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Election coverage: Key legislative races could alter balance of power
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Election coverage: Key legislative races could alter balance of power

Election logo 2020

Although all incumbent state senators are almost certain to make it through Tuesday's primary election, the path ahead could be treacherous for a number of them leading up to a general election in November that conceivably could alter a key lever of power in the Legislature.

Let's unpack what lies ahead:

* Only two senators — Julie Slama of Peru and Mike Hilgers of Lincoln — have more than one challenger in the primary election, and all 19 incumbent candidates appear likely to make the final field of two that will be listed on the general election ballot.

* Several senators appear to face tough challenges ahead.

* Not on the ballot, but perhaps at stake later when the May primary election nominees show up on the general election ballot in November, is the power to halt filibusters that are mostly — although not exclusively — employed by the minority to block legislation.

It was the majority that turned to the filibuster repeatedly to trap Medicaid expansion legislation, driving supporters to finally send the issue to a successful vote of the people in 2018.

Let's deal with that first: It takes 33 votes in the 49-member Legislature to invoke cloture, ending debate on a proposal and triggering a vote on the issue.

The nonpartisan Legislature currently is composed of 30 Republicans, 18 Democrats and one registered nonpartisan.

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Informed speculation among lobbyists in the Rotunda suggests that the Republican number is likely to rise after the 2020 election year is concluded, and the guesses generally range from one to three Republican gains.

Three would reach the magic figure, and that could be a potential game-changer. However, Republicans do not vote as a unanimous bloc. So the shift in the balance of power would be tenuous.

Votes in the Legislature often tend to divide senators on a rural versus urban basis more than on party lines, but that division also often reflects party affiliation.

The two state senators who aren't automatically headed to slots on the general election ballot are Slama and Hilgers. Both have two primary opponents, but each is expected to move on to November.

Slama and Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna are appointees of Gov. Pete Ricketts and both will be facing voters for the first time.

The primary election spotlight will also shine on three senators who are Democrats seeking reelection in districts with Republican registration majorities, but it might be Sen. Tom Brewer's bid for reelection in his Sandhills legislative district that commands the most attention.

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Brewer, the first and only Native member of the Legislature, is being challenged by fellow Republican Tanya Storer, who enters the race with the endorsement of former Gov. Kay Orr.

Storer already is making issues out of Brewer's efforts to control wind energy development in the Sandhills, his active role in helping achieve closure of beer outlets in Whiteclay that sold millions of cans of beer a year to Natives living across the border on the Pine Ridge Reservation and his effort to win approval for display of Nebraska's Native flags in the legislative chamber.

Brewer hails from Gordon, Storer from Whitman.

While both will move on to November, the primary results may be a good measurement of built-in support.

Among the senators who conceivably could become Republican Party targets are Lynne Walz of Fremont, Dan Quick of Grand Island and Carol Blood of Bellevue.

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Walz was the 2018 Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and all three senators live in districts that are moderately-to-heavily Republican in terms of voter registration.

Another high-profile contest is the challenge to Sen. Bruce Bostelman of Brainard, a Republican, being mounted by Helen Raikes of Ashland, a registered independent whose late husband Ron Raikes served in the Legislature from 1997 to 2009.

On his way back to the Legislature is Mike Flood of Norfolk, who served as speaker from 2006 to 2012. He is unopposed in the primary.

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Voter's Guide for legislative races

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSdon


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