Sarpy County race draws interest


October 27th, 2010

District 14 in Sarpy County is hotly contested, while many others in Nebraska are lopsided or even uncontested (Image courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

Omaha, NE – In a year when many legislative races are lopsided or uncontested, one race in Sarpy County is providing some competitive contrasts.

Of the 24 legislative districts up for election this year, only 17 have more than one candidate. And in a state where Republicans dominate, only 10 districts have registered Democrats running for the officially nonpartisan Legislature. One of those races is District 14, in the Papillion-LaVista area of Sarpy County.
On a recent warm fall evening, a modest crowd milled around outside Papillion-LaVista South High School, waiting for a candidates’ forum to begin. The two candidates for the District 14 seat being vacated by state senator Tim Gay agreed to sit down for brief interviews before taking the stage. Teresa Whitehead, a registered Democrat, is a retired military intelligence officer. Before she attended college on an ROTC scholarship, Whitehead said, she was headed in another direction.

“Education is really important to me. My mom was a teacher, my grandma was a teacher, my brother is a teacher and I intended to teach,” she said, “then the army said, oh yeah, we paid for your education, we’re serious about you going into the Army… So I was very fortunate to be able to serve my country for years.”
Whitehead’s been endorsed by the Nebraska State Education Association, and said she wants to ensure that education and Medicaid aren’t put at risk by the budget cuts she said the Legislature’s going to have to make. Her opponent is Jim Smith, a registered Republican, manager for the Omaha Public Power District and owner of a garage door service company. Smith said the Legislature needs more people with his small business perspective.

“We pay our sales taxes, we have a thriving, growing company… we’re creating jobs. But it’s really hard to do so in this economy with burdensome government regulation, and taxes are always looming,” he said. “And it’s not just small businesses but it’s families as well… We need to control government spending and not increase taxes. And that’s where business perspective can come into play I believe.”

Smith’s been endorsed by the Greater Omaha and state Chambers of Commerce. He said he thinks no area should be off the table for budget cuts, but added the quality of services doesn’t have to be reduced. Other areas of contrast between Whitehead and Smith involve illegal immigration, where he favors an Arizona-style law and she says it’s a federal issue; and abortion, where he’s prolife and she’s pro-choice. Both say they oppose the learning community, which joins Sarpy County with Douglas County school districts in an effort to close the achievement gap between students. But while Whitehead said she wants to replace it with something better, Smith said he wants simply to eliminate it.

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