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CAPITOL VIEW: ‘Urban v. rural’ redistricting fight could get ugly soon PDF Print E-mail
Written by Wauneta Breeze   
Thursday, 14 April 2011 15:57

Not all of you are reading it here first, but if the Legislature’s upcoming redistricting efforts devolve into an urban v. rural territorial fight, keep in mind something Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala said not too long ago.

“It is my goal to maintain as many rural districts as possible. I know many of you may have heard that we will lose at least two western districts. This is not a given. I have worked alongside many helpful individuals that understand the process and we have been able to redistrict, using current estimates, without losing two western districts.”

Schilz offered those thoughts to constituents via his website in February. And if the Legislature’s redistricting plan eventually ends up in a courtroom dispute, as sometimes happens, the Schilz comment might well be marked as an exhibit.

The U.S. Supreme Court has given states a lot of leeway in drawing boundaries for state legislative and congressional districts.

Outright political Gerrymandering is okay, so long as a few rules are observed. For example: breaking up a district in order to dilute the voting power of a minority group might still raise a red flag.

The business of carving up legislative districts solely to keep a number of them “rural” or “urban” can also be problematic. Overpopulating some districts and under-populating others, without regard to a variety of judicial guidelines, can mean trouble.

Veteran (some would say perennial) political writer Don Walton recently offered a thought worth considering on the matter of urban v. rural.

Based only on population figures, Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster Counties could have as many as 25 of the Legislature’s 49 seats. Should rural interests shake with fear and loathing? As Walton put it:

“Rural senators should take some comfort in asking this question: How often do Omaha, Lincoln and Sarpy County senators agree?”


The $32 million question

School districts know they are going to receive tens of millions of dollars less in state aid when lawmakers adopt a new biennial budget. They nonetheless have reason to root for the Legislature’s version of a state aid program, rather than the one pushed by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Lawmakers gave first-round approval to a plan that would provide the schools with $32 million more than Heineman is recommending. Whether the Legislature’s version will look the same when it gets to Heineman’s desk is up in the air; so is the question of what the governor might do with it.

It is fair for legislators to say they are confronted these days with tough decisions. It’s true enough. What is also true is that, while they make tough decisions, it is ultimately the people you elected to local offices who have to live with them and shape programs and policies around them.


GOP ready to spend big to unseat Nelson

Word around Nebraska Republican circles, or at least some of them, is that no one has yet to grasp how much the GOP and its conservative supporters are willing to spend in hopes of unseating U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson if the Democrat seeks a third term in 2012.

Nelson is expected to stand for re-election, and he knows his political adversaries see him as the most vulnerable of Democrats who face the voters next year.

A couple of longtime Republican insiders, in Washington and Omaha, used the same phrase in separate conversations last week when asked how high the spending could go.

“Records are made to be broken.”


ED HOWARD is the statehouse correspondent for the Nebraska Press Association.