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West Omaha voters will choose between Republican incumbent, Democrat newcomer for Legislature

August 19, 2018

Voters in a west Omaha legislative district will choose between an incumbent who describes himself as a compassionate conservative and a political newcomer whose familial experience inspired her run for office.

State Sen. Robert Hilkemann and Shannon Coryell are squaring off in the Nov. 6 general election to represent District 4, roughly 132nd to 180th Streets and Fort Street to West Center Road in Omaha, in the Nebraska Legislature.

Though state senators are elected on a nonpartisan basis, Hilkemann is a registered Republican; Coryell is a Democrat.

Hilkemann had about $96,000 in cash on hand according to the latest campaign finance filings. Coryell said she’s close to raising $5,000, the level at which candidates have to file a campaign finance report.

Hilkemann said he wants four more years to continue working on issues like public health and safety.

“I feel that I’m a consensus-builder,” he said.

Coryell said running for office was a last-minute decision. She called herself a legislative “nut” who’s tuned into floor debates and testified at committee hearings to voice her support for allowing medical marijuana in Nebraska and raise her opposition to Gov. Pete Ricketts’ proposed changes to federal Title X health care funding.

Hilkemann supported barring Title X dollars from going to agencies that perform abortions or refer women for abortions.

“I think I have a different perspective than (Hilkemann) does,” Coryell said.

Coryell said Hilkemann seemed receptive to her Title X comments, but “voted against me and with the governor” anyway. Coryell said if elected, she would “vote more with my constituents than with the governor.”

Hilkemann said he — like most people he said he’s talked to in the district — does not want federal funds used for abortions.

He noted that while his votes often fall in line with Ricketts, he’s not afraid to disagree. Hilkemann voted to override Ricketts’ vetoes of bills to repeal the state’s death penalty and give immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children the chance to obtain professional and commercial licenses.

“I’m certainly not a puppet to the governor, I can tell you that,” Hilkemann said.

Hilkemann, 70, named serving as a member of the state budget-crafting Appropriations Committee among his accomplishments as a state senator.

He sponsored legislation to require three more diseases to be added to the required screening tests for newborns and introduced a bill that requires that kids up to age 8 ride in a car seat. Both are now state laws.

The retired podiatrist said he’s interested in again pushing for seat belts in school buses and requiring people arrested on suspicion of some felony crimes in Nebraska to submit a DNA sample.

He said he’s proud of helping to boost the state’s property tax relief fund, but “we need to do more.”

“I want to work hard on finding ways that we can come up with a better solution for our property tax issues,” he said.

Coryell, 40, said she wants to work on making health care coverage affordable and supports “exemplary funding” for K-12 education.

A stay-at-home mom, Coryell said her college-aged son lost his health care after Aetna Health withdrew from individual health plan markets under the Affordable Care Act in Nebraska. Other options were too expensive, she said.

His bill was set to grow from a “manageable $130” a month to $300 a month, she said. “Being a full-time college student, that’s not affordable,” she said.

Through her younger son, who was diagnosed with autism at age 2, she found out that public schools were “kind of lacking in their funding for what they could do for him.”

“There was a lot of fighting I had to do to get him what he needed in school,” she said.

If elected, Coryell said she’d support efforts to expand health coverage to more low-income Nebraskans. She noted that she helped collect signatures to get the Medicaid expansion proposal on the November ballot.

Hilkemann has opposed efforts to expand Medicaid in Nebraska.

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