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State Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln said Thursday she will challenge Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's 2020 reelection bid, centering her message on health care for families and trade opportunities for Nebraska farmers.

Bolz announced her decision to enter the Democratic primary at the crowded Telegraph Mill in the heart of Lincoln's newest redevelopment project, promising to be "an independent-minded leader who will put you first."

And, she pledged, she would be "someone who listens to you."

"We are increasingly frustrated watching what is happening in Washington," Bolz said. "If we want something different out of Washington, we need to send someone different to Washington."

In the midst of "all the mud-slinging and finger-pointing," she asked, "who is looking out for Nebraskans?"

The two-term state senator said she does not believe Washington is listening to Nebraska families or Nebraska farmers today.

One of the problems in Congress is "a lack of bipartisan cooperation," Bolz said during an interview prior to the event.

In the nonpartisan Nebraska Legislature, she said, "I have tried to work with Democrats, Republicans and independents to find better ways to accomplish our work."

In Washington, Bolz later told the gathering of supporters, she would be prepared to "work with anyone and everyone" and be "ready to find a middle ground."

Fortenberry's opposition to the Affordable Care Act threatens guaranteed access to health care coverage for 780,000 Nebraskans with pre-existing conditions, Bolz said.

If elected, she said, she would "focus on making health care affordable" for everyone, and she'd be ready to consider adding a public option component to health care coverage "if that's what people choose."

Action also is needed to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, Bolz said.

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"Nebraskans have been patient on trade," she said, "and they keep being asked to be patient" while the Nebraska Farm Bureau estimates $2 billion in lost trade for Nebraska agriculture over the past two years as a result of Trump administration trade policies.

Bolz said she grew up on a farm and graduated from Palmyra High School, "and I think of myself as a farm kid."

"I think Nebraskans want an independent-minded representative who is going to vote their interests," she said. "We need to be focused on the people and not on the politics.

"I believe Nebraskans are still open to voting for the person, not the party," she said.

Bolz, who represents a legislative district in south-central Lincoln, is executive director of the Nebraska Association of Service Providers, a statewide association of community-based disability service providers.

A Democrat has not won the eastern Nebraska House seat since 1964, and Fortenberry, a former Lincoln city councilman, will be seeking his ninth term next year.

Bolz said she will conduct "a listening tour" across the district in November to introduce herself to voters. The 1st District includes Lincoln, Bellevue, Fremont, Norfolk and Columbus, along with Offutt Air Force Base.

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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