New Year Brings Seismic Changes to Nebraska Politics
By Steve White, Grand Island Bureau Chief - bio | email
Senator–elect Deb Fischer takes office January 3, capping a year that saw Nebraska Democrats give up a seat they've long held.
"Thank you Nebraska, we did it!"
Deb Fischer claimed victory, in a year that saw the state senator from cattle country defeat two well–known and well–financed Republican opponents.
Her rise culminated with a win over former senator, governor, and presidential candidate Bob Kerrey
"The people of Nebraska have spoken," Kerrey said in his concession speech.
While Jon Bruning and Don Stenberg played hardball, Fischer got a boost from power players like Sarah Palin and the Omaha family behind TD Ameritrade.
Plus her family's ranching business brought support from groups like Farm Bureau.
Mark McHargue, of Central City said, "I couldn't be happier to have a person like Deb with character and integrity, understanding of agriculture."
Kerrey campaigned aggressively, criticizing Fischer's handling of a land deal on her Valentine ranch.
In a news conference before the election he said, "If your neighbor treated you this way, would you want them to be your United States Senator?"
Kerrey returned to Nebraska from New York, hoping to maintain the seat the Democrats had long held.
Senator Ben Nelson announced his retirement the year before, after 12 years in the senate.
Kerrey's unsuccessful campaign leaves Nebraska Republicans in a dominant position.
On election night, Gov. Dave Heineman proclaimed, "This is a historic night, first time in 40 years all five of our delegates are Republicans."
Heineman continues to make history of his own, as the only man who will hold that office for a decade.
Heineman also served as chairman of the National Governors Association.
In 2012, he pushed for tax cuts with mixed results.
Lawmakers passed an income tax cut, but under pressure from county government, retained the inheritance tax.
Heineman sparred with senators over a measure to provide prenatal care for low income women, because the governor said it would benefit illegal immigrants.
However, lawmakers led by Speaker Mike Flood overrode the governor, saying it was consistent with pro–life beliefs to provide that support.
Speaker Flood concluded an eight year run in the legislature with an announcement he was running for governor.
"I've been traveling the state, talking about the issues," he told NTV during a fall visit to central Nebraska.
The well–respected Norfolk lawyer and broadcaster was considered a strong candidate, but dropped out of the race when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
2013 brings new faces, and the return of a familiar face -- Ernie Chambers.
Familiar issues will again make headlines like education, health care, and taxes. But new issues are sure to emerge.
The legislature goes back to work on Wednesday, January 9. Senator Greg Adams of York is expected to be named speaker, and several central and western Nebraska lawmakers are in the running to chair committees.