Panel settles on 2 sets of congressional, legislative maps

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers who are redrawing the state’s political boundaries settled on two sets of congressional and legislative maps on Thursday and braced for a wave of criticism that’s expected next week when they present the proposals to the public.

Members of the Redistricting Committee endorsed both sets as a compromise between Republican lawmakers who favor one and Democrats who prefer the other. Eventually, committee members will have to vote on a single plan to submit to the full Legislature.

“These are just a starting point, a foundation,” said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, the committee’s Republican chairwoman. “It’s not where we’ll end up.”

Sen. Justin Wayne, the leading Democrat on the committee, said lawmakers have no choice but to find a compromise because lawmakers are constitutionally required to redraw the maps every decade, and Nebraska doesn’t have any formal process in place if the Legislature fails to act. The committee will present its maps during public hearings next week in Omaha, Lincoln and Grand Island.

 “We’ve got to get it done,” Wayne said.
The GOP-friendly congressional map drew unexpected criticism Thursday from former Republican Gov. Dave Heineman. Heineman, who is considering a run for governor, took issue with part of the plan that would move rural Saunders County into the Omaha-focused 2nd Congressional District. The county has been in the more rural 1st Congressional District for decades.

Heineman spent a large part of his childhood in the county and said many residents feel connected to their current district.

The 2nd District currently encompasses all of Douglas and the western part of Sarpy County. The proposed Republican plan in the Legislature would divide Douglas County between the 1st and 2nd Districts, while moving all of neighboring Sarpy and Saunders counties into the 2nd District. Saunders and Sarpy are both heavily Republican, so merging them with the 2nd District would likely offset Democratic votes in Omaha.

Heineman said he doesn’t object to other parts of the GOP plan. He opposes the Democratic counter-proposal, which would keep Douglas County whole in the 2nd District and swap out western Sarpy County with the more Democratic-leaning city of Bellevue.

But he said it’s obvious that neither plan has the support it needs to pass in the Legislature during the special session that begins next week.

“I don’t have a doubt there are going to be some tradeoffs here,” Heineman said in an interview. “At the end of the day, you’re going to have to find some common ground.”

Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden each won the Omaha-centric 2nd 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.

Linehan, the Republican proposal’s sponsor, 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.

She 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.

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