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Republican redistricting plan falls victim to filibuster

Republican redistricting plan falls victim to filibuster

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Redistricting debate

Sen. Justin Wayne speaks during debate of redistricting legislation Friday on the floor of the Legislature.

A redistricting plan that would split Douglas County (Omaha) into two congressional districts was trapped Friday evening by a filibuster, sending the issue of how to reconfigure Nebraska's three House districts back to the Legislature's Redistricting Committee for negotiation.

A cloture motion to end debate and proceed to a vote on advancement of the bill (LB1) fell four votes short of the 33 required, failing on a 29-17 count.

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha, a Republican, joined 16 Democrats in voting no, and two other Republicans, Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward and Sen. Rich Pahls of Omaha, were recorded as present and not voting. 

Sen. Jen Day of Omaha, a Democrat, was recorded as excused.

Negotiations to draft a new proposal will be led by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, a Republican and chairwoman of the Redistricting Committee, and Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha, a Democrat and the committee's vice chairman.

The committee is scheduled to meet Monday, beginning at 8:30 a.m., and Speaker Mike Hilgers of Lincoln announced that the Legislature will delay resuming its redistricting duties until noon Monday.

Friday's outcome represented an initial victory for the Legislature's 17 Democrats and a setback for Republicans.

The filibuster-driven deadlock, which was anticipated from the beginning of an eight-hour debate, will send the nine-member committee back to the drawing board.

Friday's debate centered on metropolitan Omaha's competitive 2nd District and the question of whether counties such as Douglas and Sarpy should be split when other options are available.

The plan that was successfully filibustered would have sent portions of northwestern Douglas County into the 1st District, represented by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln, while matching most of Omaha with Sarpy County and rural Saunders County in the 2nd District, represented by Rep. Don Bacon. Both are Republicans.

The alternative Democratic plan would have further split Sarpy County while keeping all of Douglas County in the 2nd District.

A negotiated agreement may be a challenge, as members of both parties continue to play defense or seek political advantage.

Although Nebraska's Legislature is nonpartisan, the once-every-decade process of redistricting transforms into an intensely partisan enterprise.

The Legislature is composed of 32 Republicans and 17 Democrats, all elected on a nonpartisan ballot.

Alternative redistricting proposals already have been prepared by some senators as pending amendments. Some were offered Friday.

Among them is a proposal from McCollister that would move all of Sarpy County into the 1st District while adding Colfax, Dodge and Washington counties to Omaha's 2nd District. 

That, McCollister said, would leave both Douglas and Sarpy counties whole.

The alternate plan supported by Democratic members of the Redistricting Committee would leave Douglas County intact while shuffling more portions of Sarpy County into the 1st District.  

The congressional redistricting challenge centers on the disparity in population growth that has occurred in the last decade with major growth in the metropolitan Omaha complex, as well as in Lincoln-Lancaster County, while growth has been largely stagnant or minimal in western and central Nebraska's 3rd District.

Linehan strongly objected to descriptions of the Republican majority plan for Omaha's 2nd District as partisan gerrymandering. 

Democratic President Joe Biden still would have won that 2nd District electoral vote last year if the proposed new boundaries were in effect, she said.

"No one is going to be happy where we land" when a settlement is finally reached, said Sen. Tom Briese of Albion, a Republican and a member of the Redistricting Committee.

Sens. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln and Steve Lathrop of Omaha, both Democrats, urged senators to be sensitive to the nonpartisan character of the Legislature in negotiating a settlement.

"This isn't the Republican house; this isn't the Democratic house; this is the people's house," Lathrop said.  

Nebraskans want it that way, he said, and "they say don't ruin this place by turning this into a red-and-blue fight."

"Do not look at this through partisan eyes," Pansing Brooks urged her colleagues. "Keep this precious treasure in the middle of our country alive and well."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

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