Question: Republican lawmakers in the Nebraska Legislature are all in lockstep support of the GOP-boosting redistricting map proposed last week for state legislative races, right?
No, not at all. And that lack of unity explains much about Nebraska politics — and about a threat now hanging over the Legislature’s future.
The map may be called a “Republican” map, but it actually is skewed in major ways toward helping a certain kind of Republican: hard-shell conservatives expected to line up in support of Gov. Pete Ricketts’ approach to politics.
Nebraskans may be surprised to learn that the map would redraw districts to undercut the reelection chances of two independent-minded Republicans (Sens. Myron Dorn and Tom Brandt) who dared support overriding a gubernatorial veto. And it would eliminate outright the current District 24, west of Lincoln, whose voters for 15 years have sent independent-thinking Republicans to the Legislature (current Sen. Mark Kolterman and former Speaker Greg Adams).
In addition to targeting swing-vote Republicans, the map hobbles the reelection opportunities for several Democratic incumbents in western and north-central Douglas County. The current map for the Legislature, adopted in 2011, splits seven counties. The new “Republican” map more than doubles that number — it splits 16.
In this case, dominance in Nebraska government for the most right-wing and uncompromising brand of Republicanism.
Swing-vote Republican senators who are being pushed out by term limits in 2023 roundly express concern that the proposed map would shift the Legislature toward a rigidly controlled, partisan body rather than one in which lawmakers are liberated to make up their own mind.
Self-serving maneuvering by both parties is par for the course during Nebraska redistricting, but in the end, the Legislature must negotiate a state legislative map through responsible compromise. Nebraska, now and always, needs a Legislature whose ideological makeup generally mirrors that of the state. Such a body would contain a large contingent of staunch conservatives, but also a significant number of moderates and liberals.
So, lawmakers must reach agreement that produces a final map no group is fully happy with. The same goes for addressing the redistricting tensions between urban and rural interests. That’s the nature of fair-minded redistricting that serves the public interest. And only through such sober-minded give-and-take can the Legislature develop a map that can garner the necessary 33 votes to withstand a filibuster.
This task is doable. The current Legislature has capable lawmakers, on the Redistricting Committee and outside it, with the ability to achieve constructive agreement.
Attention then will turn to Ricketts. A gubernatorial veto, followed by a successful effort in the Legislature to sustain it, would mean stalemate at the very time Speaker Mike Hilgers is pressing for a resolution of redistricting by the end of this month. Hilgers has all-important duties both to manage this special session responsibly and to help the governor develop confidence in the value of negotiations.
Nebraska’s Legislature must reflect the complexity of our state in the 21st century. The way to achieve that is through responsible redistricting. Lawmakers and the governor must not fail at that crucial task.