Legislature Stalls on Congressional Redistricting

Sept. 17, 2021, midnight ·

The Nebraska Legislature
The Nebraska Legislature meets Friday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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A congressional redistricting plan proposed by the chair of the Legislature's Redistricting Committee was stopped by a filibuster Friday.

It takes a two-thirds majority -- 33 votes in 49-member Legislature -- to stop debate and vote on a bill. Supporters mustered only 29, with 17 opposed and the rest either passing or absent. You can see how senators voted here.

The plan being considered was introduced by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, the Republican chair of the Redistricting Committee in the officially nonpartisan Legislature. Linehan’s bill removes the northern and western portions of Douglas County from the Second Congressional District, and adds in Saunders County and eastern Sarpy County. Leading off debate, Linehan objected that critics were accusing her of gerrymandering based on an out-of-date version of her proposal. But she acknowledged her current version was unlikely to pass.

“I know we’re going to have a very intense debate today and we need to have one. And then the committee is going to have to go back to work and find something we can agree on. But I would like to talk about facts, and not things that just aren’t true,” Linehan said.

Sen. Carol Blood, a Democrat, proposed then withdrew and keeping Douglas County intact in the Second Congressional District, while uniting Sarpy County with others in the First.

Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, a Democrat, also spoke of the need for a new plan.

“My understanding is this map is kind of recognized by both sides as a nonstarter and we’ve just got to spin our wheels for eight hours, and if people who aren’t on Redistricting Committee want to talk so maybe Redistricting can work something out, great<” Hansen said.

The eight hours was a reference to the amount of debate needed before a motion can be made to cut off debate and vote. As the clock ticked away, senators huddled privately exchanging ideas about how redistricting maps should be drawn. Meanwhile, they talked about the principles that should be followed. Sen. Steve Lathrop, a Democrat, urged his colleagues to respect the Legislature’s nonpartisan status.

“We lose sight of the fact that this isn’t our place. This isn’t the Republicans’ house. This isn’t the Democrats’ house. It’s the people’s house,” Lathrop said.

Sen. Mike Hilgers, the Republican speaker of the Legislature, referred to the resolution establishing the redistricting process, which says party affiliations and advantages should not be taken into account. Hilgers said that applies to the so-called “Blue Dot,” the Second Congressional District where Democrats have twice won an electoral vote in otherwise “red,” Republican Nebraska.

“We can’t take political considerations into account. We have heard a lot, outside these walls, about the “Blue Dot.” That shouldn’t matter whatsoever on the floor of this debate here today. That’s external. We can’t take into account partisan political makeup when we’re drafting these maps,” Hilgers said.

But Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, a registered Republican who’s often critical of his party, suggested that’s exactly what had happened with Linehan’s proposal.

“It’s unworthy of this nonpartisan Nebraska Unicameral. It is a partisan bill, and I think we need to recognize it was DOA on arrival, and it’s a nonstarter,” McCollister said.

McCollister said he would propose an alternative to keep Douglas County intact by lumping it together with Washington, Dodge and Colfax Counties in the Second District.

Senators also discussed an alternative proposed by Sen. Justin Wayne that would combine Douglas County and eastern Sarpy County in District Two.

Although it appeared clear Linehan’s proposal did not have the 33 votes to overcome a filibuster, Hilgers said there was still value in having eight hours of debate on it.

“I don’t think it’s a waste of time for opportunities for colleagues to be heard. This is the first chance that all 49 senators have had the opportunity to weigh in on maps. So whether they’re for it or against it, they’re laying out markers, things that they see from their communities, arguments they’re going to make that I think we all should consider,” he said.

Senators are expected to negotiate informally over the weekend, and resume debate next week.