Nebraska redistricting panel hits impasse, turns to public

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Lawmakers who are drafting Nebraska’s new political boundaries agreed Thursday to present two sets of legislative and congressional maps to the public after hitting a major impasse and trading accusations that the maps were skewed to favor a specific political party.

Members of the Legislature’s Redistricting Committee failed to reach an agreement over any one set of plans during a meeting just ahead of next week’s special legislative session. The committee has scheduled hearings next week in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island where members of the public can testify.

One proposed map appears to help Republicans by splitting northwestern Douglas County out of the 2nd Congressional District, which currently encompasses all of Douglas and part of Sarpy County.

Another map backed by Democrats would keep Douglas County whole but move Democrat-friendly Bellevue, in Sarpy County, back into the 2nd District, where it was located prior to the Legislature’s 2011 redistricting. The Democratic plan would also remove suburban areas of the 2nd District that lean Republican.

Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden each won the Omaha-centric district once, claiming one of Nebraska’s three electoral votes in the presidential election. Nebraska is solidly Republican but one of just two states that is able to split its electoral votes. The 2nd District is currently represented by Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon but was held by Democrat Brad Ashford from 2015 to 2017.

The proposed GOP map would shift northwestern Douglas County into the more rural and Republican 1st Congressional District. The new 2nd Congressional District would encompass southern Douglas County, plus all of GOP-heavy Sarpy and Saunders counties.

The proposal’s sponsor, Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, argued that her map makes sense because its boundaries run along the “very recognizable border” of Interstate 680 and West Dodge Road. Everything north and west of those lines would move into the 1st District.

Linehan, a Republican and the committee’s chairwoman, said Douglas County has been divided for years into different districts for legislative and other offices, and she doesn’t see why it couldn’t be the same for congressional districts.

Democrats called the map gerrymandered and vowed to fight it. Sen. Adam Morfeld, of Lincoln, blasted it as “completely partisan, completely political.”

Lawmakers also squabbled over proposed legislative maps. One plan backed by Democrats would reduce the number of rural lawmakers by moving Legislative District 44, in rural southwest Nebraska, to fast-growing suburban Omaha. The district, which has been losing population, is represented by state Sen. Dan Hughes, a Republican.

A different Republican-supported plan would keep the number of rural senators the same but tweak the maps in Omaha and Lincoln to shift several Democratic state lawmakers out of their own districts.