Legislature Advances Plans for Congressional and Legislative Redistricting

Sept. 24, 2021, midnight ·

Senators Justin Wayne, Lou Ann Linehan and Mike Hilgers
Senators Justin Wayne, Lou Ann Linehan and Mike Hilgers speak Friday. (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The Nebraska Legislature gave first-round approval Friday to a map drawing new congressional districts for the state.

Friday’s votes followed weeks of hearings and negotiations. On the congressional side, those had centered on the shape of the Omaha-area Second Congressional District. In a very brief floor debate, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, the Republican chair of the Redistricting Committee in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, described the shape of the new district.

“What the new congressional districts do, first and foremost, keeps Douglas County whole. Then it goes up and takes Saunders (County)… then it goes down and takes Sarpy County pretty much where it already is in the Second District. And we get to the zero deviation,” Linehan said.

Zero deviation means the Second District will have the same number of vorters as the Lincoln-centered First District and the Third District, which includes most of the rest of the state. Keeping Douglas County intact had been a key demand of Democrats to maintain the competitiveness of the Second District, which has twice given an electoral vote to Democratic presidential candidates. Nevertheless, Sen. Justin Wayne, the Democratic vice chair of the Redistricting Committee, opposed the new plan.

“I don’t necessarily like and agree with what’s the congressional maps are. But I understand, I understand where we are. I understand what’s going on. I’m not saying what’s going on is some shady, secret thing. It’s just, we’ll see the votes, and we’ll keep working try to keep working on select file to maybe make some changes,” Wayne said.

Select file is the second round of debate.

The new map also transfers Thurston, Burt, Washington and Otoe Counties from the First District to the Third. Senators voted 36-10 to give the bill first-round approval, with 7 Democrats joining 29 Republicans to advance it.

Late Friday afternoon, senators took up legislative redistricting. The map they considered divides up the central Nebraska District 36, represented by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, among the neighboring districts, and creates a new District 36 in fast-growing Sarpy County. Williams said the parts of his district will be important parts of the neighboring districts and well-represented.

“I’m very proud of my legislative district and I know each one of us as senators feel that way. In my case I’ve chosen to focus on the bigger picture by thinking about the whole state, along with the constituents of District 36. In contemplating a solution I concluded that what is most important in creating a district is that it leads to a strong representation for the current constituents,” Williams said.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte opposed the move.

“We didn’t need to give up another district in rural Nebraska. Sen. Williams is too kind,” Groene said.

Groene said he preferred an earlier plan that would have split up the district currently represented by Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward in order to create a new district in the Sarpy and Saunders Counties. But senators voted 43-5 to give first round approval to the plan to move Williams’ District 36.