OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Senator Tony Vargas is one of the many Nebraskans who has been affected by COVID-19. His father passed away from the virus in the spring.
After that he fought in the legislature, trying to pass a bill protecting workers in meatpacking plants.
With the persistent memory of his dad, he’s looking to continue that work.
“I was heartbroken and I still am. But the worst part is not only am I heartbroken, but I’ve been hearing from families all over the state and in my own community, that have been hospitalized or lost loved ones. Nobody needs to go through this, let alone our frontline workers,” says Vargas.
The virus hit south Omaha the hardest, out of any zip code in Douglas County. Multiple meatpacking plants are in the district.
Challenger Jorge Sotolongo, a commercial real estate agent in Omaha, says meatpacking requirements are worth a conversation, but worries what a government mandate will do.
“Forcing them to abide by certain rules, is sort of ignoring the realities of the situation, which is that, 'Okay you’re going to spread people a part, okay they’re going to have to layoff two-thirds of the people in the plants,' is that what they want to do?” says Sotolongo.
With the conversation looming in the Unicameral, both say they’re for common sense police reform, and applaud Omaha Police’s PACE program.
Sotolongo is a part of the Citizen Review Board, which oversees OPD. He says people he talks to don’t want to cut police.
“They want police around, not saying we have to increase the number of officers, but they want a presence, they want to feel safe. They want to call 911 and get a quick response, they want to have faith, a sense of security,” says Sotolongo.
Vargas says he wants to see police accountability across the whole state.
“How do we make sure we have both public safety but our safety systems and what we provide in our community, isn’t disproportionately affecting people of color, Latinos and African American people, in a way that harms our communities,” says Vargas.
If re-elected, Vargas has some unfinished business, making sure every high school student in the state is required to register for FAFSA, something Gov. Ricketts vetoed.
He says there’s free tuition aid just sitting there for many Nebraskans.
“A Pell Grant made the difference for me, that’s what compelled me to go to college and get a degree. But there are people in our community that don’t know it exists. Maybe don’t have as much information about it,” says Vargas.
District 7 includes south Omaha and downtown. Sotolongo would like to see a better relationship with the downtown legislative representative and Mayor Jean Stothert.
“You need to have an intimate knowledge of downtown Omaha if you are going to represent District 7, and Senator Vargas does not have enough of that. I’ve interacted with the Mayor more in the last two years than he has in his entire political career,” says Sotolongo.
Vargas won the primary handily. Sotolongo says he thinks he’s gathered more name recognition since May.
While the race is officially non-partisan, Vargas is registered Democrat. Sotolongo is a Republican. Democrats outnumber Repubicans over two to one in the district.