The Omaha World-Herald editorial dated Aug. 22 presents a one-sided case regarding the upcoming redistricting debate — a case so one-sided that other perspectives were not even acknowledged. It is therefore incumbent upon us as elected leaders from cities in Sarpy County to point out that there are two sides to this debate.
In failing to acknowledge the history of redistricting in Sarpy County, The World-Herald has glossed over how our citizens have been disenfranchised over the last two decades. The absolutist interpretation of only a single clause in the state constitution has resulted in the creation of two different and unequal standards when applied to the citizens of one county versus the citizens of another. It says to the folks of one county that you can never be touched while telling the citizens of another county that they must accept their place as the sacrificial lamb. Furthermore, setting up the redistricting process with such a rigid starting point in which only certain counties are to be respected puts adjacent counties in the position of being mangled in multiple ways. The outcome of handcuffing this process with such inflexibility could easily result in a lack of contiguity for the rest of a district and it leaves yet another door open for gerrymandering.
As the World-Herald interestingly emphasized, former State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh justified the sanctity of Douglas County by pointing out that “the rest of it is the rest of it.” Well, the rest of it actually has a name and that name is Sarpy. In 2001 and in 2011, Sarpy County was hacked multiple ways with very little consideration given to the feelings of our constituents. Lines were drawn that split communities and citizens have been bounced between congressional districts like ping pong balls.
In its intractable position, The World-Herald also failed to truly account for communities of interest. The preservation of communities of interest is one of the points referenced in the Unicameral’s legislative resolution and it is frequently raised during redistricting debates. Yet, the position of The World-Herald ignores and dismisses that “the rest of it” on the south side of Harrison has a strong community of interest with everything on the north side of that divide.
Is any and every single part of Douglas County more important than any city in Sarpy County when it comes to the redistricting debate? Do all of the areas north of Harrison automatically have a stronger claim of a community of interest with Ralston and South Omaha than La Vista and Bellevue? Both OPS and Millard Public Schools cross into Sarpy County. Are the students and their families on the Sarpy side of those districts just “the rest of it”? Maybe it’s a matter of Omaha wanting the contributions of Sarpy County’s residence dollars and talents, but not their opinions. One has to look no further than the Omaha World-Herald as to who they acknowledge are the significant communities and part of the metropolitan area by the Lee Enterprise ownership of The World-Herald along with the Bellevue Leader, Gretna Breeze and the Papillion Times.
To truly respect communities of interest, our Legislature needs to be able to have an honest and unshackled conversation about what those communities of interest really are. The only point about communities that is communicated by adhering to the rigid starting point espoused by The World Herald is that one special standard applies to one community and a different and unequal standard applies to the other.
While some politicians have written off our cities and neighborhoods as simply “the rest of it,” we should point out that the people who we represent are just as much a part of this community as anyone else. Our communities are rich with men and women who have bravely served our country, proud labor union members who have worked hard their entire lives, entrepreneurs who built strong businesses, first responders, and dedicated public servants who work in our schools. It is an insult to be dismissed as simply “the rest of it.” We are not expendable, and we deserve just as much respect as those who live north of Harrison.
As elected leaders from throughout Sarpy County, we believe enough is enough. For the sake of fairness, all redistricting proposals should be given honest and open consideration. After 20 years of being on the receiving end of the Legislature’s scalpel, our citizens, many of whom have made great sacrifices for our democracy, deserve no less. In the end, the first two letters in “Sarpy” don’t stand for “slice away” and the “D” in Douglas County does not mean “Divine.”