Redistricting Committee advances congressional plan after public hearing

Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District boundaries were the focus of a Redistricting Committee hearing in Omaha Sept. 16.

Currently, all of Douglas County is within the 2nd District, along with roughly the western two-thirds of Sarpy County.

LB1, proposed by Elkhorn Sen. Lou Ann Linehan, the committee’s chairperson, would move much of northern Douglas County into the 1st District. The northeastern and southern parts of Douglas County would remain in the 2nd District along with all of Sarpy and Saunders counties.

Linehan said she does not understand why Sarpy County — which would remain divided between the 1st and 2nd districts under a plan proposed by vice chairperson Sen. Justin Wayne of Omaha — can be split to maintain population equality among congressional districts but Douglas County cannot.

Linehan said the proposed division of Douglas County follows the “clearly recognizable boundaries” of Dodge Street and Interstate 680 in Omaha and that her congressional map “ensures minority voices are protected” by leaving predominantly Black and Latino legislative districts within the 2nd District.

Wayne, whose alternative congressional redistricting plan in LB2 would leave Douglas County within the 2nd District, said any plan that splits the county would be a “gross violation” of the redistricting guidelines adopted by the Legislature in LR134. He said Douglas County is the core of the 2nd District and has been wholly included in that district since 1892.

Wayne said his congressional map would reverse changes the Legislature made during the 2010 redistricting process by returning much of Bellevue to the 2nd District.

Many testifers opposed splitting Omaha and Douglas County between congressional districts.

Alisha Shelton of Omaha opposed LB1, saying it would separate Douglas County residents with shared experiences and culture.

“What shared experiences do we have with Saunders County?” she said.

Shelton also said Linehan’s map would move Irvington, a growing community of color, out of the 2nd District.

Precious McKesson of Omaha testified in support of LB2. She said lawmakers should leave Douglas County and Omaha wholly within the 2nd District to avoid diluting the voting power of the city’s Black residents.

Joel Wentworth of Omaha said the city has “a strong sense of community that has to be preserved.”

“I know that change is inevitable,” he said, “but no one is proposing dividing Lincoln along O Street or Norfolk along Johnny Carson Boulevard.”

Wentworth and other testifiers suggested that both Douglas and Sarpy counties could be kept whole by moving them into separate congressional districts.

In one proposed scenario, Sarpy County would join Lancaster County and other counties in southeastern Nebraska in District 1 and Douglas County would join counties to its north, including Dodge, Washington, Burt and Thurston, to form the 2nd District.

Other testifiers, including Sen. Rita Sanders of Bellevue, supported LB1 and said they opposed any plan that would continue to split Sarpy County.

She said the county has been “sliced and divided” in past redistricting cycles, which makes it difficult to secure federal funding for infrastructure projects in a growing area of the state.

Sanders said LB2 would split the city of Bellevue and separate Offutt Air Force Base from the rest of Sarpy County, where many service members assigned to Offutt live.

Nora Sandine also supported LB1. She said Offutt and Bellevue should be in the 2nd District with the rest of Sarpy County because both contribute to the county’s economy and culture.

“We are one county in spirit, and we want to be one county in our congressional district,” Sandine said.

Also in support of Linehan’s congressional redistricting plan was Mike Evans, mayor of Gretna. He said many Gretna residents work in Omaha and contribute to the Omaha metro area’s economy.

“We’re not in silos,” Evans said. “We’re part of the community of the greater part of Omaha.”

Other testimony focused on population deviations in the legislative redistricting plans proposed in LB3 and LB4.

Steve Watson of Omaha said both maps result in only 37 percent of legislative districts that are within 2 percent of the ideal population.

“I understand how difficult it is to draw these maps,” he said, “but for the benefit of the people of the state of Nebraska, we should … make the legislative districts as equal as possible.”

Kristin Pfabe, a math professor at Nebraska Wesleyan University, said statistical analysis shows that Linehan’s LB3 unfairly favors rural legislative districts. She said the urban districts in LB3 are more likely to have more residents than the ideal district population and that rural districts are more likely to have fewer.

This would give rural residents more voting power than people who live in cities, Pfabe said.

In an executive session after the hearing, committee members voted 5-4 to advance LB1, Linehan’s congressional redistricting plan, to the full Legislature for debate.

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