Nebraska is the Cornhusker State, located in the Great Plains region of the United States.
A red state
Nebraska is a Republican state. The state that gave the United States its Populist movement at the turn of the 20th century has abandoned any claim to progressive politics. Moreover, it's a "knee-jerk" Republican state. Bill Hoppner, former Democratic candidate for Governor, tells the story of campaigning in a small town in central Nebraska. He gave a fine pro-farmer talk in a cafe, after which one man approached him and said, "Jim, that was the best damned speech I've ever heard. You keep at it and I hope you get elected because we farmers need you in there to fight for us. I just wish I could vote for you but I can't because I'm a Republican."
However, despite being a GOP enclave, the GOP candidates cannot be perceived as being creatures of out-of-state interests. A recent example is the primary campaign in the GOP for the 1st Congressional district between Greg Ruehle of Lincoln, Kurt Bromm of Wahoo, and Jeff Fortenberry of Lincoln. Ruehle was strongly supported by the Club for Growth and Bromm by the national GOP. Fortenberry ran on his own strength and beat both candidates to emerge as the nominee, with Ruehle coming in third.
The Nebraska Democratic Party went into hiding after a trouncing in 2000. The 2002 elections were an embarassment for the state party. The party was hard pressed to find a candidate to run against the very popular Mike Johanns for his second term. Stormy Dean, a former GOP convert, gave a good effort but got lackluster support from the party. Other candidates got even less support. No Democrat won any major office in 2002.
After the disaster of the 2002 elections, there was a great sense of "never again" among Democrats, especially in Lincoln and Omaha. The party hired current executive director Barry Rubin, for the first time bringing in an out-of-state professional political manager to run the party. An upset victory by Lincoln Democrat Coleen Seng in the nominally non-partisan Lincoln mayoral election further excited party workers.
With long-time GOP Congressman (NE01) Doug Bereuter stepping down in 2002, there was a chance for the Democrats to pick up a seat for the first time in recent memory. Jeff Fortenberry was a socially conservative Lincoln GOP member entered the race. His Democratic opponent, Matt Conneally, was a moderate Democrat in the mold of Ben Nelson. Both are "pro-life," a touchstone for Nebraska politicians. Conneally, however, was much more in touch with rural Nebraska interests than Fortenberry. The race had been "one to watch" but it was not to be. Omaha, too, saw renewed interest in outing its ditto-head Rep. Lee Terry. Both Democrats in the NE-01 and NE-02 races fought hard, but lost miserably. In 2000 Matt Conneally lost by about ten points, in 2002 Thompson lost by much more. 2002 Democratic turnout statewide was lower than Republican, and underperformed Democratic registration. Black North Omaha and Hispanic South Omaha barely even bothered to show up in token numbers. Meanwhile, suburban Republicans showed up in large numbers to vote.
In 2006, Jeff Fortenberry from first district ran again and won. Democrat Jim Esch, ex-Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Director & Attorney lost to Lee Terry in the NE-02. Scott Kleeb, a rancher, lost to Adrian Smith in the third district, which was an open seat since Osborne ran for Governor.
In 2008, a peculiarity of the state occurred: the state allots two of its electoral votes to the at-large winner of the state, and the others in accordance with the vote for President in each district. Although the state as a whole firmly voted for John McCain, the Second Congressional District, largely Greater Omaha, voted by a small margin for Barack Obama. The three Congressional districts vote very differently. The First District, consisting of the eastern part of the state except for Greater Omaha, is sharply more Republican than the United States as a whole. The Second, which consists of Greater Omaha, is slightly more Republican than the United States as a whole. The third, which includes the thinly-populated western and central parts of the state, is one of the most Republican-leaning districts in the United States.
The future of the Nebraska Democratic Party
This all being said, the party is still doing quite well for a Kansas-like red state. The most important county-wide races were won by Democrats in '04, showing again that Democrats are the future leaders of the state, if not the winners of current federal elections. Moreover, all leading Republicans for years (Hagel, Johanns, Stenberg, Terry, Daub) have been mayors of Lincoln or Omaha, but Democrats currently control both cities.
In May Omaha had its city elections. Incumbent Democratic Mayor Mike Fahey easily defeated Republican Dave Friend, with 60.7% of the votes. Fahey won with 60% of the vote in the April primary. The city council was 4-3 Republican, with party control hinging on a race between Republican incumbent and City Council President James Vokal, and Democrat Anne Boyle in District 3. It was close, but Anne lost.
State Auditor Kate Witek switched to the Democratic party in August.
Nebraska federal officeholders
- (3 Republicans)
- US Congressional Delegations from Nebraska (Wikipedia)
Nebraska state government
Nebraska, like most other states, has three branches of government: the Executive, headed by a Governor; the Legislative, headed by an officially Nonpartisan Unicameral Legislature of 49 members operating as a State-Senate, and the Judicial, headed by a seven-member Supreme Court.
Unlike all other states but Maine, Nebraska partitions its Electoral Votes by electoral district. The winner of the state's popular vote gets 2 electoral votes (senate) and the winner of each individual electoral district's popular vote gets 1 per district. This could lead to splitting of the vote 1-4 or 2-3, but in the 15 years it has been law, it hasn't split once.
Nebraska is the only state with two different deadlines for candidates to qualify for the same office, one for incumbents and one for all other candidates. Incumbents must file candidacy paperwork by February 15 in election years but non-incumbents have until March 1 to file. This unusual provision became was codified in 1951 but might be older.
Though Nebraska Democrats have historically been more successful on the state level, in recent years, Democrats have been unable to win a single state-level office. In 2006, Democrats failed to field candidates in two statewide races, and only fielded a candidate for State Auditor when incumbent right-wing Republican Kate Witek switched parties due to a feud with Heineman.
The current executive officeholders in Nebraska:
Governor: Dave Heineman (R)
Lt. Governor: Rick Sheehy (R)
Attorney General: Jon Bruning (R)
State Auditor: Mike Foley (R)
Secretary of State: John Gale (R)
State Treasurer: Don Stenberg (R)
The Facts: Nebraska is the only state in the Union which has a one-house, or "unicameral" legislature. The members are elected on a non-partisan basis. During the primary, all candidates run on a non-partisan basis and the two biggest vote getters go to the general election in November.
State Senators are elected every four years, with one half of the legislature up for election or re-election every two years. Term limits came into effect with the 2006 elections, and will retire another round of long-term incumbents in 2008. No legislator will be allowed to serve more than two consecutive four-year terms.
The Unicameral is in session once a year, a "long session" of 90 days in odd numbered years and a "short session" of 60 days in even numbered years. The Governor can convene special sessions when necessary. Gov. Johanns did so twice in his tenure, both times to cut the state budget to meet shortfall in revenue.
The Inside Facts: The Unicameral has become almost as political as any other legislative body in the Union. Although in theory "any" candidate could make it to the general election, there is always at least one Democrat or Republican on the ticket- though Independents have and do usually win one or two seats a year.
More distressing is that in legislative districts with strong incumbents, there is sometimes no challenger at all. Given that Nebraska is a Republican state, that means that the GOP rules the Legislature virtually unchecked. Democratic state senators are routinely challenged and often challenged successfully. (see Political Landscape). This is obviously changing with the rise of term limits, as more and more open seats are coming up each year. But with the dominance of Republicans, especially in the primary, it is difficult for Democrats to gain a foothold in the legislature.
In the 2006 elections, with more than 20 open seats up for election, Democrats picked up 5 Republican open seats (including two Lincoln seats and one Omaha seat) and lost 2 Democratic open seats in Omaha and Papillion. After two defections prior to the 2006 elections, the current balance of power in the Unicameral stands at: (32 R, 15 D, 2 I).
The Facts. Nebraska has a seven-member Supreme Court. It hears all issues of appeal on state Constitutional law, death penalty cases, and any appeal which is granted certiorari from the Nebraska Court of Appeals. Current Chief Justice is John Hendry, a former Lancaster County (Lincoln) County Court judge.
Each judge of the Supreme Court, like all other judges in Nebraska, is appointed by the Governor and subject to a retention vote after four years.
The Nebraska Court of Appeals is the first appeal for criminal and civil trials from the District Courts of Nebraska. There are nine judges who sit in three-judge panels to hear appeals. The Supreme Court may take jurisdiction of a case from the Court of Appeals which is precedent-setting, of major import, or otherwise of interest to the Supreme Court.
The Inside Facts. Chief Justice Hendry has brought the Nebraska Supreme Court and the state judiciary into the 21st century, sometimes kicking and screaming. In 1998, after the state Supreme Court ruled that the existing term limits law was unconstitutional, there was a campaign to vote out the only Supreme Court justice up for review. It worked. Immediately after his defeat, three other "old time" judges retired and three new judges -- including the first woman on the Court -- came to the bench.
Nebraska's Court currently faces several constitutional issues. Primary is whether Nebraska's death penalty and method of execution is constitutional in light of the US Supreme Court's decision in ***** holding that a jury must decide whether a defendant is sentenced to death. Currently, Nebraska's system provides that the jury makes a recommendation for the death sentence but the judge has the final decision. In addition, Nebraska is the last state which uses only the electric chair as its means of execution. These issues, once decided by the State Court, will almost certainly face review by the US Supreme Court.
By and large, Nebraska's Supreme Court is more progressive than the state itself. The Court is relatively young; there is no reason, short of accident, to think that we will lose any of the members in the next few years.
- Nebraska Counties and Local Sites (State of Nebraska)
- Nebraska County Selection Map (U.S. Census)
- Nebraska Association of Counties: County information
Nebraska Democratic Party
- Nebraska Newspapers (NewsLink.org)
- Nebraska Newspapers and News Media Guide(ABYZ News Links)
- Nebraska Politicians On The Issues (OnTheIssues.org)
Counties: Adams, Antelope, Arthur, Banner, Blaine, Boone, Box Butte, Boyd, Brown, Buffalo, Burt, Butler, Cass, Cedar, Chase, Cherry, Cheyenne, Clay, Colfax, Cuming, Custer, Dakota, Dawes, Dawson, Deuel, Dixon, Dodge, Douglas, Dundy, Fillmore, Franklin, Frontier, Furnas, Gage, Garden, Garfield, Gosper, Grant, Greeley, Hall, Hamilton, Harlan, Hayes, Hitchcock, Holt, Hooker, Howard, Jefferson, Johnson, Kearney, Keith, Keya Paha, Kimball, Knox, Lancaster, Lincoln, Logan, Loup, Madison, McPherson, Merrick, Morrill, Nance, Nemaha, Nuckolls, Otoe, Pawnee, Perkins, Phelps, Pierce, Platte, Polk, Red Willow, Richardson, Rock, Saline, Sarpy, Saunders, Scotts Bluff, Seward, Sheridan, Sherman, Sioux, Stanton, Thayer, Thomas, Thurston, Valley, Washington, Wayne, Webster, Wheeler, York,
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