Redistricting Advances; Senators Discuss Nursing Mothers, Gender Pronouns

Sept. 28, 2021, midnight ·

Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh speaks Tuesday
Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh speaks Tuesday (Nebraska Public Media screenshot)

Despite objections, the Nebraska Legislature gave next-to-final approval to redistricting bills Tuesday. And senators discussed other topics, including nursing mothers and gender pronouns.

Last week, it appeared that senators had largely agreed on redistricting, including the controversial congressional and legislative redistricting maps. But Tuesday, as maps were unveiled that contained what Sen. Lou Ann Linehan said were technical corrections to what advanced last week, Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln moved to delay further consideration.

Hansen said he understood rural parts of Lancaster County might have to be part of districts in other counties. However, he added “When you’re telling me things like all the way up to Old Cheney, all the way up to 70th are now going to have the same representation as people who live within sight of the Kansas border, people who live within sight of the Iowa border that is telling me you are trying to split the city of Lincoln past a point that I can support.”

Sen. Rob Clements of Elmwood, whose district will now stretch from east Lincoln to the Missouri River, said he lives closer to Lincoln than to some of his constituents that he’s losing in redistricting:.

“I just live 20 minutes from east Lincoln and I’m very accessible to the people there,” Clements said, adding that it is probably a shorter drive from where he lives to east Lincoln than it was to part of his district in Sarpy County.

Sen. John Cavanaugh of Omaha objected to the map for the Omaha-area Second Congressional District. Cavanaugh, a Democrat in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, applauded the fact that all of Douglas County was kept in the district. “Bu then, we went out into Saunders County, to get a bunch more Republican-leaning voters, and then cut out parts of Sarpy County that were apparently unfavorable, and then swooped back in to go from Congressman Bacon’s current house, almost right up to exactly where the new house is,” Cavanaugh said.

Linehan, the Republican chair of the redistricting committee, confirmed that the new district includes both where Republican Congressman Don Bacon currently lives and where he’s planning to build a new house. With the exception of state Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, whose district is being divided up to reflect the shift of population to the east, the committee tried to keep all incumbents’ houses within their newly redrawn districts.

Hansen eventually withdrew his motions to delay redistricting, saying not to have done so would have led the session’s redistricting effort to collapse. Senators then voted 29-10 second-round approval of the congressional redistricting map, and 38-6 for legislative redistricting.

Tuesday’s debate also saw senators veer off into other subjects. Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh renewed calls she’s been making all session to restore a room for breastfeeding mothers in the Capitol. The room had been fitted with a sink, refrigerator, and furniture Cavanaugh helped secure a grant for. But it has been temporarily turned into an office, as other offices have to be vacated for work on the Capitol’s heating, ventilating and air conditioning system.

In protest, Cavanaugh has vacated her own office on the 11th floor and said displaced staff could use it. Sen. Dan Hughes, chair of the Legislature’s internal governing Executive Board, has pledged to restore the mother’s room as soon as possible. But Cavanaugh wants action immediately.

“It could be resolved right now. I am not going back into my office. I will stay in the hallway as long as it takes. I have been up on that floor since I started here. I can be in the hallway for 18 more months. I don’t care. I care about the women that work and visit this building having the dedicated space that they deserve,” Cavanaugh said.

Hughes said he’s not going to move staff into a senator’s office, which he said would set a bad precedent. He said he doesn’t know how long it will take to restore the mother’s room, and that he’s open to other suggestions for how to do that.

Sen. Mike Groene also provoked controversy when he made a speech urging people to fight criticism of what he said most Nebraskans think, for example, about gender pronouns.

“When you are shamed by the radicals, when you have the pronoun Nazis attacking you when you use a pronoun they don’t like, people, you need to rise up!” Groene said.

That led Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks to respond.

“What does it hurt you to call someone by the pronoun they want? How in the world does that affect any part of your life? But it might affect that person and it might affect you because you’ve shown kindness to that person,” Pansing Brooks said.

Groene defended his insistence on traditional gender pronouns.

“Who you’re married to, how you live your life – your personal life – I don’t care. But when I meet a stranger, I’m going to be polite, call them “sir” or “madame,” “she” or “he,” he said.

Sen. Megan Hunt, who identifies as bisexual, said calling people by their preferred pronouns is part of overcoming past oppression of queer or nonbinary people.

“When we come out, we don’t want to just quietly exist in the world. We want to celebrate ourselves just like everybody else, by having a picture of your spouse at your desk, or saying what your pronouns are. Letting people know who you are – that’s a gift. And I think that what we have to do is make up for lost time in our culture and make sure there are no LGBTQ kids who have to live in shame the way we did – the way people in my generation did, and people before me,” Hunt said.

Back on redistricting, the Legislature now has one more round of voting to give final approval to the bills. That’s scheduled for Thursday.

Lincoln area legislative redistricting map
Lincoln area legislative redistricting map (Legislative Research Office)
Statewide legislative redistricting map
Statewide legislative redistricting map (Legislative Research Office)