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Former Sen. Lathrop returns to Nebraska Legislature, two incumbents ousted

November 9, 2018

LINCOLN — In a night of upsets, a former legislative heavyweight returned to the Nebraska Legislature and two incumbent state senators were ousted Tuesday.

Republicans lost one seat to Democrats while gaining one by defeating the sole Libertarian in the officially nonpartisan body. Two seats were too close to call at press time.

Meanwhile, candidates backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts had decidedly mixed outcomes. Three who got money from the governor prevailed in their election battles while two candidates lost and two were in races too close to call.

Former State Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha became the second person to return to the Legislature after being term-limited out of office four years ago. The only previous returnee has been Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, although others have tried to come back.

Lathrop defeated the incumbent, Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston, in one of the most expensive and hard-fought legislative campaigns of the year. Riepe had succeeded Lathrop in the District 12 seat representing the Millard and Ralston areas.

Lathrop’s victory as a prominent Democrat could make the next four years more challenging for the governor. Riepe had been a Ricketts ally in the Legislature and had gotten financial support from the governor.

The outcome gave Democrats one more seat in the Legislature, as well as an experienced senator.

A second incumbent who appeared to have been defeated was Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha. With strong backing from the governor, she had sought to hold the District 6 seat that Ricketts appointed her to last year.

Her efforts appeared to have fallen short against Machaela Cavanaugh, the first legislative candidate to have a baby during her campaign. Cavanaugh’s victory would represent a second Democratic seat gained.

But Democrats appeared to have lost the District 10 seat to Matt Deaver of Omaha, who held off Wendy DeBoer. The incumbent, Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, was barred from running again because of term limits. Krist had been a Republican but switched parties earlier this year to run for governor.

The Nebraska Legislature is officially nonpartisan, meaning that candidates appear on the ballot and serve without party labels. However, political parties are active in backing candidates.

Republicans picked up a seat by defeating the Legislature’s lone Libertarian, Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, for the District 32 seat. Ebke left the Republican Party two years ago in response to demands for party loyalty from Ricketts and other GOP leaders.

Her party switch made her a target for attack ads launched by the GOP. She lost to Tom Brandt of Plymouth, a Republican but not the candidate backed by Ricketts. That candidate lost during the primary election.

In District 22, Mike Moser, a former mayor of Columbus, won against another Ricketts-backed candidate, Doug Oertwich. While both are Republicans, only Oertwich got the governor’s financial support.

Candidates who won with help from the governor were Sen. Bob Clements of Elmwood, John Arch of La Vista and Ben Hansen of Blair.

The election saw Nebraska elect its first openly bisexual state senator, Megan Hunt of Omaha, in District 8.

Legislative results:

District 2

State Sen. Rob Clements, a banker from Elmwood, defeated Susan Lorence, a telecommunications analyst from Plattsmouth. Clements, a registered Republican, was appointed to the Legislature in 2017. Lorence is a registered Democrat.

District 6

Voters appear to have ousted Sen. Theresa Thibodeau, a small-business owner, in favor of Machaela Cavanaugh, a Democrat who works for the Buffett Early Childhood Institute. Thibodeau, a Republican, was appointed to the central Omaha seat.

District 8

Megan Hunt, a small-business owner, defeated Creighton University data scientist Mina Davis to claim the central Omaha seat now held by Sen. Burke Harr, who is term-limited.

District 10

The race between Omaha attorney Matt Deaver and Omaha college educator Wendy DeBoer remains too close to call. Deaver, a Republican, and DeBoer, a Democrat, are battling for the seat being vacated by Sen. Bob Krist, who is term-limited. DeBoer is ahead by 37 votes with some ballots yet to be counted.

District 12

Attorney Steve Lathrop of Omaha, a Democrat, ousted incumbent Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston, a retired hospital administrator and Republican, to reclaim the seat he held until 2014. Lathrop becomes the second term-limited senator to return to the Legislature.

District 14

John Arch, a Boys Town executive and registered Republican from La Vista, won against Jeff Parris, a defense analyst and Democrat from La Vista. Arch will replace Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, who was term-limited and resigned mid-summer.

District 16

Chiropractor Ben Hansen of Blair, a registered Republican, held off Democrat Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons, a former University of Nebraska regent, to claim the seat now held by Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft. Hansen has been a member of the Blair City Council.

District 18

In another race pitting a Republican against a Democrat, incumbent Sen. Brett Lindstrom, an Omaha financial adviser and Republican, won re-election against Scott Winkler, a retired City of Omaha accounting manager.

District 22

Mike Moser, a former Columbus mayor, defeated Doug Oertwich, a farmer and grain hauler from rural Pilger, to replace term-limited Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus. All three men are Republicans, but Oertwich had support from Gov. Pete Ricketts.

District 30

Myron Dorn, a farmer from Adams, appeared to have edged out Don Schuller, a farmer from Wymore, for the seat now held by Sen. Roy Baker of Lincoln. Baker decided against seeking re-election. Dorn is a Republican and Schuller is a Democrat.

District 32

In an upset, Plymouth farmer Tom Brandt ousted incumbent Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete. Ebke, a political science instructor, left the Republican Party to become a Libertarian. Brandt is a registered Republican.

District 40

Tim Gragert, a retired military and federal employee from Creighton, pulled out a victory against Keith Kube, a retired investment banker and consultant from rural Crofton. Both are Republicans. Gragert replaced term-limited Sen. Tyson Larson, whose legislative residence is in O’Neill.

District 42

North Platte Sen. Mike Groene cruised to re-election against Judy Pederson, a small-business owner. Pederson gained her spot on the ballot through a write-in campaign. Groene, an agricultural marketer, has been controversial as the Education Committee chairman. Both are Republicans.

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