The magic number for Governor Pete Ricketts and his followers in the legislature is 33. That is the number of votes necessary to end a filibuster. In the last legislative session, there were 30 Republicans, 18 Democrats and Ernie Chambers. Moreover, there were usually a handful of moderate Republicans that Ricketts couldn’t depend upon to help him jam through his extreme and regressive agenda.
Ricketts’ goal in election 2020 was to buy a filibuster proof legislature to rubber stamp his agenda. The playing field certainly gave Ricketts that opportunity. Senators Carol Blood, Lynne Walz and Dan Quick were all up for re-election in Republican leaning districts. Those were in Sarpy County, Dodge County and Hall County, respectively.
At the same time, there were three open seats in GOP leaning districts where the incumbent Democratic senator had been termed out. Those outgoing Senators were Katz Bolz in south Lincoln, Rick Kolowski in Millard and Sue Crawford in Sarpy County.
Another battleground was in a red leaning district in Sarpy County in which challenger Jen Day took on Ricketts appointed incumbent Andrew LaGrone. This race represented the best pickup opportunity for the Democrats.
The billionaire governor and his family did everything they could to purchase a rubber stamp unicameral. Pete Ricketts and his family spent approximately $1 million in an attempt to buy a supine legislative body. This manifested itself in a blizzard of vicious and deceptive mailers targeting the Democrats in these battlegrounds.
Interestingly enough, Ricketts made a huge investment to elect Julie Slama — a Ricketts appointed incumbent — in a nasty Republican versus Republican race in southeast Nebraska. As of October 19, the Nebraska GOP had contributed $112,188.71 to Slama. In addition, Ricketts had personally contributed $20,000.00 to her campaign and the Nebraska GOP spent $27,704.91 opposing Janet Palmtag. This was a truly strange series of investments in a race in which a Republican was going to win.
Ricketts’ heavy handed interventions in these races turned out be a bit of a mixed bag. Jen Day pulled off the upset of the cycle by knocking off Andrew LaGrone. At the same time, Carol Blood and Lynne Walz held their seats and fended off the right wing challenge. Moreover, Eliot Bostar held the Democratic seat in south Lincoln that was vacated by Senator Bolz.
On the minus side for Democrats, Dan Quick was taken out by a heavily funded Ricketts’ challenger and Republicans replaced Rick Kolowski and Sue Crawford.
Overall, the Republicans picked up a net two legislative seats. That means there will be 32 Republicans and 17 Democrats in 2021–22. What that means is that Ricketts and his followers in the GOP are at least two votes shy of a filibuster proof majority. I would expect Senator John McCollister — and some other moderate Republicans — to side with the Democrats.
The billionaire governor’s massive investments in the 2020 election cycle really didn’t change very much. I would expect there to be another bitter session and more gridlock in 2021–22.
In the next session there will be proposals involving social justice and prison reform. Unfortunately, those bills will go nowhere. Other hot button issues will be redistricting, property taxes and a radical proposal from Blueprint Nebraska to fund a tax cut for the rich by raising sales taxes on the middle class and the poor.
The unicameral elections were a bit of a disappointment. I’m not going to sugar coat it. In any event, we maintained enough votes to block the kind of radical tax changes envisioned by the likes of Ricketts and Blueprint Nebraska. Senator Adam Morfeld once told me that Democratic senators don’t get enough credit for stopping bad legislation.
I want to thank everybody who ran for office this year and/or contributed in some way to a campaign. I’ve run for office before so I’m familiar with the sacrifices made by our candidates.
We can take a little time off now but our work is never done. We are in the current predicament because millions of Democrats stayed home or voted third party in 2010, 2014 and 2016. We can’t make that mistake again. We must remain energized. When Democrats vote, Democrats win!