Kathleen Kauth, owner of mediation firm and a mask opponent, named to Nebraska Legislature

Kauth fills vacancy left by the death of Sen. Rich Pahls and will run for Millard-area seat in November

By: - June 7, 2022 3:04 pm
Kathleen Kauth

Kathleen Kauth, a small-business owner of a Millard-area firm, was named Tuesday by Gov. Pete Ricketts to a vacancy in the Nebraska Legislature. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — Kathleen Kauth, a Millard-area small business owner with a background in gerontology issues, was named Tuesday to fill the vacancy in the Nebraska Legislature left by the April death of State Sen. Rich Pahls.

Kauth described herself as strongly pro-life and supportive of gun rights. She has spoken out publicly in the past against masking requirements to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The appointment runs until Jan. 3, but Kauth — who ran unsuccessfully for the Omaha City Council in 2021 — said she has already begun campaigning door-to-door for the November election for the post.

“I never really saw myself as a person who would run for office. I’ve always been interested in policy and interested in what goes on around it,” she said.

“As we’ve seen, it takes people to actually get involved … to keep the wheels on the bus moving,” Kauth said.

Active in community

Gov. Pete Ricketts said he chose Kauth, a Republican and the married mother of three boys, over four other applicants because of her active role in the community, which includes service on the Omaha Charter Commission and committees dealing with aging.

He said she will control spending as a legislator and supports “strong schools.”

Kauth’s appointment also moves pro-life advocates one vote closer to getting a filibuster-proof super majority in their pursuit of banning abortion in Nebraska.

A so-called “trigger bill” that would outlaw abortion in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court tosses out the legal right to the procedure granted in Roe v. Wade, failed to pass during the 2022 legislative session. Advocates fell two votes short of halting a filibuster against it, thus killing the bill.

Additional vote to ban abortion

Pahls was absent for the vote on the trigger bill due to his battle with cancer and was seen as a supporter of Legislative Bill 933.  So Kauth’s appointment provides an important 32nd vote to stop a filibuster in the special session Ricketts has promised to call if the Supreme Court rules, as expected, in late June.

Some observers have speculated that some term-limited senators may skip the special session, since the abortion issue could be dealt with in the 2023 session. That might deny pro-life forces the 33 votes they’ll need to stop a promised, all-out filibuster from Omaha Sen. Megan Hunt, a leading advocate in the Legislature for a woman’s right to choose.

Kauth said LB 933 was a “solid bill” that she would have supported.

“It’s the state’s responsibility to vote on this issue,” she told reporters. “It should never have been a federal issue.”

Expects ban would pass

Ricketts, when asked if he’d call a special session on abortion if it wasn’t clear there were 33 votes to ban it, didn’t answer the question directly. But he said he would strategize with the Speaker of the Legislature, Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, and expected to get a ban passed in a special session.

Secretary of State Bob Evnen administered the oath of office to Kauth during a brief news conference Tuesday. The newest state senator was accompanied by her husband, Andrew Fischer, and one of her sons, Brendan Kauth-Fischer.

In response to a question, Kauth said she is a supporter of gun rights.

A bill supported by Ricketts to allow Nebraskans to carry concealed weapons without obtaining a state permit or taking gun safety courses also failed by two votes this spring after the NRA and Omaha police were divided on the legislation.

Kauth said Tuesday that she has spoken to Omaha police about their concerns with the constitutional carry bill, adding there has to be a “happy medium” to get the legislation passed.

Northern Iowa grad

She finished third out of seven candidates in the 2021 primary for Omaha City Council, thus didn’t advance to the general election. Don Rowe ultimately won election to the Millard-area post.

Kauth is a graduate of Bettendorf (Iowa) High School, and earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology/sociology and a master’s degree in public policy, both from the University of Northern Iowa.  She also has a graduate certificate in gerontology from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

She said she has lived in seven states with her family before settling in Omaha in 2012, which she said was the family’s final destination.

Kauth is president of a corporate mediation/conflict coaching firm, K.T. Beck Enterprises, and was an assistant managing editor for the opinion page of the short-lived website, Nebraska Sunrise News.

Spoke against masking

According to the DailyNebraskan.com, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student news site, she testified against the use of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 before the NU Board of Regents in October.

Later that month, Kauth moderated a panel of opponents to masking requirements. That panel included Dr. Peter McCullough, who was fired and has been sued by Baylor University for spreading misinformation about COVID-19.

A California Department of Public Health study, published by the federal Centers for Disease Control, recently found that the chances of becoming infected were cut in half by wearing a mask in public.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska Legislature and Nebraska state government for decades. He started his career reporting for the Omaha Sun and later, editing the Papillion Times group in suburban Omaha. He joined the Lincoln Journal-Star as a sports enterprise reporter, and then a roving reporter covering southeast Nebraska. In 1990, he was hired by the Omaha World-Herald as a legislative reporter. Later, for 15 years, he roamed the state covering all kinds of news and feature stories. In the past decade, he served as chief of the Lincoln Bureau and enterprise reporter. Paul has won awards for reporting from Great Plains Journalism, the Associated Press, Nebraska Newspaper Association and Suburban Newspapers of America. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation, a member of the Nebraska Hop Growers and a volunteer caretaker of Irvingdale Park in Lincoln.

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