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Republican redistricting plan fails to overcome filibuster in Nebraska Legislature

Republican redistricting plan fails to overcome filibuster in Nebraska Legislature

Take a look at the key differences in redistricting proposals for metro Omaha congressional districts.

LINCOLN — Nebraska lawmakers headed back to the negotiating tables Friday after Republicans failed to break a filibuster against their congressional redistricting plan.

A motion to end the filibuster on Legislative Bill 1 failed on a 29-17 vote, or four short of the number needed to succeed.

Afterward, State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, the Republican chairwoman of the Redistricting Committee, said committee members will take Saturday off, then get back to the job of finding agreement.

“We need to have some conversation on Sunday and need to figure out a way forward,” she said, expressing optimism about the prospects.

Lawmakers are expected to start debating redrawn legislative districts Monday and may get back to congressional districts Tuesday.

Linehan, who worked with other Republicans on LB 1, acknowledged from the beginning of the day that the bill was only a starting point in the quest to even out the populations of Nebraska’s three congressional districts, given the political realities of the Legislature and the partisan nature of redistricting.

While Republicans represent the majority within the officially nonpartisan Legislature, they are short of the number needed to overcome a filibuster. Democrats hold 17 seats in the 49-member body, and it takes 33 votes to cut off a filibuster.

One Republican voted against Friday’s cloture motion, and two others abstained.

LB 1 would split Omaha and Douglas County, moving almost everything north and west of West Dodge Road and Interstate 680 out of the 2nd Congressional District, while adding all of Sarpy County and Saunders County to the district.

The northwest corner of Douglas County would be added to the Lincoln-based 1st Congressional District, represented by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Rep. Don Bacon represents the 2nd District, which currently encompasses all of Douglas County and the western part of Sarpy County.

The measure faced stiff opposition from some lawmakers, especially Democrats, who argued that Douglas County is the core of the 2nd District and should remain whole.

Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, a Democrat who is vice chairman of the Redistricting Committee, said his biggest objection is that the plan would carve up neighborhoods in his northeast Omaha legislative district. He argued that Douglas County has always been within one congressional district since Nebraska became a state in 1867 and should remain whole.

Another Democrat, Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, called the proposal gerrymandering and pointed to an area in which the proposed district boundary would run between the backyards of homes.

“This map cuts my home county in the most arbitrary, nonsensical way possible,” she said.

Sen. Megan Hunt, a Democrat from Omaha, said the proposal was developed because the 2nd District provided an Electoral College vote for Democrat Joe Biden in one of the nation’s most contentious elections. She said Republicans wanted to take away that possibility.

“Let’s not lie. Let’s not be coy. Let’s not obfuscate,” she said. “LB 1 was drafted to be provocative.”

But others argued for the Republican plan, especially Sarpy County senators who said it recognized the rapid growth of their county and their efforts to work together.

Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, a Republican, urged his colleagues to be open to the possibility of change. He called LB 1 the best plan for advancing statewide interests and said it would be a “value-added” for Douglas County by giving it two congressional representatives.

He also pushed back against claims that LB 1 amounted to gerrymandering, saying “gerrymandering does not mean something we just don’t like.”

Another Republican, Sen. John Arch of La Vista, pointed out the similarities among Sarpy’s five cities and the growth that each is experiencing. He took issue with those who insist on keeping Douglas County whole.

“What you’re saying is we can carve up Sarpy but we can’t touch Douglas,” Arch said, questioning whether a way could be found to prevent an either/or choice.

Some pointed to where other counties landed. Sen. Julie Slama, a Republican from Sterling, said she supported LB 1 and not the Democrats’ plan because LB 1 would not split Otoe County.

Others talked about the difficulties of drawing district boundaries that follow federal and state requirements to make populations as equal as possible, keep counties whole if practicable, and protect communities of interest and the core of districts.

“There’s only so many ways we can draw these lines and end up with equitable districts,” said Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln.

Redistricting typically brings out the sharpest party divisions in the Legislature. Nebraska is the only state in which lawmakers are elected and serve without regard to party affiliation and in which political parties play no role in the structure of the Legislature.

The Legislature is aiming to complete its work by Sept. 30 so that counties, school districts and other local subdivisions have time to redraw their election districts and local election officials can make changes to voting precincts.

Staff Writer Sara Gentzler contributed to this report.

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Martha Stoddard keeps legislators honest from The World-Herald's Lincoln bureau, where she covers news from the State Capitol. Follow her on Twitter @StoddardOWH. Phone: 402-670-2402

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