Capitol View - There’s Some New Kids In Town

By J.L. Schmidt - Statehouse Correspondent, The Nebraska Press Association

Ten new faces and one very familiar one will be among the senators joining the Body of 49 when the Nebraska Legislature convenes in January.

Blame it on term limits, that Sword of Damocles the voters have refused to lift with the overwhelming rejection of a proposal to expand it from two to three terms. Once again, the mix will be people who can afford to serve for the $12,000 yearly pay, which has been the norm since 1988. You can expect Governor Dave Heineman to take credit for that vote because he said he opposed both measures as “punishment” for lawmakers who decided to act like the separate branch of government they are and override a couple of his favorite vetoes last session.

The Newbie Ten will include seven men and three women. Among the men is the longest serving veteran of the body (38 years) Ernie “Second House” Chambers. A retired Lincoln attorney mused recently that he was glad to see the 75-year-old North Omaha barber, a victim of term limits four years ago, return “because he is the Second House of the otherwise Unicameral.” Even Heineman has postured that he is glad to see the very familiar face return. Chambers is likely neither impressed nor enamored with that endorsement.

Among the women is Sara Howard, the daughter of the term-limited Gwen Howard who represents midtown Omaha’s District 9. She is an attorney who, not unlike her mom, is deeply interested in social causes. Sue Crawford, a political science professor at Creighton University, replaces the popular term-limited Abby Cornett who was chair of the Legislature’s Revenue Committee. 

Southeast Lincoln’s traditionally pro-life and almost always Republican seat – yes, the Legislature is officially non-partisan (wink wink) – is being represented by Kate Bolz, a Democrat who is a policy analyst for a liberal social service organization. During the campaign, she claimed to have the endorsement of two previous District 29 senators – the term-limited Tony Fulton and State Auditor Mike Foley. When they challenged her, she back-pedaled and said she “thinks” a lot like them. We’ll have to see if she “votes” like them.

In addition to Chambers, the new men include southeast Nebraska farmer Dan Watermeier representing District 1 as the replacement for the term-limited Lavon Heideman, a southeast Nebraska farmer who was chair of the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee and a soon-to-be University of Nebraska Regent. 

A new face in District 2 is sales and marketing researcher Bill Kintner of Papillion who defeated the appointed incumbent Paul Lambert, the former Mayor of Plattsmouth. Lambert was appointed by Heineman to replace Sen. David Pankonin of Louisville who stepped down in 2011. The Chief Executive then turned on his appointee because he didn’t like the way he voted and endorsed the challenger Kintner. Don’t cha just love politics?

Former Norfolk Mayor Jim Scheer, an insurance agent and current president of the Nebraska Board of Education, is the District 19 replacement for one of the most popular Speakers of the Legislature, Mike Flood who was term-limited and is thought to be a potential  gubernatorial candidate in two years. Former Wahoo Mayor Jerry Johnson will be the new face of District 23, replacing term-limited Chris Langemeier of Schuyler who was chairman of the Natural Resources Committee.

Former teacher and school administrator Rick Kolowski will represent southwest Omaha’s District 31 after narrowly defeating Acela Turco of Millard. Former legislative aide John Murante represents District 49 – a former number assigned to the Sandhills and Panhandle that was moved to the Gretna area to accommodate population growth. 

Al Davis, a Hyannis area rancher, will represent District 43. The seat was vacated by the term-limited Deb Fischer who became the state’s first female United States Senator with her stunning defeat of former Governor and U.S. Senator Bob Kerrey who moved to New York City for 10 years before deciding to “come home” and run again. Davis defeated John Ravenscroft of Nenzel, a close family friend of the Fischers, who call Valentine home.

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