suit: Lawmakers Ignored Guidelines." August 31, 2001
 Lincoln Star Journal: "New Districts Pose Old Problems to Senators." August 26, 2001
 Lincoln Journal Star: "Saline Democrats fight redistricting decision." June 6, 2001

 Daily Nebraskan: "Regent candidate supports minority district plan." April 27, 2001
 Daily Nebraskan: "Census shows redistricting for Legislature." April 23, 2001
 Daily Nebraskan: "Redistricting sets stage for rural-urban battle." March 21, 2001
 Daily Nebraskan: "Redistricting state, budget among legislature's daunting tasks." January 9, 2001  

Omaha World-Herald
Democrats drop redistricting lawsuit
February 13, 2002

Two Democrats from Saline County have dropped a federal lawsuit challenging a redistricting plan adopted last year by the Nebraska Legislature.

Citing legal costs, Don Eret and Jill Ingham withdrew their suit from U.S. District Court on the redistricting of the 3rd Congressional District.

The financial support for a lawsuit wasn't there in Saline County.

"We didn't get the support we had counted on," Eret said Tuesday.

Eret and Ingham objected to the decision by state lawmakers to move the Democratic stronghold of Saline County from the 1st District into the more heavily Republican 3rd District.

They said the decision weakened the influence of Democrats in the 1st District while strengthening the GOP. Saline is one of the few counties in the state where Democrats outnumber Republicans.

Omaha World-Herald
Reshuffling of Nebraska legislative districts brings crowd to hearing
February 6, 2002

More than 170 people packed a legislative hearing Monday night to discuss a bill that would give a seat to a state senator whose district was drawn out with last year's redistricting.

Many had driven three hours or more from northeast Nebraska cities such as Hartington, Naper and Spencer, upset that their area had lost a state senator again through redistricting.

"It seems grossly unfair that for the second time in 10 years our area loses a legislative district," said Frederick Pinkelman of Hartington.

Others drove from the southeast, upset that the latest proposal would eliminate a district in their area.

The hearing came one week after the Attorney General's Office said redrawing the districts after last year's work would not violate the Nebraska Constitution.

But Jack Gould of political watchdog group Common Cause told the Executive Board that opening up the redistricting process, which traditionally happens with every U.S. Census, could set a bad precedent.

Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing requested the attorney general's opinion and introduced the redistricting bill (Legislative Bill 1257) this session. District boundaries approved last year eliminated the northeast Nebraska district represented by Sen. Doug Cunningham of Wausa, effectively pitting Dierks against Cunningham in this fall's elections.

Now Dierks wants to eliminate a district in southeast Nebraska that is represented by Sen. George Coordsen of Hebron, who is not seeking re-election.

Lincoln Journal Star
Redistricting hearing draws huge crowd
February 5, 2002

More than 170 people packed a legislative hearing Monday night to discuss a bill that would give a seat to a state senator who was drawn out of last year's redistricting law.

Many had driven three hours or more from northeast Nebraska cities such as Hartington, Naper and Spencer, upset that their area had lost a state senator again through redistricting.

"It seems grossly unfair that for the second time in 10 years our area loses a legislative district," said Frederick Pinkelman of Hartington.

Others drove from the southeast, upset that the latest proposal would eliminate a district in their area by dividing it among nearby districts.

People who could not sit in the main hearing room were ushered into a room across the hall, where the Executive Board's hearing could be watched on television.

The hearing came one week after the Attorney General's Office said redrawing the districts after last year's work would not violate the state constitution.

But Jack Gould of political watchdog group Common Cause told the board that opening up the redistricting process, which traditionally happens with every U.S. Census, could set a bad precedent.

"Passing this could allow redistricting to be an ongoing process," Gould said.

Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing requested the attorney general's opinion and introduced the redistricting bill (LB1257) this session. District boundaries approved last year eliminated the northeast Nebraska district represented by Sen. Doug Cunningham of Wausa, effectively pitting Dierks against Cunningham in this fall's elections.

Now, Dierks wants to eliminate a district in Southeast Nebraska that is represented by Sen. George Coordsen of Hebron, who is not seeking re-election.

Dierks, who has served four terms, has argued that northeast Nebraska needs two rural senators. Cunningham, who was elected two years ago when he defeated an appointee of Gov. Mike Johanns, has filed for re-election against Dierks.

Dierks' bill would split Coordsen's district, which includes Fillmore, Saline, Thayer and Jefferson counties, among surrounding districts in the southeast.

Cunningham's district would consist of Knox, Cedar, Pierce and parts of Antelope and Wayne counties. Before it was eliminated and split among adjoining districts last year, Cunningham's district had included Cedar, Pierce and Stanton counties and parts of Dixon, Knox and Wayne counties.

Coordsen said time may work against Dierks' bill, which could run up against deadlines for candidates to file for the fall elections.

"The calendar is a bigger enemy of the bill than what the opposition is," Coordsen said.

All the shuffling was necessary last year because the 2000 Census showed growth in the Omaha and Lincoln areas and dwindling population in many rural areas. Cunningham's district was targeted for extinction while the Omaha area gained another seat.

Districts are established to make certain each senator represents a similar number of people. Based on the 2000 Census, that is 34,923 people per district.

Omaha World-Herald
Opinion gives boost to new redistricting bill
By Robynn Tysver
January 30, 2002

Officially, State Sens. Cap Dierks and Doug Cunningham are political opponents, running for the same legislative seat in northeast Nebraska.

Privately, they are loath to campaign against each other.

In a bid to remain political friends, the two have teamed up on a long-shot effort to persuade their colleagues to draw a new map keeping them in separate legislative districts and in separate campaigns.

A legal opinion Tuesday from the Attorney General's Office boosted their efforts, saying Legislative Bill 1257 - proposing a new redistricting map - would pass constitutional muster.

The Dierks-Cunningham bill would divide District 40 in two, so that the men would not have to fight each other. The bill is the subject of a public hearing Monday at 6:30 p.m.

It will face heavy opposition in the Legislature, which struggled last year to redraw political boundaries and is not eager to address the issue again.

Dierks said the fact that he does not want to run against Cunningham was only one reason for the bill. He said it was unfair for northeast Nebraska to lose a legislative district for the second time in a row. A northeast district was eliminated in 1990.

"We don't want to run against each other," said Dierks, a Ewing rancher, "but I'd like to preserve a rural northeast Nebraska seat."

Last year, lawmakers eliminated one rural seat, combining Dierks' and Cunningham's districts. An urban seat was then created in northern Omaha and southern Washington County to address a changing population.

In his opinion, Deputy Attorney General Steve Grasz said there is nothing in the constitution that expressly prohibits a second redistricting effort.

Lincoln Journal Star
Amendment would add 6 state senators
By Ken Hambleton
January 15, 2002

There are four blank spots on the bronze voting board behind the speaker's chair in the Nebraska Legislature's chamber.

There is one vacant seat, but room for five more senators without much trouble.

Sen. Jim Jones of Eddyville believes there is room and reason for six more state senators.

He proposed a constitutional amendment (CA283) Monday to change the requirement that the Legislature consist of not less than 30 nor more than 50 senators, to not less than 30 nor more than 55 senators.

The state has allowed for 50 senators in the Legislature since 1934. But the Legislature has always split the state into 49 equally populated districts and left one chair and desk open since dispensing with a chaplain in the 1980s.

The latest redistricting efforts have each of the 49 senators representing 34,923 people. That means some districts in Omaha and Lincoln are relatively small geographically, while Jones' 43rd District, for instance, covers more than 16,600 square miles.

"That's big enough to take in four states, depending on the states," Jones said. "It gets bigger every time we redistrict because we have more people moving to the cities. But it makes it hard on a state senator to cover all that new area. Do you know how long it would take to cover from the south end of my district to the north?

"I know this would not make for more rural senators or change the way the urban-rural split goes, but it would make for better representation."

Other attempts to change the number of senators, including one to add two senators in 1976, have failed. "We just need to keep the odd number, so we don't get ties, but we need to add a few to get senators who can get out to the people in their district," Jones said.

Lincoln Star Journal
Suit: Lawmakers Ignored Guidelines
By Ken Hambleton
August 31, 2001

The Legislature ignored its own guidelines and illegally moved Democrat-heavy Saline County into the Republican-dominated 3rd District, according to a suit filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by two Saline County Democrats.

We are not dead, we are not invisible and we are not going away," said Jill Ingham of Friend, secretary of the Saline County Democrats. "When the Legislature went through with the redistricting, they must have thought nobody cared enough to fight them. "Well, we care plenty."

Of Nebraska's 93 counties only seven have more registered Democrats than Republicans. In Saline, it's 4,442 vs. 3,023.

"We do not see any merit to the lawsuit because the (redistricting) plan was fair and followed the guidelines," said Republican Attorney General Don Stenberg, whose office will represent the state.

"I believe that the courts have been clear when there are challenges along racial considerations. But the precedents are also clear that if race is not involved, and one party appears favored over another, there is no challenge."

The suit asks a three-judge panel for a permanent injunction against the law that formed the new congressional districts. If the Saline County Democrats win, the Legislature would be forced to redraw the districts before the May 2002 primary elections.

"This is a naked political play to neuter the Democrats of Saline County," said Attorney Mike Nelsen of Omaha, who will represent Ingham and Don Eret of Dorchester.

"By pushing Saline County to the 3rd District it eliminates any hope of them electing a Democrat for Congress in anybody's lifetime. It doesn't take a genius to see that you weaken the Democrats in the 1st District and strengthen the Republicans in the 1st District by this move."

As it got ready to redraw districts, the Legislature in January adopted a series of resolutions, including that congressional districts follow county lines, that districts are compact and contiguous and that "no consideration shall be given to the political affiliation of registered voters."

Ingham said the Legislature violated its own resolutions.

"Some of us, including me, were a part of the hearing process when the Redistricting Committee recommended that Saline and Gage counties stay in the 1st District and Madison County go to the 3rd District," Ingham said. "But I had a feeling all along, that they'd try their hardest to keep Madison County in the 1st District and move us to the 3rd."

The Redistricting Committee recommended on April 20 that heavily Republican Madison County be moved to the 3rd District to balance the population of Nebraska's three congressional districts evenly.

But the nonpartisan Legislature broke along party lines on May 15, when it voted 27-15 to move Saline County into the 3rd District and keep Madison in the 1st District. There are 29 Republicans, 17 Democrats and three independents in the Legislature.

At the time, Ingham said Saline County Democrats did not have enough time to mount a campaign like Madison County, which argued the northeastern Nebraska county needed to stay in the 1st District to keep the clout of 23-year veteran Rep. Doug Bereuter. They claimed the federal dollars needed for a four-lane highway from South Sioux City to Norfolk would be endangered if Madison County was moved to the 3rd District of freshman Rep. Tom Osborne.

Gage County mounted a similar campaign and was successful in remaining in the 1st District. However, Saline County and part of Cedar County, in northeastern Nebraska, were sent to the west district, which covers almost two-thirds of the state.

Madison County successfully challenged a 1991 legislative redistricting that split the county, forcing the Legislature to redraw the districts in a special session.

Reach Ken Hambleton at [email protected] or 473-7251.

Lincoln Star Journal
New Districts Pose Old Problems to Senators
By Ken Hambleton
August 26, 2001

Sen. Doug Cunningham has already moved into a new state and on Saturday he'll pick up a new district.

"Right now, I'm in a state of depression," said the senator from Wausa who was elected in 2000 to represent the 18th District in the Nebraska Legislature.

Actually, he's still in Nebraska, but the 18th District, which used to represent the Northeast Nebraska towns of Hartington, Pierce, Magnet and land along the South Dakota border, is now 120 miles away near Omaha.

The Legislature shuffled the state's 49 districts to reflect population shifts measured by Census 2000, and Cunningham's district was merged with the 40th District of Sen. Cap Dierks. A new 18th district was created in north and west Omaha and southeastern Washington County.

That all happened in May. What has Cunningham surprised is that he and most of his colleagues in the Legislature, along with a majority of legislative staff, were under the impression the new districts were not recognized until after the next election in fall 2002.

"Everybody I know said they thought that was the case," Cunningham said. "This was a big surprise to me and a lot of other people. It never came up during the debate on redistricting."

Even new maps drawn by the Legislative Research Office indicated the new districts were for 2003.

But a law making the new districts take effect 90 days after the end of the session was passed in 1992, and candidates for the 2002 election need to reside in the newly created districts.

"My new district runs down through west Dodge Street (156th to 188th), through North Omaha and includes Blair and Fort Calhoun, and they didn't vote for me and I don't know them," Cunningham said.

He will remain the representative of that district until the election in fall 2002, but next fall, he'll be campaigning against veteran Sen. Dierks of Ewing for the 40th District seat.

"I've already bought 20,000 stickers that say 'Re-elect Doug Cunningham,' but it doesn't say the district," he said.

Cunningham laughed when asked if he could seek campaign funds from Omaha.

"I wonder if they'll invite me to join the Omaha caucus," he joked.

Sen. John Hilgert of Omaha, laughed and said, "No way."

In 1992, the state attorney general said a senator in Cunningham's position could "represent" the new district or could declare candidacy in the spring for new districts that actually did not exist until the following January.

Sen. Ed Schrock of Elm Creek lost his district to a reapportionment effort in 1992 and he technically finished out his term as a state senator from West Omaha, Elkhorn, almost up to Columbus. Sen. Dwite Pedersen now represents that district.

Schrock left the Legislature for a year, then was elected in the new 39th District and has served that area since.

"I don't think anybody talked about it much back then, and I just went on like I was representing the same district and the folks of the new district could expect me to try and help if they needed me," he said. "It's just a formality. Everybody still has a senator."

Cunningham isn't so sure.

He said he would be available to the people who voted him in but he'd try to pick up on the concerns of the people in the new district.

When it comes to a rural-urban split on a vote, though, Cunningham said he would probably stick with his roots.

"That's how I got elected," he said. "It's how I'll campaign for the next election."

Last spring, the Legislature also created new districts for three U.S. Representatives, eight members of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents and state Board of Education and five Public Service commissioners. Democrats in Saline County are considering a lawsuit to make the Legislature return the southeastern Nebraska county to the 1st Congressional District of Rep. Doug Bereuter. Saline County was moved to the 3rd District of Tom Osborne.

Liz Karnes, who planned to run for the Board of Regents, had to drop her plans because the new districts moved her residence into a position that is not up for election for another six years.

Reach Ken Hambleton at [email protected] or 473-7251.

Lincoln Journal Star
Saline Democrats fight redistricting decision
Ken Hambleton

Saline County Democrats believe the Legislature's final answer was incorrect when it redrew Nebraska's three congressional districts.

The Saline Democrats and the Don Eret for Congress Committee started preliminary work this week on how to return Saline County to the 1st District.

One option could be a lawsuit to force a change.

"We believe Saline County was targeted for redistricting because it has 52 percent registered Democrats and the Legislature is mostly Republican," said Friend resident Jill Ingham of the Saline Democrats.

By moving Saline County, one of only seven Nebraska counties with a Democrat majority, to the almost exclusively Republican 3rd District, the Democrats believe they would lose what clout they have in the 1st District.

The Legislature finished redistricting Nebraska's three congressional districts and Gov. Mike Johanns signed the bill earlier this week. The approved plan moved Saline and York counties from the 1st District of Rep. Doug Bereuter to the 3rd District of freshman Rep. Tom Osborne. Sarpy County is also split between the 1st and 2nd districts.

That was a result of a compromise that kept consistently Republican Madison County, with Norfolk, in the 1st District along with Gage County and Beatrice. Residents of Madison and Gage counties argued they needed the political weight of 23-year congressman Bereuter. Norfolk civic leaders said a four-lane highway running from South Sioux City to Norfolk was the key to economic survival in northeast Nebraska.

"They had a public hearing and the Redistricting Committee came out with a perfect plan to have Madison County move to the 3rd District and everybody else stay put," said Eret, who lost to Bereuter in 1998.

"Now, they have Saline going west and split Cedar County," he said. "If they move Madison, the numbers are about the same, so this is very political and not very practical."

Eret said he's not sure whether or not he will run for congress again. "Depending on the lawsuit we file, if I did run, it could be the 1st or 3rd district, I suppose."

Sen. George Coordsen of Hebron, who represents Saline and Gage counties, among others in the Legislature, said he was happy Gage was replaced but not pleased Saline was moved. He tried an amendment on the final reading of the congressional redistricting bill but was soundly defeated.

Ingham said Madison County was given months of preparation to battle redistricting plans.

"We had a few days when we found out," she said. "People didn't call because they were shocked and they felt there was no alternative at that late date. Well, there is an alternative and we're going to find it.

"We have contacted people outside the county and outside the state and we will have a solid plan," she said.

Ingham declined any further details.

"Why would we give our plans to the Saline Republicans, State Republicans and even the Republican National Party?"

Ironically, Madison County successfully sued the state to change redistricting plans for the new legislative districts in 1991.

Reach Ken Hambleton at [email protected] or 402-473-7251.

Daily Nebraskan
Regent candidate supports minority district plan
George Green
April 27, 2001

A University of Nebraska regent candidate believes a plan to create a district with a large minority base may simply be a front to keep her out of office.  Liz Karnes of Omaha says she supports hatching a district with strong minority representation.  But she's labeled legislative redistricting decisions "highly coincidental" because they nudge her out of a district slated to play host to an election next year and into to one that won't see a competition until 2006.

Karnes said the senators' decisions might trip up her fledgling campaign.  In January, Karnes said she mailed out a slew of letters announcing her candidacy and received $35,000 worth of support in return.  Moreover, she said she also got back extra letters pledging an additional $20,000 of support.  If lawmakers pass a bill that redraws regents' districts, though, Karnes said she might have to turn back the cash because her new district wouldn't see an election until 2006.

The lawmakers' move, Karnes said, hinted of foul play, considering she had already announced her candidacy, and senators chose to move her anyway.  But what really raised her concerns, she said, were telephone calls from a few senators warning that "people are working to exclude you from this district." Karnes declined to reveal the names of the callers.  Such ominous caveats, Karnes said, forced her to question whether political considerations prompted senators to force her out of the election.

Perhaps, she said, these unnamed few might support Regent Nancy O'Brien, the woman Karnes would have competed against if senators had left her in the district.  Or maybe, Karnes said, these senators support Howard Hawks, an Omaha businessman, who may join the election.  Sen. Chris Beutler of Lincoln, a member of a subcommittee in charge of regents redistricting, said the committee's other members - Omaha senators Kermit Brashear and Ernie Chambers - did most of the work on shaping the Omaha-area districts.  Brashear did not return telephone calls from the Daily Nebraskan Thursday evening. Chambers also could not be reached.

Beutler said the whole committee set out to create a "substantially" minority district in Omaha. And, he said, after molding that area the senators began wrangling with the surrounding neighborhoods.  The senators did carve out the 4th District with a minority population of about 36 percent.   Karnes lauded the plan to build a minority district, but, she said, lawmakers could have reworked the districts in any number of ways.

The two districts in question - the 2nd and 8th Districts - could have been stretched or squeezed in any direction but east because the Missouri River blocks expansion, she said.  Karnes said she didn't know Chambers or Beutler well. but, said she and her husband - former U.S. Sen. David Karnes - had been staunch supporters of Brashear.  "We think Kermit's doing an outstanding job," she said.

Before moving district lines, Karnes fell into the 2nd District; the new plan moves her into the 8th District.  Senators still have a chance to adjust the lines because the bills adopting the new maps have yet to reach the floor of the Legislature where lawmakers will discuss them. In addition, public hearings on the plans are scheduled for May 5.  Regent Drew Miller said lawmakers should move O'Brien's district north, mirroring what they did with his district under the plan.

That move, he said, would put the 2nd District where it belongs based on population data. The Legislature's plan does the opposite, moving the second district south, he said.  Despite his opposition to the placement of the 2nd District, Miller said he supported the idea of creating a district with a significant minority population.  Miller declined to name people who might have a vested interest in perverting the system.  But, he said, the move certainly reeks of injustice.  "It's gerrymandering," he said.

For Karnes, now a member of the District 66 school board in Omaha, the lawmakers' proposal may eliminate her chance at landing a post she says she has coveted for years.  For her neighbors, though, Karnes said the move ushered in more years of getting shortchanged at the ballot box.  When Karnes looked into her area's redistricting past, she said, she discovered that area residents only were eligible to vote for a regent twice in the past 18 years. Regents are elected to six-year terms.  Had state senators given these constituents what they deserve, Karnes said, she and her neighbors would have voted at least one more time.

Two votes in nearly 20 years, Karnes said, alienates deserving voters from the polls.  More specifically, she said, these people are being slowly "disenfranchised."  Karnes said she hoped lawmakers would tweak the maps, granting her neighbors a vote and her chance to compete.  "What I really wanted was an opportunity," she said.

Daily Nebraskan
Census shows redistricting for Legislature

Gwen Tietgen
April 23, 2001

The once-a-decade task of redistricting the state with the new numbers from the 2000 census is finally coughing up its first results.  Last week, the Legislature's Redistricting Committee submitted five proposals that drew new boundaries for Supreme Court judges, the Nebraska State Board of Education and the NU Board of Regents, the Public Service Commission and the state's three congressional districts.

On Friday, after Omaha Sen. Pat Bourne's first proposed map for new congressional districts was shot down, committee members voted 5-3-1 to adopt the "Bourne-again proposal."  Bourne's proposal would balance the population shift from rural to urban parts of the state by edging Madison County out of the 1st District and adding it to the 3rd District.

The proposal would also compensate for Omaha's population growth by moving the southern half of Sarpy County from the 2nd District into the 1st District.  The target population for each congressional district is 570,421 or one-third of Nebraska's 1,711,263 population.  Most citizens of Madison County are opposing the change and have been adamant about having Doug Bereuter, 1st District representative, be the county's voice in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Gene Tyson of Norfolk said Bereuter's incumbent status could make or break economic development in the county because of the federal funds Bereuter had been working on garnering for proposed four-lane Highway 35.  The highway would open up economic development in Norfolk and surrounding communities, Tyson said.

Tyson said the Bourne proposal "took the easy way out" when adding Madison County to the 3rd District because of the county's number-friendly 35,226 population, the approximate number the 3rd District needed to even up with the other district's populations.  "I don't think it's going to fly," Tyson said.

Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln said Madison County's fierce opposition to the proposal was expected.  "No matter what plan the committee chooses, you're going to have comments and people who don't want to move," Schimek said.  The awaited proposal for Nebraska's 49 legislative districts is expected to be released this week.  The state's districts will be adjusted to accommodate the population growth in Nebraska's urban areas.

While a lot of rumors and talk have filled the halls of the Legislature about which district will be eliminated in the process, state constitutional rules make some things ascertain.  Senators who were elected last November cannot have their terms shorten because of redistricting and will end their term in January 2005.  The district that would be eliminated would be a rural, even-numbered district while the Omaha-area was expected to gain a district, Schimek said.

Also, senators who have their district eliminated will end their term in January 2003, when the new legislative districts kick in, and cannot seek re-election until 2004.  But for now, Tyson and other senators know that everything is up for grabs with the redistricting process, and each senator will be working hard to gain support for their respective proposals.  Citizens can voice their concerns and hear from state senators about redistricting process during a statewide public hearing on NETV scheduled May 5.

Daily Nebraskan
Redistricting sets stage for rural-urban battle

George Green
March 21, 2001

The political version of musical chairs is set to begin.

When Census 2000 figures landed in the capital city last week, state senators began jostling for seats hoping that when the music dies they will still have a district to represent.  Robert Sittig, a UNL political science professor, said the great dance could breed conflict amongst lawmakers.  "It's a potentially explosive process," he said.  The fresh Census figures could turn heads because a special committee of lawmakers has to digest the numbers and redraw the boundaries of various government districts including congressional and legislative districts, he said.

Senators have to refigure boundaries because the state constitution mandates that each district contain approximately the same number of people, he said.  "It's a one-person, one-vote standard," he said.  This year, the ideal legislative district will contain 34,924 people and 570,421 people for congressional districts.  Problems arise when population shifts force senators to eliminate districts in one region to make room for new districts in another part of the state, he said.

The census figures revealed last week show during the last 10 years more Nebraskans shuffled east - to Lincoln and Omaha -forcing senators to geographically expand districts in the West and shrink districts in the East.  The process of pinching and ballooning districts, Sittig said, will cause a more "unpleasant situation" for state senators than congressional representatives.  "It'll be more anguishing for the state legislative districts," he said.

Sittig said senators will have to move congressional lines but won't be forced to remove entire districts to establish new ones in different parts of the state. On the other hand, Sen. DiAnna Schimek of Lincoln, who is the vice chairwoman of the Redistricting Committee, said up to two incumbent state senators might get lumped into the same district because of the population shifts.  Specifically, she said, those shifts could force her committee to get rid of one or two districts in the West making room for one or two more in the densely populated East.  "At some point, you have to remove an entire district," she said.

Because the West is predominately rural and the East is predominately urban, the problem could pit the two groups against each other. Schimek said her committee will meet Wednesday morning to begin hashing out the map work.  So far, she said, it hasn't marked a single district for elimination. Sen. George Coordsen of Hebron, chairman of the Redistricting Committee, emphasized that his group hasn't decided what district will go under the ax. "Every district has potential for significant shifts in their boundaries," he said.  And Schimek said the process isn't necessarily destined to end painfully.

When the Legislature redrew lines in 1990, Sen. Ed Schrock of Elm Creek volunteered his district for removal. Four years later, Schrock's new district elected him as its representative, she said.  Despite these tough political choices, Sittig said the redistricting process used to get a lot uglier.  Currently, he said, the courts monitor the Legislature's redistricting work to assure the senators redraw equitably.  "The judges are kind of looking over (the senators') shoulders," he said.

If senators or citizens feel they have been treated unfairly in process, he said, they can bring their complaints before the court.  Thirty years ago, though, he said policy makers laid down boundaries with their political and personal needs in mind.  For example, he said, a racist senator might "carve up" the predominately black neighborhood in north central Omaha in hopes of spreading out the black votes so that the black voters couldn't exhibit a collective influence on the election.  Or, he said, senators used to concentrate minorities into a single district so they could only elect a single senator. Sittig said lawmakers used the same techniques to create districts with partisan biases.

Ben Kiser, executive director of the Nebraska Republican Party, said Nebraska is so strongly Republican that political tweaking won't play much of a part in the redistricting.  "It's going to be business as usual," he said.  Anne Boyle, chairwoman of Nebraska Democratic Party, agreed that partisan politics won't play much of part in the legislative redistricting.  She said the rural versus urban problem could be the real battle.  "(Rural communities) always want to have a voice," she said.

To further ensure objective work and to free up more legislative time, Sittig said, some states have hired outside agencies to rework their boundaries. Nebraska has rejected similar plans in the past, he said.  Coordsen said the whole debate really comes down to one question: "What district will disappear?"

Daily Nebraskan
Redistricting state, budget among legislature's daunting tasks
George Green
January 9, 2001


The Legislature kicked off its 97th session with a full plate of work.
  The year will be particularly busy because the Legislature has to tackle redistricting the state, a daunting task that rises only once every 10 years when the Census is taken.  Moreover, the Legislature has to complete a two-year budget for the state in a year where budget shortfalls are being discussed in terms of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sen. Roger Wehrbein of Plattsmouth, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said redistricting the state to comply with census tract numbers will be "contentious."  Redistricting generally pits urban districts against rural ones or eastern districts against western ones, he said.  Population shifts from rural areas to urban cities generate bitter disputes as lines are redrawn to match population densities.

Sen. Jon Bruning of Sarpy County said preliminary numbers seem to indicate that Lincoln and Omaha stand to gain at least 2 seats in the Legislature. These additional seats will have to be sacrificed by western districts, he said.   "It's going to be a very delicate process," Bruning said.  Senators will not have time on their side when they tweak district boundaries because the final census numbers will not be available until April 1, Bruning said.  This leaves the senators just two months to hash out the boundaries.

To get an early start on the issue, the Legislature planned to debate the rules of the redistricting process today, said Sen. Bob Wickersham of Harrison, chairman of the Revenue Committee.  Senators will consider forming a special committee composed of three senators from each congressional district charged with overseeing the work, he said.

The Legislature will also consider a proposal to hold public hearings in each congressional district about the redistricting, Wickersham said.

Time also promises to be a thorn in the senators' sides when they create a budget for the state.  Final revenue projections will not be available until the end of February or the beginning of April, which puts an additional squeeze on senators who will be bogged down in redistricting woes, Wehrbein said.  A final budget is supposed to hit the floor for debate on April 20th, he said.  Budget forecasts paint a dreary picture that shows the state being several hundred million dollars in the red, Bruning said.

Fueling this budget shortfall, he said, are proposals for increased teacher pay and a request from the University of Nebraska for $50 million more than it received last year.  To pay for these increases and to shore up the budget, Bruning said, the Legislature will consider several different measures including expanding the sales tax to cover services and possibly relaxing property tax levies.  But, he said, most senators are leery about adjusting property taxes so the revenue will most likely come from elsewhere or other government programs will have to be trimmed.

Beyond the massive redistricting and budget issues, Wehrbein said the Legislature will also face controversial topics when it debates lowering the blood alcohol content at which drivers are considered legally drunk from .1 to .08.  The federal government has mandated that states drop their BAC levels if they want to receive federal money for road maintenance, he said.  Wehrbein said the BAC controversy has created intense debate in the past.

Wickersham said he anticipates conflicts over the controversial research at the University of Nebraska Medical Center using tissues from aborted fetuses.  Last year, he said, several senators voiced intense opposition to the research and promised more conflict this year.  None of the senators interviewed by the Daily Nebraskan were willing to speculate on how these issues would be resolved.  But Bruning said he did know one thing for certain: "There will be many spirited debates."

 
 


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