Pleas to Save Western, Central Districts Heard in Grand Island

Sept. 14, 2021, midnight ·

Sen. Dan Hughes
Sen. Dan Hughes testifies in Grand Island Tuesday (Photo by Fred Knapp, Nebraska Public Media News)

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The desire to maintain legislative districts in western and central Nebraska clashed with the need to redraw lines to reflect the shift of population eastward, at a legislative hearing in Grand Island Tuesday.

In a crowded auditorium at Grand Island’s Central Community College, members of the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee heard pleas from other senators and members of the public to maintain existing legislative districts. One such plea came from Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango. Under a plan proposed by Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, Hughes’s 44th District in southwest Nebraska, where the population has been shrinking, would be moved to the growing Omaha suburbs, in order to maintain roughly equal population-sized districts. A competing plan by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn would maintain the district largely intact, while transferring a district near Seward to Omaha. Hughes said he prefers that plan.

“The reason that I think it’s important that that be the choice is because of the Republican River basin…the challenges that we have in the Republican River basin certainly make the 44th District a community of interest and a core community,” Hughes said.

Hughes mentioned the challenge of dealing with Kansas in disputes over water use on the river. But Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said that was largely controlled by Natural Resources Districts, not the Legislature.

Another plea to keep a district intact was mounted by Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, whose district would be rearranged under both redistricting plans. Supporting Williams’ effort, Leslie Marsh, CEO of Lexington Regional Health Center, said the five critical access hospitals in the district had built good relationships with each other and with Williams. That prompted Sen. Suzanne Geist of Lincoln to ask, referring to Williams “He will be term limited, right? And so you’ll be establishing a new relationship anyway.”

Absolutely…But if those five hospitals are broken up, I think we would have less of a unified voice, regardless of who it is,” Marsh replied.

All the support for existing districts led Wayne to ask a question of Stuart Fox, president of the Nebraska State Bank of Broken Bow. Referring to the legislative districts within central and western Nebraska’s included in the Third Congressional District, Wayne asked “So which district from the Third would you like to move?”

Fox laughed, before responding “Obviously, we don’t want to move any.”

Work on figuring out what to do continues with a public hearing in Lincoln Wednesday.