Public hearing on redistricting held

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May 12, 2011 - 7:00pm

A legislative committee's plans for redrawing the state's congressional and legislative districts came in for heavy criticism, and some praise, in a public hearing Friday.
It was a statewide talk-fest, as the committee meeting in Lincoln was connected via videoconferencing to eight sites from Scottsbluff to Omaha. And most of the controversy concentrated on the two ends of the state as well: the redrawing of congressional and legislative district lines in the Omaha area, and the redrawing of legislative districts in western Nebraska.
In the east, a parade of witnesses criticized the plan to move Bellevue out of the Omaha-area Second Congressional District, and move western Sarpy County in. The result will be to make the Second District match the First and Third in population, but also to give the closely-divided Second District more Republican voters.
Among those criticizing the proposal was Charlene Ligon of Bellevue, a retired Air Force Master Sergeant, who approving quoted a critical article by a political scientist. "I can only agree with the assertion that this is, quote, pure partisan politics, and regardless of your political stripes, the committee's behavior makes many Nebraskans worse off,'" Ligon said.
Omaha Senator Scott Lautenbaugh, a member of the Republican committee majority and author of the controversial map, then pointed out that Ligon is executive director of the Sarpy County Democratic party. That led to a spirited exchange.
"Because I am a Democrat does not matter," Ligon declared.
"Well Ma'am, with all due respect... " Lautenbaugh interjected.
"Because I am a Democrat does that mean that I should have a different take on what democracy means?" Ligon asked.
"Ma'am, I guess with all due respect, if you're going to come here and accuse us of partisan motives, you've discussed your military service, you've discussed where you live, that's fine. The fact that you're the volunteer executive director of one of the parties might be germane to this as well," Lautenbaugh said.
Other testifiers maintained that Bellevue is more a part of the Omaha community, historically, than western Sarpy County. Lautenbaugh pointed out that many of those testifying were Democratic Party activists, as well.
In western Nebraska, controversy centered on a proposed legislative redistricting map that eliminates one district to reflect population shifts, and splits the city of Alliance.
Testifying via videoconference, Richard Schommer said that would renew old divisions the city has worked hard to overcome. "The proposed dividing line would run through Alliance along highway 2. For those of us who live in Alliance, that's Third Street," Schommer said. "For the last 100 years, Third Street has been the imaginary dividing line that separates the haves and the have-nots. For most of the past century in Alliance, the area south of Third Street was reserved for blacks, Hispanics, native Americans and poor whites."
Sens. John Harms of Scottsbluff and LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth have proposed an alternative map that keeps Alliance together in one district. It also eliminates the district currently represented by Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala.
Schilz, who favors the map that splits Alliance, argued with Louden and against eliminating his district. "With term limits, I didn't want to see three rural senators get basically term limited out and restrict us to only one representative with any experience within the panhandle," Shilz said.
But Louden didn't sound convinced. "Well, they come and go. In eight years there's going to be a lot of them that come and go without experience," he replied.
Following the hearing, senators decided to wait until Tuesday to vote on congressional and legislative redistricting, to give senators who wanted to try to compromise time to come up with alternative proposals.
Lawmakers did endorse, without dissent, proposed redistricting maps for the Public Service Commission, the State Board of Education, and the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

Click here to see the congressional redistricting map.

Click here to see the statewide legislative redistricting map.

Click here to see the Lincoln-area legislative redistricting map.

Click here to see the Omaha-area legislative redistricting map.



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