(Lincoln, NE) — The nation's only nonpartisan legislature faces its most partisan task yet as Nebraska lawmakers consider how to redraw congressional and legislative lines.
Today, the legislature's redistricting committee held the second of three hearings at the state capitol. Testimony ranged from sitting senators to stay-at-home moms, with a diversity of opinions presented to the legislature's redistricting committee. Most sitting senators testified in favor of keeping their existing districts together, citing the need to preserve existing local partnerships. The rest of the crowd, however, showed up to testify against a proposal from committee chair Lou Ann Linehan that would split Douglas County into two different congressional districts.
Linehan's plan would place north Douglas County with Lincoln in the first district. The second district would be composed of south Douglas County, and all of Saunders and Sarpy counties.
Conversely, vice chair Justin Wayne's proposal would keep all of Douglas County and most of Bellevue in the second district.
Attendees had some amounts of criticism for the Linehan plan. Residents of rural Saunders County came forward to say they didn't want to be associated with any part of urban Omaha. One of the more memorable lines of the day came from industrial electrician Luke Schroer of Bellevue, who said he had "never accidentally wandered into Saunders County", adding that Bellevue had a lot more in common with all of Omaha than it did Saunders County. Schroer tells KFAB Radio News he is concerned about how these decisions would impact the next decade of Nebraska politics, adding it's his first time at a legislative hearing.
Pro-Democrat activist groups called Linehan's plan a form of partisan gerrymandering, intended to make it a lot less likely that a Democratic presidential candidate could win the second district's electoral vote. (Former president Barack Obama and current president Joe Biden are the only two Democrats to have won an electoral vote from the second district, in 2008 and 2020.) Others, like Zac Burns of Lincoln, testified that although that may not have been the committee's intent, it was a side effect that needed to be addressed.
In an interview with KFAB Radio News, Linehan pointed out that her proposed second district had also voted for Biden. "I think it's very odd that I am getting accused of gerrymandering because of the Douglas County split. In fact, if you look at last fall's election results and put them on the map, whether it's Wayne's map or Linehan's map, you still have a blue dot. And that was confirmed by [Nebraska Democratic Party chair] Jane Kleeb yesterday. So the idea that this is some huge political, dramatic, partisan step -- the numbers just don't show that."
The third and final hearing will be in Omaha tomorrow morning. A large crowd is expected, with the majority expected to be against the Linehan map. After the hearing wraps up, legislators will continue to debate the two plans until an agreement can be reached. Bellevue senator Carol Blood, who serves on the redistricting committee, told KFAB Radio News on Monday she hoped the hearings would help depoliticize the process and make a compromise more possible. Linehan said the committee will vote on sending a congressional map to the full legislature tomorrow night (and that it will likely be her plan that goes forward). She said that while there was "not that much to argue about", she hadn't seen any willingness to compromise yet.
The full legislature will begin debating a map Friday, after which negotiations over the final product are expected to begin. The legislative session has been called until September 30th, although there is no guarantee of new maps being approved by then.