LINCOLN — A Democrat-led filibuster of a congressional redistricting plan was headed off Monday, but only after one sick senator received a ride to the State Capitol and another returned from work in an Omaha courtroom.
The 33-15 vote to end the filibuster — the bare minimum needed — allowed the GOP-dominated Nebraska Legislature to advance a plan that would move eastern Sarpy County, including Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base, out of its longtime home in the Omaha-centered 2nd Congressional District.
The entire City of Bellevue and points east of 60th Street south of Capehart Road would join Norfolk, Lincoln and Columbus in the 1st District.
The Sarpy County communities of LaVista, Papillion and Gretna would be in the 2nd District.
Final-round debate on the congressional redistricting plan will be held Tuesday morning. Approval appears inevitable, meaning that U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, a Lincoln Republican, will represent Bellevue and the base, instead of U.S. Rep. Lee Terry of Omaha.
One state senator said the switch will help ensure the future of Offutt by engaging two congressmen in the recurring fight to keep the base off a closing list.
Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha said Nebraska has only one congressman, Terry, who is “Offutt smart” now. Having two will improve the survival of the base, according to Krist, who says Offutt has a $40 billion economic impact on Nebraska.
“That, to me, is a compelling argument,” said the Republican senator.
But Omaha Sen. Brenda Council called that argument “disingenuous” and not “compelling.”
“If we have only one congressman fully engaged on Offutt, woe to us,” said the Democrat, whose family moved to Omaha because of her father’s work at the base.
Monday’s second-round debate grew testy at times — and was partisan at almost all times.
Democrats, who hold 15 of 49 legislative seats in the officially nonpartisan Legislature, maintained that the redistricting plan drafted by Republican Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha was partisan and strengthened the GOP’s power in the 2nd District. They complained that Republicans were unwilling to compromise on a plan that everyone could support.
The 2nd District has been in the political spotlight since 2008, when Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential candidate, captured the district’s electoral vote. It was the first time in 44 years that a Democrat had won an electoral vote in the Cornhusker State.
The coup inspired a call to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system of awarding its five votes instead of its district-by-district system, which is used by only one other state, Maine.
While Democrats said Lautenbaugh’s redistricting plan made no sense, the former Douglas County election commissioner argued that his plan didn’t internally divide any of Sarpy County’s three biggest cities — Bellevue, Papillion or La Vista.
Under an amendment adopted Monday, the district lines were extended so every portion of Bellevue, including an area west of 48th Street between Harrison Street and Cornhusker Road, would be in the 1st District.
Bellevue Sen. Abbie Cornett opposed the plan. She said that although her constituents were split 50-50 on the idea of joining the Lincoln-centered 1st District, she preferred staying in the 2nd District because of the historic connections with Omaha and its longtime support for Offutt.
Cornett was the only Republican to oppose the second-round advancement of Lautenbaugh’s redistricting plan, Legislative Bill 704.
Two Democrats, Annette Dubas of Fullerton and Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids, voted yes with GOP senators in the 34-14 vote.
Sen. Russ Karpisek of Wilber, a Democrat, had launched the filibuster in a failed attempt to return Saline County, his home county, back into the 1st District. The county, which has a Democratic heritage, was moved into western Nebraska’s 3rd District in the 2001 redistricting, which Karpisek said was politically motivated. The 3rd District is heavily Republican.
Karpisek’s map would have kept Bellevue in the 2nd District and kept Gage and Dakota Counties from moving from the 1st District to the 3rd District. His plan, he said, would give Democratic candidates in the 1st District a fairer chance at being elected.
“It’s a C.S. map: common sense,” said Cortland Sen. Norm Wallman, who represents Gage County.
The Democratic filibuster continued into the afternoon because the Republicans didn’t have 33 senators present who were willing to stop it procedurally.
Just after 5 p.m., Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch, a lawyer, hurried into the legislative chambers after completing some courtroom appearances in Omaha earlier in the afternoon.
Sen. Jim Smith of Papillion, who had been absent Monday because he was suffering from adverse effects of new medication, arrived about the same time. Smith said his wife drove him to Lincoln so he could vote to stop the filibuster and advance the redistricting plan.