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Three weeks to go before Nebraska voters have the final word.

Down the ballot below the high-profile contests are huge-stakes battles for seats in the non-partisan Legislature. Those results will translate into big decisions in terms of state policy, priorities and funding.

There's also a big initiative vote down there with a big impact. 

Initiative 427 would extend Medicaid health care coverage to an estimated 90,000 Nebraskans largely defined as the working poor.  

Yes, the votes cast for governor, members of Congress and other state executive officers range from huge to big. But don't underestimate the power wielded by those state senators.

Especially here in Nebraska, where there is just one house and the number of state senators is small. Just 49 lawmakers here.

By comparison, there are 165 members of the two-house Legislature in Kansas, 150 in Iowa and 105 in South Dakota.

In Nebraska, each senator wields much more power in proportionate terms.

And each exercises far more power in a non-partisan body where there are no majority or minority leaders, no party caucuses or party whips, no rewards or punishments dealt out in terms of committee memberships or chairmanships or attention to their legislative bills.

On an individual basis, a state senator in Nebraska is both far more empowered and far more free to act independently.  

The results of a few hotly contested legislative contests on Nov. 6 may determine what legislation is enacted next year and, often more importantly, what is prevented or bottled up.

The 2019 legislative session has some big decisions to make on tax reform, funding levels for state programs and services, support for local schools, the future of the University of Nebraska, prison and sentencing reform, public assistance programs, and much more.

Those legislative contests next month are huge.

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Here's an interesting, instructive and very timely passage from Sen. Ben Sasse's new book, "Them: Why We Hate Each Other and How to Heal."

"Because of my doubts about (President Donald) Trump's understanding of constitutional principles, I announced that I would be writing in a different Republican on my general election ballot," Sasse wrote in referring to the 2016 presidential election. 

"Many of my constituents were livid. I received thousands of messages criticizing my decision. I was formally rebuked by the Nebraska Republican Party in an overwhelming vote.

"The Number One complaint I received in the following months — and I mean upward of 90 percent of the comments that flooded in — was that the election was ultimately about who would be picking federal judges and Supreme Court nominees.

"My constituents had divergent views on immigration and health care and environmental policy, but on the court they were of one mind."

While the court's interpretation of the 2nd Amendment and issues of social policy and other subjects were also in play, Sasse wrote, the overriding concern for Nebraska Republicans and other conservatives was protection of religious liberty. 

Specific issues aside, that focus on Supreme Court nominees is one more reminder of how the court has emerged as the powerhouse, dominant, critical — and increasingly political — branch.  

And why Senate confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh was so important to the Republican base. 

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Finishing up:

* The new climate change alert from the United Nations provides both a challenge and an opportunity for grandparents to organize now to protect their grandchildren with demands on elected officials and an expressed willingness to pay somewhat higher utility rates, at least for awhile, if that's what it takes. 

* Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, who formed a bipartisan congressional nuclear security working group, is now proposing creation of a nuclear nonproliferation council with the goal of "getting the possibility of a nuclear event as close to zero as possible."

* Rep. Adrian Smith has introduced legislation to reclassify and rename Homestead National Monument in Gage County as a National Historical Park. The new designation would maximize the site's benefits to education, tourism and economic development, Smith says.

* Nebraska ranked first among the states in terms of its state government's fiscal health and solvency in a study by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

* Boy, would I like to be in Jon Meacham's classroom. He's a visiting professor at Vanderbilt. Meacham wowed a capacity crowd at the Lied Center last week in his Humanities Nebraska appearance.  

* Big week in the competitive 2nd District House race: Republican Rep. Don Bacon and Democratic challenger Kara Eastman debate live on KMTV on Tuesday at 6 p.m. and again at the Omaha Press Club on Thursday at noon.

* Senate and governor debates quickly disappeared after the State Fair in August. One debate in each race. Advantage: incumbents. 

* The demographic splits in next month's elections nationally are likely to be spectacular. A country divided.

* President Trump was visibly startled when he suddenly realized that the crowd that greeted him in Council Bluffs at last week's rally was composed largely of Nebraskans who crossed the river rather than Iowans. You can watch his reaction on You Tube. 

* Pre-season expectations for Husker basketball are through the roof. National analyst Andy Katz says second in the Big Ten to Michigan State, an NCAA tournament slot and "may have the best starting five in the league."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Political reporter

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

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