Two Nebraskas emerged in last week's election results, but it remains to be seen whether what was visible Tuesday could be more of a peek ahead at the future rather than evidence of already settled reality.

In somewhat stunning fashion, voters in Lincoln and Omaha rejected the re-election bids of Gov. Pete Ricketts, Sen. Deb Fischer, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and Rep. Don Bacon, all Republicans who were re-elected either statewide or in their congressional districts. 

And to top it off, the big-city voters handed such overwhelming support to the initiative proposal expanding Medicaid coverage to about 90,000 low-wage Nebraskans that their votes washed away the wishes of voters in 85 of Nebraska's 93 counties.

Even Sarpy County, home of the state's third-largest city (Bellevue) and a rapidly growing and politically conservative chunk of the metropolitan Omaha area, joined in supporting the Medicaid issue.

In terms of population, Nebraska's future is increasingly more urban than rural, with accompanying power shifting to the big cities.

In terms of politics, the amount of change remains to be seen.

Policy and programs and priorities are at stake in this shifting landscape; power is on the line.

And legislative and congressional redistricting decisions that will help distribute that power lie not far over the horizon. 

The next federal census will be conducted in 2020; redistricting will be on the agenda in the Legislature in 2021, with rural senators laser-focused on retaining as much of their power as they can for the following 10 years while their actual share of the population continues to steadily decline.

It's a nonpartisan Legislature, but this will be high-stakes drama, with the dominant Nebraska Republican Party deeply engaged.  

When congressional district boundaries were last rearranged in 2011, they were reconstructed to favor Republican candidates by juggling Sarpy County precincts in a manner that meant moving Offutt Air Force Base and Bellevue out of their natural surroundings in metropolitan Omaha's 2nd District into the 1st District represented by Fortenberry, the Lincoln congressman.

Don't be surprised if the redistricting issue makes an early appearance in the legislative session that will convene two months from now. 

If there is to be reform of the system and any kind of rural-urban understanding or compromise, the time probably would be now rather than in 2020, when a presidential election will heat up the political temperature even in Nebraska's non-partisan Legislature.

For more than two years, Sen. John Murante of Gretna, a Republican, and former Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, a Democrat, worked to craft legislation that would reform the process by distancing redistricting decisions from the political parties and partisan interference.

Their solution was a new citizens commission that would submit redistricting plans to the Legislature for approval or disapproval. 

In 2016, the two senators reached agreement on a bill that was enacted by the Legislature on a 29-15 vote. It was promptly vetoed by Ricketts, and Murante subsequently decided not to attempt to override the veto.

Murante was elected state treasurer Tuesday and will not return to the Legislature next year. So, if there is to be agreement on a new redistricting process, someone else will need to step up to the plate now. 

Let's take a closer look at Tuesday's election results and the population shift that lies ahead: 

The Medicaid proposal was approved in Omaha and Douglas County by 47,000 votes, and in Lincoln and Lancaster County by 26,000 votes. It edged ahead in Sarpy County by 5,000 votes.

In the remaining 90 counties, it was rejected by 37,000 votes, and that paints the picture of a dramatic rural-urban divide.

Similar differences can be found in the majority support for Democratic nominees Bob Krist and Jane Raybould in Omaha and Lincoln, while Ricketts was being re-elected by 128,000 votes and Fischer prevailed statewide by 136,000 votes.

A look inside those figures tells a story that should give comfort to Nebraska Republicans. 

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Although the population advantage is shifting to the cities, which are voting Democratic, the huge margins piled up by Republican nominees in rural Nebraska appear to build what may be a sturdy firewall for the GOP. The vote in the cities is far more divided.

A quick look at county-by-county totals supporting Ricketts includes 2,083 to 438; 196 to 31; 1,146 to 213; 1,341 to 205; 803 to 152; and on and on.

Here's a look at Nebraska's future in terms of the dramatic population shift from rural Nebraska to the urban complex formed by Douglas, Lancaster and Sarpy counties, as compiled by David Drozd at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in a 2015 report:

2010: Nebraska, population 1,826,000; the urban complex, 961,000.

2020: Nebraska, 1,943,000; the urban complex, 1,088,000.

2030: Nebraska, 2,053,000; the urban complex, 1,220,000. 

Drozd's research suggests that 56 percent of the state's population will be in the big three counties when state senators confront their legislative redistricting decision. 

That equates to 27 of the Legislature's 49 seats compared with 25 now.

And that, in turn, suggests that rural senators would be wise to try to accomplish what they want most before their legislative clout diminishes.  

Sixty-nine of Nebraska's 93 counties are losing population today; 60 counties are recording more deaths than births. 

The clock is running.

And, as Tuesday's election results indicated, change already is underway.

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

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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