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Don Walton: Congressional redistricting maneuvering lies ahead

November 12, 2018

Let’s take a sneak peek ahead at what congressional redistricting in Nebraska might look like after the 2020 census, courtesy of David Drozd.

Drozd, the research coordinator with the Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, is the go-to guy in terms of population data collection and analysis with an eye on Nebraska’s changing demographics.

Current data suggests that the disparity in population figures in Nebraska’s three congressional districts will trigger considerable change as the Legislature approaches its responsibility to create House districts of relatively equal population size.

Growth patterns mean western and central Nebraska’s huge 3rd District, which already encompasses more than three-fourths of the state, will grow even larger geographically while metropolitan Omaha’s 2nd District needs to shed some territory.

Lincoln’s 1st District will be in the middle, giving and taking.

Current data estimates that the 3rd District population will be about 53,000 below the average that essentially is required and the 2nd District will be about 41,000 above the average in 2020.

That means tough decisions lie ahead as legislators shape new districts, with Nebraska’s dominant Republican Party and its leadership deeply engaged. It certainly was the last time in 2011 — as maps were shaped behind the scenes in the Governor’s Residence.

New senators who were elected last week will get in on the action, which also will include drawing new legislative district boundaries.

Drozd offers “some mathematical exercises to provide perspective” for the task that likes ahead.

To move 53,000 people from the 1st District (the Lincoln district) to the 3rd District could mean moving Otoe, Seward, Butler, Polk and Thurston Counties.

Or Madison, Stanton and Cuming Counties, although Drozd recognizes that “there has been political hesitancy” to move Madison County (Norfolk) out of the 1st District. Republicans consider Madison to be one of the bulwarks that helps overcome Democratic votes in Lincoln.

A third redistricting combination would be to move Thurston, Cuming, Stanton, Butler, Polk and Otoe Counties to the 3rd District.

The options available for downsizing Omaha’s 2nd District are even more complicated and could impact Papillion, LaVista and a jigsaw puzzle in Sarpy County.

In 2011, Republicans succeeded in redrawing the district in a manner designed to benefit GOP House nominees, even though that meant removing Offutt Air Force Base and Bellevue from their metropolitan Omaha base and sending them into the 1st District, represented by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln.

That metropolitan Omaha district is Ground Zero, the only competitive House district and the one that Republicans will pressure GOP members of the non-partisan Legislature to protect.

All of this disruption is prompted by the dramatic demographic change underway in Nebraska.

Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy Counties grew by about 10 percent from 2010 to 2017. The other 90 counties lost 2,300 people.

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Finishing up:

* While recognizing that there is no way to accurately assess how new state senators ultimately will vote and act, close observers in the lobby believe there may be more senators who could be described as moderates in the Legislature next year.

* If you think you can’t win, change the rules, throw a beanball at the batter’s head. That’s what happened to Mayor Chris Beutler, whose mayorship transformed Lincoln into a dynamic city.

* The NRA issued a post-election statement declaring: “Gun control was rejected statewide in Nebraska on Tuesday when voters elected pro-Second Amendment candidates to the state’s highest offices.” Hey, guys, you can still abide by the 2nd Amendment and have gun control.

* Lancaster County Republican Chairman J. P. Sabby has been replaced by Greg Osborn in the wake of Republican losses and low turnout in recent elections. Osborn will head the county party until a new chairman is selected at the next meeting.

* In taking note of voter approval of Medicaid expansion in three states, including Nebraska, the National Rural Health Association pointed to assessments that Medicaid expansion substantially lowers the likelihood of hospital closures, especially in rural markets and counties.

* Has any Husker team ever grown as much during a season?

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