Republicans may have gained a filibuster-proof majority in Nebraska Legislature

Counts of late ballots in two close races will decide if GOP obtains a super majority of senators

By: - November 9, 2022 12:25 am
Nebraska State Capitol Building

The Nebraska State Capitol Building. (Rebecca S. Gratz for Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — If vote totals hold in a couple of close races, Republicans will capture a filibuster-proof majority in the officially nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature in Tuesday’s election.

Unofficial results late Tuesday show that the GOP flipped one seat, the suburban Omaha seat now held by Democratic State Sen. Steve Lathrop, while narrowly winning a key race in central Omaha for a post now held by Republican Sen. John McCollister.

In another critical race, Democrat George Dungan III, a public defender, was narrowly defeating — by 61 votes — a Republican opponent, attorney Russ Barger, in a northwest Lincoln district that had long been represented by Democrats.

In central Omaha, Democrats could flip a seat. Late Tuesday, attorney Stu Dornan, a Republican, took a 122-vote lead over mental health professional John Frederickson, a Democrat, to replace GOP State Sen. John McCollister in District 20.

Counting of provisional ballots and late submitted early ballots could change the outcomes in that race and the Lincoln contest. But if Tuesday night’s late results hold, the GOP would gain one seat, obtaining a 33-vote supermajority in the Unicameral Legislature.

That could give Republicans the power to pass several conservative initiatives that had been blocked by filibusters in the past. Those include bills to ban or further restrict abortion, allow carrying of concealed weapons without a state permit or training, and provide a state tax break for contributions to private schools.

A change in the balance of power could also force changes in legislative rules long sought by Republicans, including making votes for committee leadership positions public instead of by secret ballot.

This year’s legislative elections were marked by a high number of hotly contested races and record spending, with several candidates spending more than $100,000 for a post that pays $12,000 a year.

Several contested races

Twenty-five seats in the Legislature were up for election, and at least 11 of them — about double the normal number — were featuring tight races.

Among the results in hotly contested races:

Former State Sen. Merv Riepe recaptured his old seat in District 12 in the Ralston/Millard area and flipped the seat being vacated by Lathrop, a leading Democrat who opted against a re-election bid. Riepe defeated Robin Richards, a fellow member of the Ralston School Board.

In Omaha, three incumbent Democrats won re-election: State Sens. Machaela Cavanaugh, Wendy DeBoer and Megan Hunt. The GOP had targeted those senators for defeat but fell far short.

In north-central Lincoln’s District 46, a former state senator, Danielle Conrad, reclaimed her seat in a race against a fellow Democrat, James Michael Bowers, a social worker.

In the northwest Omaha race to replace term-limited State Sen. Brett Lindstrom, another Republican, Christy Armendariz, defeated Democrat Michael Young, a former member of the Metropolitan Community College Board. Young had won a tight, three-way primary by 120 votes over Armendariz, a strategic sourcing specialist for Nebraska Methodist Health System.

Two Ricketts appointees

Two recent appointees by Gov. Pete Ricketts held onto their seats in their first election bids.

 In the Millard area, Kathleen Kauth, a Republican businesswoman appointed in District 31 following the death of Sen. Rich Pahls, defeated her Democratic opponent, teacher Tim Royers. Royers had run a close second to Pahls in 2020, and some saw this race as a possible pickup for the Democrats.

 In North Platte, banker Mike Jacobson appeared to be headed to victory over Lincoln County Commissioner Chris Bruns, a fellow Republican. 

Sarpy County Republican Rick Holdcroft, a Navy veteran, defeated Democrat Angie Lauritsen in District 36, a new legislative district created via redistricting. The post had been held by State Sen. Matt Williams of Gothenburg, a central Nebraska community.

In northwest Omaha’s District 4, business developer Brad von Gillern defeated Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek, a nonpartisan, by a 52-48% margin.

Victories in open seats

Easily winning election for open seats were Jane Raybould of Lincoln, replacing Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks; Jana Hughes of Seward, replacing Sen. Mark Kolterman; Barry DeKay of Niobrara, replacing Sen. Tim Gragert; and Loren Lippincott of Central City, replacing Curt Friesen of Henderson.

Teresa Ibach of Sumner was uncontested for an open seat left by the term-limiting of Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango.

In the contest to replace Gering Sen. John Stinner, Don Lease of Bridgeport was leading Brian Hardin of Gering in early results.  

In other races, incumbent State Sens. Robert Clements of Elmwood, Ben Hansen of Blair, Mike Moser of Columbus, John Arch of LaVista, Myron Dorn of Adams, Tom Brandt of Plymouth and Dave Murman of Glenvil easily won re-election.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.