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Stories about Nebraska

All candidates for Nebraska State Senate District 4 complete Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey

Both of the candidates running in the November 8, 2022, general election for Nebraska State Senate District 4 — Cindy Maxwell-Ostdiek and R. Brad von Gillern — completed Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey. These survey responses allow voters to hear directly from candidates about what motivates them to run for office. 

Eighty-eight of the country’s 99 state legislative chambers will hold regularly scheduled elections in 2022. Though the chamber is officially nonpartisan, members affiliated with the Republican Party control Nebraska’s state legislature. Nebraska is one of 23 states with a Republican trifecta.

Here are excerpts from candidates’ responses to the question: What are the main points you want voters to remember about your goals for your time in office?

Maxwell-Ostdiek:               

  • “So much discussion in our society focuses on Red vs. Blue, Rural vs. Urban, Republican vs. Democrat, Conservative vs. Progressive. I will work to rise above these divides and strive for loftier goals that reflect true Nebraskan values.”
  • “I understand we are not as divided as we appear and ask each of us to remember to love our neighbors. I prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion and know that Nebraskans of good conscience come together to overcome difficulties and that our Legislation must reflect these ideals.”
  • “Friendship, hard-work, stewardship of our land, education, healthy families – These are the things that we all have in common and reflect the priorities we need solutions for.”

Gillern:             

  • “My successful track record in the business community brings a unique skillset to the legislature and I believe I will be an effective public servant.”
  • “I am a fiscal and social conservative who believes strongly in traditional family values, protection of the most marginalized in our society, and protecting our citizens and allowing them to protect themselves. I am a strong defender of the Second Amendment.”
  • “I am a passionate Christian conservative and I know that our country was founded on Biblical concepts that are eternal.”

Click on the candidates’ profile pages below to read their full responses to this and other questions.

We ask all federal, state, and local candidates with profiles on Ballotpedia to complete a survey and share what motivates them on political and personal levels. Ask the candidates in your area to fill out the survey.

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Voter photo ID and minimum wage initiatives make the ballot in Nebraska

On Sept. 6, the Nebraska secretary of state announced that two ballot initiatives had qualified for the November ballot. Voters will decide on a constitutional amendment to require photo ID to vote and a new law that would incrementally increase the state’s minimum wage from $9 to $15 by 2026 and annually adjust for the cost of living thereafter.

Citizens for Voter ID is sponsoring the photo ID amendment. State Sen. Julie Slama (R), Republican National Committeewoman Lydia Brasch, and former state senator and former Douglas County Republican Chairwoman Nancy McCabe formed the PAC and filed the initiative. The initiative has also received support from Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), who said, “Showing ID when they go to vote, it’s one of the ways we can strengthen the integrity of our elections. It’s a great opportunity for the second house, the people of Nebraska, to be able to weigh in a way where the Legislature has not been able to get it passed.”

The measure is opposed by the League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha, Nebraska NAACP, Civic Nebraska, and Black Votes Matter. Civic Nebraska said, “The only thing we are certain these measures would do is to make it harder for eligible Nebraskans — especially young, low-income, rural, black and brown, and senior Nebraskans — to freely and fairly cast a ballot.”

To qualify an initiated constitutional amendment, sponsors needed to submit 123,966 valid signatures with signatures from 5% of the registered voters in each of two-fifths (38) of Nebraska’s 93 counties. The secretary of state reported that the sponsors submitted 136,458 valid signatures and met the state’s distribution requirement in 76 of the 93 counties.

Raise the Wage Nebraska is sponsoring the minimum wage initiative. It’s received support from ACLU of Nebraska, NAACP Lincoln Branch, Nebraska State AFL-CIO, and Nebraska Appleseed. Ken Smith, the economic justice director at Nebraska Appleseed, said, “Workers in low-wage jobs and their families benefit the most from these income increases, reducing poverty and income inequality. Nebraskans should not have to choose between paying their rent and buying groceries. We all want to be able to provide for our families and raising the minimum wage is an important step toward making that a reality for many underpaid Nebraskans.”

The Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) oppose the measure. Gov. Ricketts said the initiative would cost jobs and close businesses in rural communities. Nebraska Chamber of Commerce President Bryan Slone said, “The NE Chamber has opposed creating a patchwork quilt of state minimum wage rules in the 50 states, and supports a uniform federal standard.”

To qualify an initiated state law, sponsors needed to submit 86,776 valid signatures with signatures from 5% of the registered voters in each of two-fifths (38) of Nebraska’s 93 counties. The secretary of state reported that the sponsors submitted 97,245 valid signatures and met the state’s distribution requirement in 44 of the 93 counties.

In November, Nebraska voters will also be deciding on a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that would authorize local governments to develop commercial air travel at local airports.

The certified initiatives were two of 16 filed for the 2022 ballot. Between 2010 and 2020, nearly seven ballot initiatives were filed on average with about one initiative making the ballot each cycle.

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Nebraska medical marijuana campaign turns in signatures for two initiatives

On July 7, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana submitted about 180,000 combined signatures for two ballot initiatives, or about 90,000 signatures for each initiative, that would legalize and regulate medical marijuana. 

Both ballot initiatives are state statutes and require a number of signatures equal to 7% of the state’s registered voters as of the deadline. As of July 1, that number was 86,772 signatures. Nebraska also has a distribution requirement mandating that petitions contain signatures from 5% of the registered voters in each of two-fifths (38) of the state’s 93 counties.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s distribution requirement in May. On June 13, 2022, a judge for the U.S. District Court for Nebraska issued an order temporarily blocking the state’s distribution requirement pending a final decision on its constitutionality. On July 6, 2022, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the lower court’s ruling allowing the secretary of state to enforce the distribution requirement.

The first initiative, titled the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Act, would legalize the use of up to five ounces of marijuana for medical purposes by qualified patients. Qualified patients would be defined as individuals 18 years of age or older with a written recommendation from a healthcare practitioner or an individual younger than 18 with a written recommendation from a healthcare practitioner and with written permission from a legal guardian.

The second initiative, titled the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Regulation Act, would legalize the possession, manufacture, distribution, delivery, and dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes and establish the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate and provide the necessary registration for the medical marijuana program.

The initiatives were filed by State Senators Anna Wishart (D-27) and Adam Morfeld (D-46). “There’s no campaign in the history of the state of Nebraska who has turned in, on a total grassroots basis, this number of signatures,” Wishart said.

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana qualified a constitutional amendment to legalize medical marijuana in 2020. However, the Nebraska Supreme Court removed it from the ballot in September after it concluded the initiative violated the state’s single-subject rule requiring initiatives to address one subject. The court argued that the initiative violated the single-subject rule because it provided a constitutional property right to grow and sell marijuana and authorized other policies that would regulate the use of medical marijuana that did not naturally connect to the general purpose of a constitutional right to use medical marijuana for individuals with serious medical conditions.

Counties have 40 days to verify the submitted signatures. The general election ballot will be finalized on September 16.

As of July 2022, medical marijuana was legal in 37 states and the District of Columbia. Of the 37 states, 18 states established medical marijuana through the ballot initiative process. In the other 19 states, it was established through legislation.

Additional reading:

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Program Initiative (2022)

Nebraska Medical Marijuana Regulation Initiative (2022)



Nebraska photo voter identification initiative submitted over 170,000 signatures 

The signature deadline for Nebraska ballot initiatives was July 7. Citizens for Voter ID, the campaign behind an initiative to require voter identification, submitted over 170,000 signatures. 

In Nebraska, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated constitutional amendment for the ballot is equal to 10% of registered voters as of the deadline for filing signatures. Because of the unique signature requirement based on registered voters, Nebraska is the only state where petition sponsors cannot know the exact number of signatures required until they are submitted. Nebraska law also features a distribution requirement providing that petitions contain signatures from 5% of the registered voters in each of two-fifths (38) of Nebraska’s 93 counties. As of July 1, the number of registered voters in Nebraska was 1,239,599, which means that the estimated number of required signatures is 123,960.

The initiative would amend the Nebraska Constitution to require a valid photo ID in order to vote. The amendment would leave the regulation of photographic identification up to the Nebraska State Legislature. Currently, voters do not need to present identification in order to vote in Nebraska. A voter may be asked for identification if the voter is a first-time registrant who mailed in an application and did not provide identification at that time.

Twenty states have active photo voter ID requirements. In 2018, North Carolina voters passed an amendment to require photo voter identification, but it was enjoined by a court.

The Nebraska initiative received the endorsement of Gov. Pete Ricketts (R). “Showing ID when they go to vote, it’s one of the ways we can strengthen the integrity of our elections. It’s a great opportunity for the second house, the people of Nebraska, to be able to weigh in a way where the Legislature has not been able to get it passed,” Ricketts said.

The initiative is opposed by Civic Nebraska, Black Votes Matter, League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha, and Nebraska NAACP. Civic Nebraska said, “The only thing we are certain these measures would do is to make it harder for eligible Nebraskans—especially young, low-income, rural, black and brown, and senior Nebraskans—to freely and fairly cast a ballot.”

Between 2010 and 2020, an average of seven initiatives were filed with an average of one making the ballot during each election cycle. 

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Campaign behind a ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage in Nebraska submits signatures

On July 7, Raise the Wage Nebraska, the campaign behind a ballot initiative to increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 by 2026, submitted over 152,00 signatures to the secretary of state. Currently, the minimum wage is $9 per hour.

In Nebraska, the number of signatures required to qualify an initiated state statute for the ballot is equal to 7% of registered voters as of the deadline for filing signatures. Because of the unique signature requirement based on registered voters, Nebraska is also the only state where petition sponsors cannot know the exact number of signatures required until they are submitted. Nebraska law also features a distribution requirement mandating that petitions contain signatures from 5% of the registered voters in each of two-fifths (38) of Nebraska’s 93 counties.

As of July 1, 2022, Nebraska had 1,239,599 registered voters, which would make the signature requirement 86,772.

The initiative would incrementally increase the state’s minimum wage according to the following schedule:

  1. $10.50 on January 1, 2023;
  2. $12.00 on January 1, 2024;
  3. $13.50 on January 1, 2025; and
  4. $15.00 on January 1, 2026.

Every year after 2026, the minimum wage would be adjusted by the increase in the cost of living. 

In 2014, Nebraskans voted to increase the minimum wage incrementally to $9 by 2016. The measure was approved by 59.47% of voters.

The 2022 initiative has received support from State Senator Megan Hunt (D), Senator Terrell McKinney (D), the ACLU of Nebraska, Heartland Worker Center, NAACP Lincoln Branch, Nebraska State AFL-CIO, and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Nebraska.

Nine states have passed laws or ballot measures increasing their statewide minimum wage rates incrementally to $15 per hour. California is the first of those states to reach $15 per hour in 2022.

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Mike Flood wins Republican primary in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District

With 76% of the vote, state Sen. Mike Flood defeated four other candidates on May 10 to win the Republican nomination for Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District. This was the first contested Republican primary in the district since 2014 and the first after former incumbent Jeff Fortenberry (R) was found guilty in a federal campaign finance investigation.

When Flood entered the race, Fortenberry was the district’s incumbent seeking re-election to a ninth term while awaiting trial for the federal charges. On March 24, Fortenberry was found guilty and on March 31, he resigned from Congress. Since the deadline had passed to withdraw from the primary, Fortenberry’s name remained on the ballot, and he placed second with 8% of the vote.

Before Fortenberry’s conviction, the Lincoln Journal Star‘s Don Walton described the primary as “the first bigtime GOP primary battle in the eastern Nebraska district since … 2004.”

During the primary, Flood highlighted the charges against Fortenberry, saying, “If our nominee has to focus on beating felony criminal charges instead of defeating a serious Democrat opponent, we risk defeat in November.” Flood also promoted endorsements he received from Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) and former Gov. Dave Heineman (R).

Fortenberry’s resignation created a vacancy that will be filled in a June 28 special election to serve out the remainder of the term. Flood is the Republican nominee in that race against state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (D). The two will then face off again in the November 8 general election for a full term.

Race forecasters rate the general election contest in the Lincoln-area district as Solid or Safe Republican.



Vargas defeats Shelton in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary election

Tony Vargas defeated Alisha Shelton in the May 10 Democratic Party primary for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District, receiving 72% of the vote to Shelton’s 28%.

Vargas served on the Omaha Board of Education from 2013 to 2016 and won election to Nebraska State Senate District 7 in 2016, defeating John Synowiecki in the general election with 62% of the vote to Synowiecki’s 38%. He was re-elected in 2020, defeating Jorge Sotolongo 78% to 22%. Before taking office, Vargas worked in the nonprofit sector and as a public school teacher. Vargas said he was a bipartisan leader in the state senate and would work with Republicans in Congress. “I’ve served on the Appropriations Committee, passing balanced budgets that also focus on people, on businesses, on our schools, and our healthcare. I’ve worked and chaired our planning committee. I’ve been in leadership in the legislature not because of anything other than the way I lead and the way that I operate,” Vargas said. If Vargas wins the general election, he would be the first Latino Congressman to represent Nebraska.

Shelton worked as a clinical supervisor, program director, and therapist and ran for U.S. Senate in 2020, where she finished third in the Democratic primary behind primary winner Chris Janicek (D) and Angie Philips (D). In a campaign email, Shelton said “we need a leader who will fight for change,” and said she was “an everyday Nebraskan who understands what it is like to try and succeed in an economy that does not work for all of us and navigate a healthcare system that is ridden with red tape.” Shelton also said she was “always going to be for whatever is going to be best for this community, what’s best for Nebraska, and what’s best for Nebraska is someone who can think clearly and level-headed without money dangling in front of them.”

Since 1999, the only Democrat elected to represent Nebraska’s Second Congressional District was Brad Ashford (D), who assumed office in 2015. Ashford defeated incumbent Lee Terry (R), who held the seat from 1999 to 2015, in the 2014 general election with 49% of the vote to Terry’s 46%. Ashford was then defeated 49%-48% in the 2016 general election by the current incumbent, Don Bacon (R). Bacon won the Republican primary in the district.

The Cook Political Report rated the 2022 general election for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District as Likely Republican, and both Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated it Lean Republican.



No incumbents defeated in Nebraska’s state Senate primary elections

All 11 incumbents seeking re-election to the Nebraska Senate will advance to the general election after winning their respective primary elections on May 10.

Since 2010, only one incumbent state senator has lost in a contested primary in Nebraska: Sen. Nicole Fox (R) in 2016.

Six of the incumbents running for re-election faced contested primaries with the remaining five guaranteed to advance due to a lack of challengers.

The following three races featuring incumbents remain too close to call, though the incumbents currently lead in vote totals and will likely advance. The closeness, instead, is to determine the second-place candidate:

Nebraska uses nonpartisan, top-two primaries for its Senate where every candidate appears on the same primary ballot regardless and without party identification. The top-two vote-getters then advance to the general election.

Since candidates are not identified using party labels, Ballotpedia uses a mixture of candidate statements, party endorsements, and publicly available voter registration data to determine the partisan affiliations of incumbents and challengers.

Because of Nebraska’s top-two system, two candidates from the same party can advance to the general election.

There are five races where two Republicans will compete in the general election and one race where two Democrats will compete. There are also two races where only one Republican candidate filed and will face no opposition in the general election. This list may grow as additional races are called.

Republicans hold a 31-17 majority in the state Senate, which currently has one vacancy. Senators are elected to four-year terms. This year, 24 of the 49 districts are holding elections.



Challenger receives 62% of vote in primary, will face incumbent in Nebraska State Board of Education election in November

Elizabeth Tegtmeier and incumbent Robin Stevens advanced from the primary for Nebraska State Board of Education District 7 on May 10, 2022. Based on unofficial returns, Tegtmeier received 62.4% of the vote, Stevens received 20.4%, and Pat Moore received 17.2%. District 7 includes 44 counties in western Nebraska.

At the center of this primary was a March 2021 proposal that would have established statewide K-12 health education standards. The proposal included teaching all students about gender identity and stereotypes. High school students would have also learned about homophobia, transphobia, and sexual assault. The Nebraska Department of Education developed the proposal as part of its regular process to update standards in several subject areas as required by state law.

The proposal went through multiple draft iterations. In Sept. 2021, the board voted 5-1 to pause the development of these new standards indefinitely. Stevens voted with the majority.

Stevens told the Lexington Clipper-Herald that the board needed to re-establish public trust. “We didn’t do a good job early on of getting the health standards out to people, it hurt us and it hurt us badly. I understand that,” he said.

At a campaign event, Tegtmeier said she chose to run after hearing a state senator speak about the proposed standards, saying, “I didn’t want to get 10 years down the road and have to tell my kids that I thought about doing something but just didn’t do it.”

Moore told the Omaha World-Herald that the proposed health standards showed the board needed change. Moore said, “Some of the processes that have been in place I believe need challenged and some of the thinking the board members have need challenged.”

The Nebraska State Board of Education is an elected executive agency of the Nebraska state government, responsible for managing the state’s public schools. At the time of the primary election, the board’s mission was “to lead and support the preparation of all Nebraskans for learning, earning, and living.” The board has eight members: four elected during presidential election years and four elected during midterm election years.



Jim Pillen wins Republican primary for Nebraska governor

Jim Pillen defeated eight other candidates in the Republican Party primary for governor of Nebraska on May 10. Incumbent Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) was term-limited.

Along with Pillen, Charles Herbster and Brett Lindstrom led the primary field in endorsements, funding, and media attention. The Lincoln Journal Star’s Don Walton wrote on May 1 that the primary had “developed into a fluid and unpredictable [race],” which he said “[appeared] to be tightening with three candidates moving within grasp of victory.” With over 95% of precincts reporting, Pillen had received 34% of the vote to Herbster’s 30% and Lindstrom’s 26%.

Pillen, a University of Nebraska Regent, veterinarian, and the owner of Pillen Family Farms, said, “I will work to grow our economy and give every child the chance to pursue their dreams right here in Nebraska. We have to fix our broken property tax system and cut taxes. We need to modernize our tax structure, expand broadband access, and improve infrastructure across our state.” Ricketts endorsed Pillen in Jan. 2022, and the Nebraska Farm Bureau endorsed Pillen in February.

Herbster, who served as the chairman of former President Donald Trump’s (R) Agriculture and Rural Advisory Committee, described himself as a “political outsider, businessman, and fifth-generation farmer and rancher” and said it was “time for a Nebraska farmer and rancher to lead our great state toward successful solutions.” Herbster said, “America is in trouble, and if America is in trouble, Nebraska is in trouble. … Governors moving forward will have two jobs: to lead their state and to pushback against government overreach that’s coming out of Washington like a tsunami.” Trump endorsed Herbster in October 2021, and Lt. Gov. Mike Foley (R) endorsed Herbster in March 2022.

The Nebraska Examiner’s Aaron Sanderford reported on April 14 that eight women, including state Sen. Julie Slama (R), had accused Herbster of sexual misconduct occurring between 2017 and 2022. Herbster denied the allegations and said they were “part of a greater scheme calculated to try and defeat [his] candidacy.”

Trump spoke at a May 1 rally for Herbster and said he was “a fine man and … innocent of these despicable charges.”

Lindstrom, a member of the Nebraska State Senate, said he had “been at the forefront of tax reform, economic development and family issues” and had “passed legislation to make college more affordable for Nebraskans, defended the unborn, and led the fight against the opioid epidemic.”

According to Walton, Lindstrom “suggested he has the ability to connect with the next generation of leadership while also bringing valuable legislative experience to the governor’s office.” Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and the Nebraska State Education Association endorsed Lindstrom in April 2022.

Donna Nicole Carpenter, Michael Connely, Lela McNinch, Breland Ridenour, Theresa Thibodeau, and Troy Wentz also ran in the primary.

Major independent observers rate the general election as Solid or Safe Republican. Republicans have held trifecta control of Nebraska state government since 1999.