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Stories about Nebraska

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.



Omaha voters to decide six bond measures totaling $260 million on May 10; May 2 is the early voting ballot request deadline

In Omaha, Nebraska, voters will decide six bond questions totaling $260.3 million on May 10. The questions include a $120 million continuation of the street preservation bond issue that voters approved in 2020. The other five bond questions total $140.3 million and concern:

In 2020, Omaha voters approved a $200 million bond issue for the creation of a street preservation program and an additional property tax of $35 per $100,000 in assessed property value to repay the bonds. City officials estimated that by the end of 2022 the city will have spent $120 million of the $200 million authorized by voters in 2020.

In May 2018, Omaha voters approved five bond measures totaling $227.465 million that mirrored the purposes of five of the 2022 bond questions:

Nebraska voters will also see primary races for governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general, and state auditor, as well as school board, county, and municipal races on May 10. The deadline to request an early voting ballot by mail for the May 10 elections is May 2.

In 2022, Ballotpedia is covering local measures that appear on the ballot for voters within the top 100 largest cities in the U.S. and all state capitals, including those outside of the top 100 largest cities. Ballotpedia is also covering a selection of notable police-related and election-related measures outside of the top 100 largest cities. Ballotpedia is also covering all local measures in California and all statewide ballot measures.

Additional reading:



Nebraska legislature sends constitutional amendment to voters to authorize local governments to develop commercial air travel

On April 12, the Nebraska legislature voted to send a constitutional amendment to the ballot authorizing any city, county, or other political subdivision that operates an airport to spend revenue to develop commercial air travel at the local airport. 

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a 60% vote is required in the Nebraska State Senate. This amendment was introduced as Legislative Resolution 283CA (LR283CA) on Jan. 22, 2022. On March 2, 2022, the state Senate voted 42-1 to send the measure to review. On April 12, the state Senate took a final vote on the amendment to place it on the ballot by a margin of 47-0 with two not voting.

Sen. Eliot Bostar (D) of Lincoln sponsored the amendment. He said, “Especially for small to medium-sized airports across the country, this is essentially the tool that is used to attract and expand passenger air service. I know of no other state where this cannot be utilized or isn’t being utilized.”

The amendment is the first measure to be placed on the state ballot in November. Between 1996 and 2020, an average of six measures appeared on statewide general election ballots in Nebraska. Voters approved 56.96% (45 of 79) and rejected 43.04% (34 of 79) of the ballot measures appearing on statewide ballots during that time.

The Nebraska legislature is set to adjourn on April 20.

Additional reading:



Sexual education proposal at center of primary for Nebraska State Board of Education

Three candidates are running in the primary election for Nebraska State Board of Education District 7 on May 10, 2022. Those candidates are incumbent Robin Stevens, Pat Moore, and Elizabeth Tegtmeier. The two candidates to receive the most votes in the primary will advance to the general election on Nov. 8, 2022.

Stevens faced no opposition in 2018. Before serving on the board, he was an educator for 40 years, most recently as the superintendent of Schuyler Community Schools. Moore is a retired pastor. Tegtmeier is a former public school teacher who left the classroom to homeschool her children.

At the center of this primary is 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.

Supporters of the draft included the Women’s Fund of Omaha and OutNebraska, an LGBTQ advocacy group. Opponents of the draft included Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) and 28 members of the Nebraska State Senate. Ricketts and at least 14 state senators have endorsed Tegtmeier.

A second draft released in July 2021 eliminated the references to gender and sexuality opposed by Ricketts and state senators. In September 2021, the board voted 5-1 to pause the process of developing these new standards indefinitely. Stevens was one of the five who voted to pause the process.

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.

Tegtmeier said at a campaign event in Gothenburg that she chose to run in this election after hearing state Sen. Mike Groene speak about the proposed health standards. “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,” she said.

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.”



Nebraska’s 2022 U.S. Congress elections see most candidates running per district since 2012

The filing deadline for candidates running for state or federal office in Nebraska was February 15, 2022. This year, 16 candidates are running for Nebraska’s 3 U.S. House districts, including 9 Republicans, 6 Democrats, and one Legal Marijuana Now candidate. That’s 5.33 candidates per district, more than the 4.67 candidates per district in 2020 and 3.67 in 2018. See the chart below to view data through 2012.

Here are some other highlights from this year’s filings:

  • This is the first election to take place under new district lines following the 2020 census. Nebraska was apportioned three congressional districts, the same number of seats it had after the 2010 census.
  • Incumbent Reps. Don Bacon (R), and Adrian Smith (R) are running for re-election in the district they currently represent.
  • Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R) also registered to run for re-election in Nevada’s 1st. On March 26, Fortenberry announced he would resign from Congress following his conviction on campaign finance-related charges. Nebraska Secretary of State Bob Evnen (R) said it was too late to remove Fortenberry’s name from the ballot. Fortenberry has not yet communicated an unofficial withdrawal, so he is still counted as a candidate in this article.
  • The May primaries in Nebraska’s 1st will be open seat elections, but the November general election will not be. Nebraska’s 1st, where Fortenberry is resigning, will hold a special election in June to fill the seat.
  • There were no regular open seat elections in 2012 (the last elections after redistricting) or 2020. The last open seat regular election for U.S. Congress in Nebraska was in 2006 for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District.
  • The last time an incumbent was defeated in Nebraska was in 2016, when Bacon defeated one-term incumbent Brad Ashford (D).
  • This year, Bacon has one primary challenger and Smith also has one.
  • The 1st district, where Fortenberry is resigning, has the most candidates running with a total of seven candidates. Five are Republicans and two are Democrats.
  • No districts are guaranteed to either party. Both Democratic and Republican candidates have filed to run in all three districts.

Nebraska’s U.S. House primaries are scheduled for May 10, 2022. Candidates who receive the most votes in the primary will advance to the general election.

Additional reading:



Two candidates running in Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District Democratic Primary

Alisha Shelton and Tony Vargas are running in the May 10, 2022, Democratic Party primary for Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District. 

Shelton has 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 would not accept corporate PAC money in the election: “I’m 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.” 

Vargas is a member of the Nebraska State Senate, where he has represented District 7 since he was elected in 2016. He served on the Omaha Board of Education from 2013 to 2016. Before taking office, Vargas worked in the nonprofit sector and as a public school teacher. He said, “Congress is not doing enough. And I know how to do it in the legislature, and I’m going to do it in Congress.”

Vargas also 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. 

Since 1999, the only Democrat 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).

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.