OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — It's something that comes every ten years and always comes with a little, or a lot, of controversy.
The Nebraska Legislature will return to Lincoln in less than two weeks to redraw the maps for congress, the legislature and a variety of other statewide offices like University of Nebraska Regents and State Board of Education.
If you've been living in the metro over the last decade you likely noticed how West Omaha, the outskirts of Douglas County, and especially Western Sarpy County have grown dramatically. At the same time, people in rural Nebraska are leaving.
That means Omaha area districts are going to get smaller in size, while the districts in Central and Western Nebraska will have to get larger to ensure even representation.
“It is, by its very nature, a very political process,” said Linehan.
The changing maps could make it easier or harder for Rep. Don Bacon (R) to retain his House seat. It could also make the Nebraska Legislature more or less conservative.
The chair of the Nebraska Legislative Redistricting Committee, Lou Ann Linehan acknowledges that politics will be, to some extent, in play. Yet, both senators 3 News Now spoke with on Wednesday believe their colleagues are going at it in good faith.
“I don’t really think there’s that much for us to argue over because the legislature will, like all legislative bodies do, will be interested in their own situation,” said Linehan.
Senator Carol Blood, who’s also on the redistricting committee, is telling Nebraskans to trust the process.
“I’m not one of those senators who wants to start instilling fear in people. I feel like if we all work and act like adults that we can do whatever we possibly can to accommodate all Nebraskans,” said Blood.
The 49 state senators definitely have hurdles to overcome.
“With redistricting, everything is on the table,” said David Drozd, Research Coordinator for the UNO Center for Public Affairs, from where 3 News Now received detailed census information.
He sees a few potential political battles.
One major challenge for redistricting congressional seats will be District 2, which currently includes Omaha and most of Sarpy County.
Over the course of 10 years it grew by 15%, which means the legislature will need to break off a chunk of it to make things even.
That could mean splitting up Douglas County or taking out a larger part of Sarpy County and likely putting it into District 1.
There are also opportunities to the north and west in which Washington County, as well as possibly Saunders and Dodge County, go to District 2 and Sarpy County as a whole goes to District 1.
Residents from those more rural counties vote significantly more conservatively than Sarpy County.
Senator Linehan says at some point Douglas, which leans Democratic, and Sarpy, which leans Republican, will split because both continue to grow in population.
“There’s a chance of that because as you look at the growth, sooner or later, that’s going to happen probably,” said Linehan.
District 1, which includes the city of Lincoln and counties to its north, east and west, is also growing.
Therefore senators will also need to split off pieces of District 1 and put it into District 3 to make things even.
“Nobody knows and we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Drozd.
The map for the state legislature will likely highlight the ever-present urban-rural divide.
Six rural districts lost more than 10% in population, while three districts in western Douglas and Sarpy Counties got bigger. Those include districts in West Omaha, Elkhorn and Gretna.
The senators will have two options including eliminating a rural seat and moving it east. This was done in the 2011 redistricting process.
“The fastest way to get there will be to move one rural seat from rural territory to one of these three largest counties,” said Drozd.
Or they can make rural districts bigger and slowly move east until they reach the big counties, where they can make some districts smaller.
That's something Linehan prefers.
“Roll everybody so at least they have some feeling that it’s not a complete change or they didn’t lose their district,” said Linehan.
Senator Carol Blood tells me she’s spoken with senators who previously were involved in redistricting and says there were closed-door meetings and bullying.
She's asking for all meetings to be public and that maps are drawn fairly, using the numbers, so gerrymandering — which involves manipulating the boundaries to favor one party — does not happen in Nebraska.
“If it becomes about politics and party then we are not doing the job that we are being asked to do,” said Blood.
She also hopes Governor Ricketts, who has veto power, doesn’t try and sway the process politically.
“The governor needs to make sure to not play politics with this,” Blood added.
We can expect the first proposed maps a week from Friday and public hearings will take place the next week in Lincoln, Omaha and Grand Island.
The legislature needs to wrap up its redistricting by the end of the month, so cities and counties have enough time to do their own redistricting
Information on the process is on the Nebraska Legislature website.