OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Nebraska lawmakers advanced new congressional boundaries Friday that could make it harder for Democratic presidential hopefuls to pick up one of the state's five Electoral College votes, as they've done twice since 2008.
Nearly all Republicans in the one-house, officially nonpartisan Legislature endorsed the measure — a sign that the newly drawn, Omaha-area district could be more favorable to the party in both U.S. House and presidential races. Nebraska Democrats quickly denounced the plan.
Nebraska and Maine are the only states that allow their Electoral College votes to be split. Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden claimed one each in 2008 and 2020, respectively, despite handily losing the statewide, GOP-dominated vote.
The new map advanced by lawmakers would keep all of Omaha within the 2nd Congressional District, as Democrats had wanted, but also add neighboring, Republican-heavy Saunders County. The new district would also keep several conservative-leaning Omaha suburbs.
The 36-10 vote was largely on party lines, with six Democrats breaking ranks to support the plan. Two more votes are required before it goes to Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Lawmakers had previously been deadlocked, with Republicans not having enough votes to overcome a Democratic-led filibuster.
The deal followed several days of closed-door negotiations among members of the Redistricting Committee. Earlier in the week, Speaker of the Legislature Mike Hilgers warned that he would end the special legislative session and postpone a decision on the maps until January if lawmakers failed to reach an agreement.
“This has been a very tough and emotional operation," said Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, chairwoman of the Redistricting Committee.
Linehan, a Republican, initially proposed a map that would have split Douglas County, one of the few places in Nebraska where Democrats are competitive. Democrats blasted the proposal as gerrymandering — drawing districts to favor the party in power. Several said they wouldn't budge in their opposition.
The new plan still adds a lot of Republican voters to the district via Saunders County, a stretch of farmland and several smaller towns that's currently part of the more conservative 1st Congressional District.
Sen. Justin Wayne, the leading Democrat on the Redistricting Committee, voted against the plan and said he would try to change it before lawmakers get to the next of three required votes. Wayne had tried unsuccessfully to include all of Democratic-leaning Bellevue in the Omaha-focused district.
“I don't necessarily agree with what the congressional maps are," he said.
The Nebraska Democratic Party said the map was drawn specifically to include a plot of land recently purchased by Republican U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, who represents the district. Bacon has said he had planned to build a home and move there in 2022.
“This is a partisan map meant to rewrite the direction of (the district)," said Jane Kleeb, the party's executive director.
Kleeb said her party will continue organizing and outwork the GOP in the district, with a focus on clean water, strong public schools and jobs.
Hilgers praised lawmakers for working through “a very complex and difficult process" and advancing the maps without delay. Waiting until the Legislature's next regular session in January would have forced state officials to delay the May 2022 primary, which includes races for local offices, the U.S. House and governor.
Lawmakers also reached a compromise on legislative maps that will cost western Nebraska one of its seats to accommodate rural population losses and gains in Omaha and Lincoln. Several rural, conservative lawmakers bemoaned the deal and the growing power of Omaha and Lincoln and argued that senators ignored other alternatives.
Sen. Matt Williams, whose district will move from western Nebraska to fast-growing suburban Omaha, said he agreed to the shift for the good of the state. The plan won initial approval, 43-5.
“I've chosen to focus on the bigger picture," said Williams, who is ineligible to seek reelection because of term limits.
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