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Election coverage: Three candidates step up for District 21 legislative race
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Election coverage: Three candidates step up for District 21 legislative race

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Thirteen of 17 legislative incumbents have opponents in the 2020 election, and District 21 in northwest Lincoln is among the contested races with two opponents challenging Sen. Mike Hilgers.

The Legislature hasn't met since March 25, but the coronavirus has stopped door-to-door campaigning for Hilgers and challengers Joseph Couch and Brodey Weber.

Hilgers has continued his campaign with phone calls, emails, digital media and yard signs.

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He expects a larger voter turnout for this primary election based on the early mail ballot requests, he said. And it's anybody's guess how many people might show up at the polls on May 12, he said.

In his phone calls, a lot of conversations have centered around the pandemic and the directed health measures, he said.

Mike Hilgers

Hilgers

"A lot of people, their entire lives are upended," Hilgers said. "So a lot of those conversations are related just to the immediate here and now, naturally."

Hilgers, 41, who is a registered Republican in the officially nonpartisan race, was elected to serve District 21 in 2016 and is the chairman of the Executive Board, which oversees the operations of the Legislature. He previously was chairman of the Rules Committee.

He's an attorney and founded Hilgers Graben PLLC, which he said was named one of Inc. magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing private companies in the country three years straight.

A second term agenda would include continued transportation innovation, lowering taxes, cutting regulations and developing growth opportunities for the state, he said.

District 21 is fairly split with 40% Republicans, 33% Democrats, 25% Independents and 2% Libertarians. It includes the majority of property west of North 14th Street and north of Interstate 80, including the Lincoln Airport.

While Hilgers is among the more conservative members in the Legislature, both his challengers say they would bring more progressive ideas and positions.

Joseph Couch

Couch

Couch, who is a member of the Nebraska National Guard, was called up April 24 to help with COVID-19 operations, including testing in various areas of the state. During active duty, he said, Department of Defense directives prohibit him from campaigning or talking to voters about the election.

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So he is not engaged in digital campaigning, fundraising or phone calls at this time, and is leaving all that to his campaign team, he said.

Couch, 26, who is a registered Democrat, has a mathematics degree from Doane University. Last fall he began working as a federal technician for the Guard as an aviation operation specialist.

One of the biggest themes in his campaign has been ranked choice voting, an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated and second preference candidates are lifted. The process continues until a candidate has a clear majority.

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"It disincentivizes divisive candidates who just want to court 51%. It incentivizes candidates to be widely palatable while trying to collect that real support," he said.

He also believes climate change should be a primary issue for all candidates. He supports raising the minimum wage, paid sick and family leave for every worker, and removing right-to-work laws that prohibit union security agreements. He would also remove at-will employment that allows an employer to fire a worker for any reason except an illegal one, or for no reason.

Brodey Weber

Brodey Weber

Weber, 22, who is also a registered Democrat, is vice president of client relations for Mid America Casing Supply in Airpark, and a senior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in communications studies.

He said his campaign team has been able to adapt to these physical distancing times and shifted to many phone calls and encouraging people to vote by mail. 

The campaign has gotten a lot of questions on how the state is going to recover from the COVID-19 impacts and the negative effects on the economy.

Weber is also talking to voters about the need for expanded Medicaid and sick leave for workers.

"This is a really good lesson for us to learn as public servants and those aspiring to serve to understand that paid sick leave is so essential in Nebraska," Weber said.

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Weber is also discussing how small businesses will get through the pandemic, which has affected many of them, and get back on their feet, and how to help people who have had to file for unemployment, he said.

Voters continue to be focused on property tax reform and being able to still maintain quality education, he said. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, that was the main topic, and people are still wanting to talk about it.

The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation proposal, the large scale chicken operation near Raymond that is being appealed on the county level, has also been a focus of Weber's. He has pledged to introduce a bill, if elected, to prohibit such an operation within two miles of a school.

Two candidates will move on from the May 12 primary and go before voters in the November general election.

Q&A with legislative candidates from the Journal Star Voter's Guide:

Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature

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