Democrats in Nebraska can't find a congressional candidate to run in Omaha.
They've struggled to find a U.S. Senate contender.
And while Republican voters will be able to choose among six GOP gubernatorial contenders in the May primary, only one Democrat will be on the party's ballot.
However, there is one job Democratic candidates clearly want: a seat on the Nebraska Public Service Commission.
It is not a high-profile job, but it's described by some as one of the best elected positions in state government. It comes with a $75,000-a-year salary. And if history is any indication, the job could turn into a lifetime gig.
This year, the Omaha-based district is wide open following the retirement of longtime commissioner Anne Boyle.
It is a district where Democrats have an edge, encompassing the heavily Democratic eastern half of Douglas County.
Two Democrats have already announced for the office: former congressional candidate Jim Esch, who came close to unseating U.S. Rep. Lee Terry in 2008; and Crystal Rhoades, a member of the Metropolitan Community College board of governors who has long been involved with Omaha's neighborhood associations.
A third is considering a bid: John K. Green, an Omaha attorney who is a longtime member of the Omaha Public Power District board of directors and the former attorney for the City of Gretna.
If all three run, the race would be one of the most hotly contested Democratic battles in the May 13 primary.
So far, only one Republican is in the race: John Sieler, a member of the Nebraska State Board of Education.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission is a little-known state agency that does some of the state's heaviest regulatory lifting. It was created in 1885 to regulate railroads, but its responsibilities have changed over the years.
Today, the five members of the commission regulate telecommunication companies, grain elevators, taxi cab companies and natural gas companies.
If a natural gas company wants to raise its fees, it has to seek approval from the commission. If consumers have a complaint about their telephone service, they can contact the commission.
The commission also oversees the distribution of $53 million to provide broadband and telephone services in high-cost areas, notably in rural Nebraska. The money comes from a surcharge placed on telephone bills known as the Universal Service Fund.
A seat on the Public Service Commission is considered a full-time position. In fact, a state statute prohibits any of the commissioners from “engaging” in another occupation.
They are expected to spend their days attending meetings, reading piles of paperwork filed by utilities and telecommunication companies, and overseeing disciplinary hearings. They're also expected to keep up with the latest federal rules and regulations.
Their $75,000 salaries are just below those of the state auditor and state treasurer, who earn $85,000 a year, and considerably higher than the $12,000 paid to state senators.
Historically, the position comes with some job security. The last time an incumbent was defeated was in 1988, when the commission's current chairman — Frank Landis — ousted Harold Simpson.
Boyle will have served 18 years when she leaves office next year, while Commissioner Rod Johnson will have served 22 years.
“Because the position is not in the media on a day-to-day basis, the reality is that once you get in here — if you don't do something stupid — you're probably going to get re-elected,” Landis said.
He also acknowledged that while the position is intended to be full time, there have been times in the past when there were commissioners who were not as active or dedicated to the job.
“I can't deny that. I would be stupid and foolish to try to deny that. You're right. Some people have treated the job less serious than others. Some people feel a greater obligation toward their position than others,” said Landis, who declined to name names.
Each of the current and potential Democratic candidates enters the race with some political assets.
Esch, 38, has already secured the support of the Omaha Federation of Labor, which represents 32 local unions. He was unanimously endorsed by the Omaha labor unions, said Terry Moore, president of the federation.
“He's a solid, good candidate,” Moore said.
Esch, who recently opened his own law practice in Omaha, said he's running because he is “fascinated” with telecommunications and the other industries regulated by the commission. He also believes that his legal background will help him get up to speed quickly on the technological issues that the commission deals with, such as broadband services.
“They deal with real issues and the things that affect people's everyday lives,” Esch said.
Rhoades comes to the race with the support of Boyle, a longtime Omaha Democrat.
Rhoades is the former assistant director of the Neighborhood Center, which provided a helping hand to the city's neighborhood associations. She currently works as the coordinator for Douglas County's Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative.
If elected, Rhoades vowed to be a voice for consumers.
“I have a very strong interest in making sure that rights are protected,” she said.
Green said he is “seriously” considering a run and would make a decision in the next few weeks.
“I've always been interested in the subject matter, and I have a lot of experience with the subject matter,” he said, noting the 26 years he has served on the OPPD board.