Nebraska's 2020 general election should be fun.

Not only is there a presidential contest — which essentially will be a referendum on Donald Trump — sitting at the top of the ballot, there could be some hot-button issues tagging along that are guaranteed to lure voter turnout all on their own.

Perhaps a property tax constitutional amendment that would change the terrain for every taxpayer, urban and rural.

Maybe a proposal to authorize casino gambling in Nebraska sited at horse race tracks.

Perhaps a marijuana proposal — or even two.

All of those components are currently in motion and the sum of them all looks like a near-perfect voter turnout model in a presidential election year.

No governor's race in 2020, but there's a Senate contest which, barring a sudden and dramatic change in Nebraska's current political landscape, will essentially be settled earlier in the year when Republicans choose their Senate nominee in the primary election.

That's Ben Sasse's Senate seat and it appears that it is his to keep if he chooses to seek a second term. That decision is now one season away, a summertime reckoning.

Potential big-name Republican challengers have signaled they're not going there and the only guy who could disrupt all of that is the aforementioned Mr. President if he would choose to weigh in with a preferred challenger. That appears highly unlikely, although who knows what Trump might do next?

Casino gambling would be a big voter turnout lure, but it's the property tax issue that might create lines at polling sites once TV ads have alarmed and attracted voters on both sides.

The proposed constitutional amendment would provide a state income tax credit for 35 percent of local property taxes paid.

If approved by the voters, that change would trigger increases in state income and/or sales taxes to recover lost state revenue or a reduction in funding for state programs and services, or all of the above.

That means winners and losers.

And probably some sharp divisions between rural and urban voters. The kind that already are visible in the Legislature as it prepares to debate tax policy.

If the Legislature acts this year on substantial tax reform — that's not a bet you would want to make in the casino at the race track — the property tax initiative goes away.

If not, TV stations can begin planning for substantial campaign ad buys from major players on both sides of that issue who would be substantially impacted by its approval.

* * *

Every now and then, you notice it.

One day, there's Steve Lathrop and Lou Ann Linehan standing together toward the back of the legislative chamber visiting at length about a bill that's under debate, each listening attentively to the other. And sometimes as the conversation continues there is laughter or a smile.

On the next day, you see Mike Groene walk across the chamber to sit down next to Adam Morfeld and engage in private discussion.  

And later, Mike Hilgers walks over to talk with Morfeld.

An hour later, you notice Matt Williams and Lynne Walz visiting together toward the back of the chamber.

In each case, that's a Republican and a Democrat interacting while the Legislature is in session.

There's an aisle in the legislative chamber, but it's not a border or a boundary. There are Republicans and Democrats sitting on both sides of it.

And senators are actually gathered together in the legislative chamber at the same time listening to one another — sometimes attentively, sometimes not quite so much — during debate. 

But they are there together, not standing alone in an empty chamber speaking to no one but the cameras and their constituents.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Debates occur in Lincoln; and debates matter.

Political parties do not determine the agenda in Lincoln and partisan affiliation does not direct or dictate the votes. Individual decisions are made without party direction. 

The non-partisan, one-house legislature works. 

This system may not be perfect, but it sure beats the alternative.

Hands down. 

* * *

Finishing up:

* The state's response to unprecedented flooding and storm damage has been swift, effective and impressive. Now, the rapidly approaching challenge at the Capitol during the next couple of months is to not allow that natural disaster to limit, reduce, shrink or damage the state's future. 

* Big legislative hearing on Thursday to consider the tax reform package under construction in the Revenue Committee. It's a plan, a proposal; not a single committee vote has been taken yet on its contents. 

* Props to Mike Groene: a gruff, hard-working, rough-and-tumble senator who has mastered the state's complex and arcane school aid formula. It was Groene who briefed his fellow members of the Revenue Committee on the tentative property tax relief plan, which is built around state school aid.

* Trade with Canada and Mexico supports 82,900 jobs in Nebraska, according to a study released by the Business Roundtable, which urged congressional approval of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that the Trump administration negotiated to replace NAFTA.

* Open suspicion was expressed by some state senators at a Medicaid expansion briefing that Gov. Pete Ricketts' administration is slow-walking the program approved by voters last November and driving up its administrative costs. 

* Got my income tax filing in early this year; it was in the mail on Sunday.

* Doc's back with his distinctive Arkansas drawl and Ben Sasse is sporting a T-shirt that says: "Sadler for City Council."

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

On Twitter @LJSDon.


Load comments