Highly Contested Race for Nebraska Legislative District 13


May 10th, 2016

In the Omaha area alone, there are nine races for open seats in the Nebraska Unicameral. Several are highly contested, including district 13, which includes Florence, Ponca Hills and the Cunningham Lake area. KVNO’s Brandon McDermott recently sat down with the candidates on the campaign trail—ahead of Today’s primary– to see what they are hearing from potential constituents.

Tanya Cook represented District 13 in the Nebraska Legislature for eight years, and is now term-limited out.

There are three candidates for the open seat: Creighton University psychology professor Jill Brown, Omaha Public Schools Board President Justin Wayne and Omaha Lawyer Jake Seeman. All three are listed as non-partisan but there are differences between them.

Jill Brown is a professor at Creighton University where she teaches Multicultural Psychology and Advanced Research Design. (Photo courtesy Jill Brown For Legislature)

Jill Brown is a professor at Creighton University where she teaches Multicultural Psychology. (Photo courtesy Jill Brown For Legislature)

Jill Brown says she offers the constituents of district 13 a knowledgeable person who isn’t an ideologue when it comes to politics.

“You know something that’s missing is engagement,” Brown said. “This feels like a way that I can take a lot of what I’ve learned a lot of what I’m passionate about, a lot of what I care about deeply and gauge and try to create a society or create at least a representative that will be good for district thirteen.”

Justin Wayne says he offers a down to earth, honest perspective – one which would work across the aisle to get things done.

“Sitting down talking to people that can be honest with you,” Wayne said. ”Not some random person coming up to their door saying, ‘I’m running for office, tell me what you think.’ You’re not going to get the honesty that way; you’ve got to have that relationship.”

Wayne says potential voters he’s talked to during his walks around the district say they like that he is from there.

“It isn’t so much that we have different political perspectives because think most of us agree are a lot of the issues. The differences as I’m from here, I know the community I’ve been the only one who’s been here the entire time to watch the community change, organically. That means I understand. I have connections with most of the leaders around this area.  And I’m not talking political leaders but people at the neighborhood level.”

Justin Wayne has been the school board president for OPS since June of 2013. (Photo courtesy Justin Wayne)

Justin Wayne has been the school board president for OPS since June of 2013. (Photo courtesy Justin Wayne)

Brown says though she has only lived in district 13 for eight years, she understands the issues and residents’ concerns. She thinks she could help with the rural-urban divide.

“Rural families have different issues in urban families. That’s one thing I think I bring to the legislature.  I grew up on a farm in rural Nebraska, those are kind of my peoples. But I’ve lived in Omaha for fifteen years, so, district 13 is my people too.”

She served in the Peace Corps in Namibia in Southern Africa before returning to Omaha. She thinks constituents she has talked to relate to her.

“They have confidence that I care about working families and that I care about social justice issues. Making sure that people that don’t always have a voice in government would have a voice and they would be represented and I definitely feel that.”

One area district 13 needs help with is economic opportunity for the people living there. In the last five years down Ames Street, Godfathers and Pizza Hut have closed – Taco Bell has become a tobacco/liquor store. Driving down 72nd street North of Maple – Applebee’s is closed, Hancock Fabric has closed, and Office Max closed.

Jake Seeman, a lawyer, was born and raised in Omaha. (Photo Courtesy Jake Seeman)

Jake Seeman, a lawyer, was born and raised in Omaha. (Photo Courtesy Jake Seeman)

“How can you develop this area and make sure that the high school student can go get a part time job at a local Taco Bell or a local Applebee’s. I think that helps deter a crime, they have money in their pocket and they have a schedule. So they’re not just out doing whatever.”

Wayne wants to help bring in and encourage small and emerging businesses to District 13.

“I want to toy with those ideas – maybe we could create a tax free zone or enterprise zone to these corridors, this would allow small businesses to come in for three to five, maybe seven years where they have to don’t have to pay taxes. If we can start growing the small businesses in this area then, I think it will fundamentally change this area.”

Brown says she has heard m any people she has talked to bring up the lack of jobs. She also thinks voters will appreciate her compassion.

“My whole life I’ve really felt like I’ve had a lot of empathy and tried to walk in solidarity with people that aren’t always getting represented and I think I’d continue that in the legislature.”

Brown has secured endorsements from the Omaha Federation of Labor, Nebraska State AFL-CIO and the Nebraska Association of Public Employees. Just Monday, Justin Wayne obtained an endorsement from former Nebraska senator and governor, Bob Kerrey. He also holds an endorsement from the Nebraska State Education Association.

A third candidate for District 13 is Omahan Jake Seeman, who worked with Dave Domina during his 2014 bid for Senate.  Seeman didn’t respond to several attempts to contact him. In Nebraska’s non-partisan legislature, the top two vote getters in today’s primary advance to November’s general election.

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