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Redistricted legislative maps prove polarizing in Lincoln; rural population shrinks

Posted at 6:44 PM, Sep 15, 2021

LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — As the Nebraska Capitol dome was getting refurbished above, the redistricting committee was hearing testimony below on how they can make their redistricted maps better.

Senator Lou Ann Linehan, a Republican in charge of the committee, put forward a legislative map that makes the rural districts out west bigger.

While taking District 24 — that includes Seward and York — splitting the two cities and including them with other rural districts, and moving the district to fast-growing Sarpy County.

“Which would leave Seward Nebraska in a legislative district at which they would be the population center,” said Linehan.

That move possibly drew the most controversy in the hearing Wednesday, with folks in Seward and York saying their communities move in lockstep and shouldn’t be split.

“Our bakers work together, our hospitals work together, our school districts,” said Lisa Hurley, Executive Director of the York County Development Corporation.

Senator Mark Kolterman, who is term-limited out of the legislature after next year, told the committee to not break up his district and he actually sides with the map legislative Democrats drew.

“Because at least it leaves Seward and York together,” said Kolterman.

This comes after US Census data showed large shifts away from rural districts in western Nebraska, and into the three largest counties in the state, which include Douglas and Sarpy County.

Due to those population shifts, that Democratic map, drawn by Vice Chair of the committee Senator Justin Wayne, instead picks up District 44 in Southwest Nebraska and moves it to Sarpy County.

He points to a similar move in 2011 as precedent.

“From a historical perspective this is something the legislature has always done,” said Wayne.

Eliminating a rural district and moving it to the metro was something Linehan didn’t want to do.

“Senator Wayne’s map eliminates a completely rural district,” said Linehan.

Other senators like Tom Brewer — who already has the largest district in geographical size, which takes up much of the Sandhills and beyond — took issue with the Wayne map. He said his district would literally be the size of the country of Croatia.

“Do you see at a point when your district gets so big that you see dozens of towns, dozens of schools, thousands of miles of roads and bridges,” said Brewer.

Gavin Geis, with Common Cause Nebraska, later rebutted Brewer and other testifiers that mentioned the same thing, saying the US Supreme Court has made it clear that population, not landmass, is what matters.

“When we’re redistricting the courts tell us, look at population, get as close as possible and do not take into account for the most part, other factors,” said Geis.

The redistricting committee is moving to Omaha on Thursday, in which the possible split of Douglas County away from the second congressional district, is likely to be a polarizing topic.

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