Nebraska voters will call a halt Tuesday to an unusual election season.
This is a year when eyes have wandered from the most prestigious offices in the center of the ring to legislative contests and an initiative proposal that may have more immediate impact in terms of state policy and programs.
Also sharing this year’s adjusted spotlight will be the House contest between Republican Rep. Don Bacon and Democratic challenger Kara Eastman.
That metropolitan Omaha showdown in Nebraska’s only truly competitive House district will also place a progressive political agenda on the ballot in direct contrast to Bacon’s conservative approach.
The headliner contests matching Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts against Democratic nominee Bob Krist and GOP Sen. Deb Fischer against Democratic challenger Jane Raybould have been hard-fought but lacking the drama that comes with direct confrontation and accompanying TV exposure since single debates at the State Fair in Grand Island nine weeks ago.
Republican voter registration numbers and campaign finance resources armed Ricketts and Fischer with huge advantages at the beginning as each sought election to a second term.
Meanwhile, GOP Reps. Jeff Fortenberry and Adrian Smith are seeking re-election in House districts that haven’t voted Democratic in more than half a century.
Several sharply contested legislative races could play a substantial role in impacting the nonpartisan Legislature in terms of priorities and policy and a number of them have attracted both funding and attention from the governor.
In Tuesday’s featured legislative showdown, Ricketts is helping fund Sen. Merv Riepe of Ralston, a dependable ally, in his contest with former Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, a leading Democrat who was a force in the Legislature before he was term-limited out of office four years ago.
Two gubernatorial appointees, Sen. Theresa Thibodeau of Omaha and Sen. Robert Clements of Elmwood, are facing stiff challenges in their first trips to the ballot.
Thibodeau’s opponent, Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, is the daughter of former Democratic Congressman John Cavanaugh.
Perhaps the most endangered legislative incumbent based on primary election results is Sen. Laura Ebke of Crete, a senator who changed her party registration from Republican to Libertarian.
The Medicaid expansion initiative would extend health care coverage to an estimated 90,000 adult Nebraskans, nearly all of whom work at jobs that earn them less than $17,000 a year.
Revenue estimates from the legislative fiscal office envision $1.3 billion in federal funding flowing into the state during the first three years of the program. Supporters say that influx of revenue would create and sustain nearly 11,000 jobs while keeping hospitals and clinics open across the state.
Opponents, including Ricketts, point to the estimated $90.8 million in state matching funds required during that three-year period — those are legislative fiscal analyst figures — and argue that those costs would disrupt the state budget and could wipe out legislative opportunities to enact increased property tax relief.