Congressional districts could be redrawn

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October 14th, 2010

By Fred Knapp, NET News

Across the country, state legislative elections this year will have a big impact on congressional redistricting next year. In Nebraska, the impact may be concentrated in Omaha.

Nebraska's 1st Congressional District (Image courtesy NationalAtlas.gov)

Every ten years after the Census, the Legislature redraws congressional district lines. Nationally, this year’s expected Republican surge may produce more favorable districts for the GOP.

In Nebraska, two of the state’s three congressional districts have sent only Republicans to the House for nearly 50 years. In that time, the Omaha-dominated 2nd District, comprising Douglas and part of Sarpy County, has had two Democratic congressmen. And while incumbent Republican Lee Terry has represented the district since 1999, he’s had a number of closely contested races, including this year’s against Omaha state senator Tom White.

With the Census expected to show a continued population shift rural to metropolitan Nebraska, the 2nd District is expected to shrink, geographically. How that’s done could tip the partisan balance, says Senator Scott Laughtenbaugh of Omaha, a Republican.

“There are some who talk about taking parts of western Sarpy County from the district,” he said, “which would remove Republicans from the district. There are some who talk about the eastern part of the district being hived off in Sarpy County which would presumably …remove more Democrats from the district supposedly.”

Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District (Image courtesy NationalAtlas.gov)

Laughtenbaugh added “I haven’t heard anyone talk about taking any chunk of Douglas County away, but I believe that’s a possible outcome too.”

Omaha state Senator Heath Mello, a Democrat, said he’s heard rumblings of trying to shift heavily Democratic northeastern Douglas County into the more Republican 1st District. That district stretches through largely rural and small town eastern Nebraska through Lincoln, from South Dakota to Kansas.

“I’ve heard this partisan banter come from conservatives who want to make some political gain out of moving north Omaha out of the second congressional district which I don’t see happening,” he said. “And I know it doesn’t share the communities of interest with the first congressional district the way that other parts of the Douglas and Sarpy County area does.”

What happens will depend on the Legislature. While it’s officially nonpartisan, when it comes to redistricting, party considerations matter. Right now, the Legislature contains 32 Republicans and 17 Democrats. And that’s unlikely to change much. Given who’s running this year, mathematically Democrats could gain at most two seats, while Republicans could gain up to seven. Mello said he hopes redistricting will be worked out in a nonpartisan fashion. And Laughtenbaugh said he thinks there’s value in keeping congressional districts stable. But asked if he expects a big fight, he said he just doesn’t know.

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