Steve Lathrop, who guided past legislative efforts to implement prison reform and negotiated resolution of difficult issues ranging from collective bargaining to embryonic stem cell research, will be a candidate for his former seat in the Legislature in 2018.

Lathrop, an Omaha attorney who was term-limited out of his 12th District seat at the end of 2014, will challenge Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston in what is destined to be a high-profile battle that's virtually certain to trigger active involvement by Gov. Pete Ricketts in support of Riepe.

Riepe, who is chairman of the Legislature's Health and Human Services Committee, has been a dependable ally of the governor.

Although the Legislature is nonpartisan, this contest will pit Riepe, a Republican, against Lathrop, a Democrat who considered seeking the governorship four years ago. 

Lathrop defeated Jean Stothert, who now is Omaha's mayor, in his first legislative race in 2006.

"A lot of people have approached me encouraging me to run and I want to serve again," Lathrop said during an interview Tuesday morning over coffee in downtown Lincoln.

"I have a record of bringing people together to solve problems," he said.

"I'm running for the Legislature because our families and neighborhoods need independent leadership working for property tax relief, stronger public schools and the good-paying jobs of tomorrow," Lathrop said in an accompanying news release.

Other legislative decisions that he helped broker as a state senator established policy on water resources, wind energy, Nebraska's unemployment insurance fund and the role of the Commission of Industrial Relations.

In addition to overseeing a legislative investigation of the Department of Correctional Services, Lathrop headed the legislative inquiry that led to reforms at the Beatrice State Developmental Center. 

State aid to education would be among issues at the top of his list if he returns to the Legislature in 2019, Lathrop said during the interview.

Ralston and Millard, both located in the 12th District, have been adversely affected by changes in the state school aid funding formula, Lathrop said, and he would focus on efforts to "make sure they get their proper share of state aid."

Lathrop said the nonpartisan legislative contest should not be turned into a partisan battleground.

"People are turned off by the partisanship of two tribes going to battle and getting nothing done," he said.  

Lathrop said he has been disappointed by the noticeable shift toward partisanship in the current Legislature that surfaced on its first day in session when partisan considerations were in play as a slate of senators was elected to leadership positions.

Lathrop noted that he and former Speaker Mike Flood of Norfolk, a Republican, worked together on a number of issues despite their differences when they were in the Legislature. 

With the ACLU now suing the state over conditions in the prison system, Lathrop said, leadership is needed along with an understanding that "many times when we cut resources to save money, that ends up costing more money."

That happened at the Beatrice center and in the state's child welfare program, he said.  

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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