2020 Primary Voters’ Guide: Nebraska Unicameral, District 5

The League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha contacts candidates during each election cycle and invites them to participate in the print and online editions of the Voters’ Guide. Candidates provide their biographical information and their positions on selected issues. Candidates are aware in advance that the biographies and answers will be printed exactly as submitted without edits for content, spelling, punctuation or grammar.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that never supports or opposes any political party or candidate for office.

PDF of 2020 Primary Douglas County Voters’ Guide | Find voter information specific to your ballot at vote411.org.

The primary election is May 12. Find out more about voting by mail: Extensive guide | Quick video guide

Help us share this info! Forward these links to your friends and family. 

Candidates

Mike McDonnell (D):
Website: www.votemcdonnell.com
Occupation:  President of the Omaha Federation of Labor AFL-CIO
Current Public Office, dates held: Nebraska State Senator Legislative Dist. 5 January 2017-Present
Past Public Office, dates held: Nebraska State Senator Legislative Dist. 5, January 2017-Present
Education: Masters in Public Administration Bachelors in Criminal Justice Associate Degree in Fire Protection Technology
Military Experience: None
Volunteer Experience: Knights of Columbus Council 10184 Saint Thomas More Festival Committee

Gilbert Ayala (R):  No response received.

Candidate Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Mike McDonnell: Yes! I would like to adopt a more nonpartisan approach similar to what the State of Iowa has done. We could use a nonpartisan state agency and an outside advisory commission to draw the districts.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Mike McDonnell: Reducing recidivism will reduce overcrowding. I introduced 2 bills this year that will help accomplish this. LB

1096 will be a private public partnership to teach skilled trade classes, to people within 18 months of being released from prison. LB 1097 will double the size of the current young adult court, which is a problem solving court. This court works with people age 18-26 to help with employment and addressing other issues to keep them out of the Nebraska prison system.

Do you feel there is a need for voter ID, if so why and how should it be implemented?

Mike McDonnell: No!

Should there be increased restrictions on money in politics? Why or why not and what specific restrictions would you support?

Mike McDonnell: Yes! I believe there should be limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns. Based on not letting an individual or organization have more political influence.

Does Nebraska need a paid family medical leave program? Why or why not?

Mike McDonnell: Yes! I believe Nebraska workers should receive paid leave to deal with their own serious health conditions, and mothers should receive paid maternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child.

2020 Primary Voters’ Guide: Nebraska Unicameral, District 39

The League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha contacts candidates during each election cycle and invites them to participate in the print and online editions of the Voters’ Guide. Candidates provide their biographical information and their positions on selected issues. Candidates are aware in advance that the biographies and answers will be printed exactly as submitted without edits for content, spelling, punctuation or grammar.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that never supports or opposes any political party or candidate for office.

PDF of 2020 Primary Douglas County Voters’ Guide | Find voter information specific to your ballot at vote411.org.

The primary election is May 12. Find out more about voting by mail: Extensive guide | Quick video guide

Help us share this info! Forward these links to your friends and family. 

Candidates

Allison Heimes (D):
Website: www.heimesforlegislature.org
Occupation: Attorney Education: JD, Creighton University School of Law MS, Creighton University BA, University of Nebraska at Omaha
Military Experience: Military Spouse
Volunteer Experience: Foodbank of the Heartland, Big Brothers Big Sisters, The Kim Foundation, Attorney of the Day for immigrant kids, etc.

Lou Ann Linehan (R):

Website: www.LinehanforLegislature.com
Occupation: State Senator
Current Public Office, dates held: State Senator, Legislative District 39 including Elkhorn, Valley, Waterloo and portions of Millard and West Omaha, elected 2016; chair, Legislature’s Revenue Committee, elected 2019
Past Public Office, dates held: none
Education: attended University of NebraskaLincoln and University of Nebraska at Omaha; Lewiston (Nebraska) High School
Military Experience: None/ While working for the U.S. Department of State, Lou Ann was assigned to Iraq several times between 2008 and 2012 where she worked closely with the U.S. Military.
Volunteer Experience: St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Elkhorn; Women’s Center for Advancement of Omaha, 2014 Distinguished Honoree; City Charter Review; Cable Television Board; past president, Meyer Board Auxiliary; treasurer, Parent Teacher Assoc; CCD education teacher

Candidate Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Allison Heimes: We need to use algorithmically derived district remapping that optimizes the creation of new districts based on equal numbers of voters and compactness and avoid the anti-democratic practice of gerrymandering.

Lou Ann Linehan: Redistricting is a specific and clear duty of Nebraska’s non-partisan Unicameral Legislature. In fact, Article III Section 5 of Nebraska’s State Constitution explicitly places this authority with the Legislature with the following sentence: The Legislature shall redistrict the state after each federal decennial census. I do not support delegating this duty outside the Legislature where the State Constitution clearly and appropriately places this authority.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Allison Heimes: Is the primary function of prison to punish individuals for misdeeds or is it to rehabilitate people who have taken a wrong turn in life? I believe prison’s primary function is to rehabilitate individuals so that they can rejoin society. Thus, we need to create rehabilitative programs and provide mental health treatment to inmates. We can limit the amount of people in prison for nonviolent drug offense and offenses related to mental illness if we address the root causes of criminal behavior.

Lou Ann Linehan: The solution is more beds and adequate programming for inmates who will re-enter society after prison. In the last two years more beds have been added including a 100 bed dormitory and a 160-bed work-release facility for women. One hundred beds are under construction at the State Penitentiary, and work has begun on a 64-bed facility for elderly and mentally ill inmates. The Legislature has also approved 384 more beds at the Lincoln Correctional Center for the state’s worst-behaving inmates.

Do you feel there is a need for voter ID, if so why and how should it be implemented?

Allison Heimes: No, there should not be any barriers to voting. It is my opinion, that in addition to no voter ID laws, election day should be a national holiday so that everyone can participate in their civic duty.

Lou Ann Linehan: According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of December 31, 2019 a total of 36 states have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification. Voter identification laws are intended to prevent in-person voter impersonation and increase confidence in the election process, and I agree with those objectives. However, these laws cannot infringe on individual voter rights or serve as a discriminatory poll tax so they must be implemented carefully.

Should there be increased restrictions on money in politics? Why or why not and what specific restrictions would you support?

Allison Heimes: We need campaign finance reform. I have many ideas on this matter, but to keep my answer brief and to the point, we need to have a ceiling on how much money can be raised total. Ceilings would prevent incumbents from being able to out-raise challengers before it’s even an election year, they would prevent big companies and millionaires from being able to buy elections, and it would even the playing field for candidates who aren’t wealthy, but who truly want to advocate for their districts.

Lou Ann Linehan: Nebraska candidates disclose all contributions and expenses over $250 and non-individuals, including corporations, also report contributions in excess of $250. These requirements provide transparency for how campaigns are funded. Adding restrictions on campaign contributions increases the likelihood contributions will end up in dark money organizations which lack any transparency. Consequently, I oppose more restrictions which would increase unregulated, unaccountable campaign spending.

Does Nebraska need a paid family medical leave program? Why or why not? 

Allison Heimes: The healthcare system we currently have is not ideal. It is difficult to find affordable insurance, hospitals bill high amounts for basic treatments, and few employers offer paid sick leave, so when an individual gets sick it is catastrophic for a family. Medical emergencies bankrupt families. We need to offer a parachute for suffering families. If your reasons for running for office don’t include taking care of your constituents and their families, then you aren’t running for the right reasons

Lou Ann Linehan: Many large employers offer paid family medical leave and I applaud them for choosing to do so. What many employers have found is that in order to compete for employees they need to offer an attractive benefits package including things like paid family medical leave. However, many smaller employers can find it cost prohibitive to offer this benefit and I don’t support imposing a mandate that would hurt small businesses which are the backbone of our state’s economy.

2020 Primary Voters’ Guide: Nebraska Unicameral, District 31

The League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha contacts candidates during each election cycle and invites them to participate in the print and online editions of the Voters’ Guide. Candidates provide their biographical information and their positions on selected issues. Candidates are aware in advance that the biographies and answers will be printed exactly as submitted without edits for content, spelling, punctuation or grammar.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that never supports or opposes any political party or candidate for office.

PDF of 2020 Primary Douglas County Voters’ Guide | Find voter information specific to your ballot at vote411.org.

The primary election is May 12. Find out more about voting by mail: Extensive guide | Quick video guide

Help us share this info! Forward these links to your friends and family. 

Candidates

Mark B. Gruenewald (R):
Occupation: Licensed Insurance Advisor
Current Public Office, dates held: Director of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District
Education: B.S. Of Agricultural Economic with a Computer/Chemistry minor

Alexander J. Martin (D):
Occupation: Service Manager
Current Public Office, dates held: None.
Past Public Office, dates held: None.
Education: BBA
Military Experience: Navy
Volunteer Experience: Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, UNAIDS.

Rich Pahls (R): No response received.

Tim Royers (D):
Website: www.royers2020.com
Occupation: Teacher
Education: Bachelor of Science in Social Science Education, Master of Arts in History, Master of Science in Educational Leadership and Administration
Volunteer Experience: YMCA, Volunteer Coach Teen Center, Volunteer Instructor

Melanie Williams (D):
Occupation: Executive Dir. Family Advocacy Movement
Current Public Office, dates held: Appointed Member of the Nebraska Children’s Commission (appointed in 2019 for 2 year term) / Current elected member of the Douglas County Democratic Party Central Committee (2016-present)
Past Public Office, dates held: Nebraska Democratic Party State Central Committee, 2016-2019
Education: Dundee Elementary School, Omaha Central High school, Omaha University of Nebraska at Omaha – Majored in English in 1978 / Returned to major in Communications/Journalism in 1988 and again in 2004. Focuses: Sociology, Women’s Studies, Black History
Military Experience: None.
Volunteer Experience: In early college years, I volunteered at the Omaha Children’s Museum. In 2009, I founded the Family Advocacy Movement (FAM) which has provided a decade of volunteer advocacy for families and children intertwined with child welfare & juvenile justice.

Candidate Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Alexander J. Martin: For Sure. Let’s try to be fair

Tim Royers: Yes. We need an independent commission to draft any modifications to political boundaries for the Legislature to approve. The redistricting process should be designed to be as non-partisan as possible.

Melanie Williams: Yes. The only way to ensure democratic representation for citizens is by independent, non-partisan remapping that does not favor one party affiliation over another. Our current system is undemocratic, as it provides for partisan redistricting – first via legislative committee that is overwhelmingly comprised of Republican state senators, then via the full Unicameral, with a significant Republican majority, and finally our Republican governor, who can use his veto power, benefitting Republicans.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Mark B. Gruenewald: Over 40% of the inmates suffer in prison suffer from mental illness. Re-opening lock down mental health facilities in Norfolk and Hastings will solve prison overcrowding. So, will having ICE deport those who qualify. The Win/Win is Omaha no longer needs to waste more than $100M for a needless new prison. Out state communities familiar with dealing with mental health facilities are revitalized. The need for mental health is a growth industry. Nebraska was a leader. It can be again.

Alexander J. Martin: Stop incarcerating non violent drug offenders for one?

Tim Royers: Thoroughly examining sentencing guidelines, and assessing what we currently offer to assist people in completing their sentences so they can successfully return to the community and have gainful employment. Reducing recidivism is critical to addressing prison overcrowding.

Melanie Williams: First we must take back from private interests and ownerships the public responsibility of addressing incarceration & rehabilitation. We do not need to build more prisons in a country that already incarcerates more citizens per capita than any other country on earth, including China. Further, the systemic racism that is endemic to our country is also evident by the disproportionate minority populations of jails – far too many for victimless crimes, exacerbated by the devastating “War on Drugs.”

Do you feel there is a need for voter ID, if so why and how should it be implemented?

Mark B. Gruenewald: Yes, it makes no sense for illegal immigrants and others who game the system (vote early, vote often) to have the right. They vote for their self-interest. They, needlessly, gain the power to make hard-working taxpayers’ foot their bills. After meeting our social net responsibility for citizens, it is time to kick the rest out of the cart. Input is welcome.

Alexander J. Martin: I don’t feel the need for voter ID

Tim Royers: No, voter id is unnecessary. There is no evidence to indicate that there is any kind of voter fraud that would necessitate an ID requirement. More importantly, ID requirements have the potential to disenfranchise. And unless those IDs are provided free of cost, such a requirement could potentially violate the 24th amendment.

Melanie Williams: Absolutely not. We must work to expand and protect democracy, which includes tearing down barriers to voting, not building more. While this issue has been promoted, there has been no legitimate or significant evidence of voter fraud related to “voter imposters.” Voter ID laws undemocratically target impoverished, minority, and historically disenfranchised populations the most – those more likely to vote against unfair austerity & weakened civil liberties measures, favored by Republican policies.

Should there be increased restrictions on money in politics? Why or why not and what specific restrictions would you support? 

Mark B. Gruenewald: It is time for the electorate to demand that their votes or the right to vote on an item be respected. Too many times, local public boards and officials have gone to the legislature to have foolish senators override a vote by the people that they, purportedly, represent.

Alexander J. Martin: I say all money out of politics. I’ve spent zero dollars on my campaign.

Tim Royers: Yes. This would really necessitate work at the federal level to overturn the current precedent established by Citizens United v. FEC

Melanie Williams: Yes. I am in favor of overturning Citizens United and reinstating the Glass-Steagall Act. Democracy and public interests are not best served when big-money and the super wealthy are able to use their private money for campaign financing, influencing our elections, gaining unequal access to lawmakers, and unduly shaping public policy. We should move toward public financing of campaigns & public elections, and away from lobbyists peddling private money/support, in exchange for political favors.

Does Nebraska need a paid family medical leave program? Why or why not? 

Mark B. Gruenewald: Yes, this and the homestead exemption will free funds that help families and healthcare workers keep our elderly in their homes. Keeping the individual’s money in the right hands for their benefit and away from unscrupulous agencies and individuals is appropriate.

Alexander J. Martin: Yes. Why? Covid19.

Tim Royers: Yes. The current COVID-19 outbreak has exposed a significant vulnerability with the lack of family leave impacting the community. We need paid family leave to not only help with the health and economic security of those people that would use those days, but also for the benefit of everyone else in the community.

Melanie Williams: Working families are not disposable cogs, but people. Lives are complex and full of uncertainty. The wealthiest country on earth can certainly afford to treat people with dignity by offering sustainable, good-paying work, and by not allowing unplanned & important life events to upend and displace. There are many reasons why working people may need to take personal time away from their jobs, while still having the ability to pay all bills. For a more stable economy, this right must be guaranteed

2020 Primary Voters’ Guide: Nebraska Unicameral, District 11

The League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha contacts candidates during each election cycle and invites them to participate in the print and online editions of the Voters’ Guide. Candidates provide their biographical information and their positions on selected issues. Candidates are aware in advance that the biographies and answers will be printed exactly as submitted without edits for content, spelling, punctuation or grammar.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that never supports or opposes any political party or candidate for office.

PDF of 2020 Primary Douglas County Voters’ Guide | Find voter information specific to your ballot at vote411.org.

The primary election is May 12. Find out more about voting by mail: Extensive guide | Quick video guide

Help us share this info! Forward these links to your friends and family. 

Candidates

Fred Conley (D):
Occupation: Self-Employed
Current Public Office, dates held: 1999-Present Papio NRD Board
Past Public Office, dates held: 1988: Interim Mayor – Omaha 1981-1993: Omaha City Council Member 2005-2016 Metropolitan Community College Board Education: 1966 High School – Omaha North High 1976 B.S. Psychology & Sociology 1980 J.D. Creighton Law School
Military Experience: 1967-1970 Air Force – Sergeant
Volunteer Experience: Served as a member of the Sierra Club, a board member of the Charles Drew Health Center, President of the North Omaha Foundation and was a founding member of the 100 Black Men of Omaha.

Gwen Easter (NP):  No response received

Terrell McKinney (D):
Website: www.peopleforterrellmckinney.com
Occupation: Career Specialist
Education: Creighton University School of Law, 1L Masters of Business Administration, Midland University Bachelors of Science, Sport Business Management, Maryville University St Louis
Volunteer Experience: Black Men United – 2016 – Present At Large Board Member. Ready RP Nationals Wrestling Team, 2016 – Present. Assistant wrestling coach. Policy Research & Innovation, 2019 – Present Board Member

Teela A. Mickles (D):
Website: www.compassioninactionnc.com
Occupation: Founder and CEO of compassion in action Inc
Current Public Office, dates held: n/a
Past Public Office, dates held: n/a
Education: Associate’s degree in chemical dependency counseling
Military Experience: n/a
Volunteer Experience: 36 + years in the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services

John Sciara (R):  No response received.

Cornelius F. Williams (D): No response received.

Dennis J. Womack (D):
Website: www.dennisjwomack.com
Occupation: Retired (2019) from U.S Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job Title Economic Assistant
Current Public Office, dates held: N/A
Past Public Office, dates held: Appointed as Chief Deputy Election Commissioner, by Governor Mike Johanns
Education: attended, Metropolitan Community College and University of Nebraska at Omaha
Military Experience: N/A
Volunteer Experience: N/A

Candidate Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

Fred Conley: Prior to my election to City Council in the 1980s, I fought for district level elections in Omaha and Nebraska as a community activist. The creation of fair districts is an issue I am passionate about and it directly impacts my district. I support an independent commission for redistricting after the 2020 Census. I will support any legislation that guarantees a nonpartisan approach.

Terrell McKinney: Yes, its needed to ensure districts aren’t slighted in one parties favor and to also make sure Nebraskans are actually represented by members of their community. This is also needed to make sure communities like North Omaha aren’t neglected economically. District 11 is a minority majority and its important that we keep it that way. Lines have been drawn in the past to get individuals elected and to also limit change in our state. The good life is needed for all Nebraskans not just a few.

Teela A. Mickles: Yes I believe it should just to make the boundaries more clear and realistic and also considering how the city has grown and the growi.get diversity of the populations.

Dennis J. Womack: Yes, It requires an Independent Group who has no interest, but to assure that it is done fairly.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

Fred Conley: Criminal justice reform is long overdue in Nebraska. We do not need to build more prisons; we need to find solutions to reduce the number of prisoners. One avenue is to prevent non-violent offenders from going to prison and instead focus on rehabilitation to reduce recidivism.

Terrell McKinney: Prison overcrowding should be addressed by taking a hard look at the system itself there is a need for change inside and outside of our local jails and prisons. We first have to look at the root causes poverty, unemployment, mental health, housing, and the over policing of North and South Omaha. Our state must begin to rethink sentencing guidelines, ending cash bail, making probation and parole less punitive, programming inside prisons, re-entry, and police accountability.

Teela A. Mickles: The community especially District 11 needs to be aware educated and actively involved intervention pre-release, reentry, transition incommunity re-establishment for our prison population. District 11 is heavily represented in the correctional facilities and under-represented in voter registration and Progressive activity for the resolution. Community involvement in Partnerships for prevention, interventions, reentry and transition are necessary to reduce the population of confined individuals.

Dennis J. Womack: Currently we have a mix violent and non- violent criminals in the same facilities I believe that some have minor or less violent offenses that could lead to house arrest this will lead to reducing the population in the facilities. However it would create what may be viewed as more work for probation officers and prison staff, they will need to become more active as they conduct home visits and checking monitoring devices.

Do you feel there is a need for voter ID, if so why and how should it be implemented?

Fred Conley: No – we should remove any and every barrier to voting.

Terrell McKinney: No, there is no need for voter ID.

Teela A. Mickles: Unfortunately I am not educated enough in this area to determine the best methodology regarding voter ID

Dennis J. Womack: No I am opposed to any additional Voter ID laws, when You register to vote you have to have your Nebraska Drivers License or State issued ID available.

Should there be increased restrictions on money in politics? Why or why not and what specific restrictions would you support?

Fred Conley: Yes, there should be increased restrictions on money in politics. Currently, we have no transparency in the system. Whatever restrictions were appropriate prior to the Citizens United decision are a good starting point.

Terrell McKinney: I think we have to look at money in politics and how its being used to stifle change in our state and country. We have to ensure that candidates are committed to their respective communities once elected and not making decisions based on who contributed to their campaigns. We need to either limit the impact super pacs can have on politics or provide resources to candidates especially candidates of color that lack resources/connections.

Teela A. Mickles: In my opinion sending should be to the point of easy access for any individual who is willing to run for public office regardless of their economic status. The political field should be based on a person’s commitment qualifications to serve rather than the size of their bank account. I believe without certain restrictions qualified committed individuals may be forced out of the campaign to run for political offices

Dennis J. Womack: I feel that Campaign financing laws need to be revised. I believe there should be restrictions on candidates financing their own campaigns to the tune of Billions of dollars.

Does Nebraska need a paid family medical leave program? Why or why not?

Fred Conley: Yes, there should be a paid family medical leave program. Many people are currently left without access to sick leave. This puts working-class families in a vulnerable position when someone becomes ill or injured. A reasonable duration of leave (12+ weeks) is appropriate and legislation ought to protect workers so they can use their leave when needed without risk to their employment. There are examples in place and it protects families during times of uncertainty.

Terrell McKinney: Yes, its needed so families can have a security blanket in times of need and also as a tool to attract business and talent to our state.

Teela A. Mickles: absolutely for obvious reasons especially now during the current crisis with a Coronavirus

Dennis J. Womack: Yes the State of Nebraska needs a paid family medical leave program, since medicine is not an exact science there unforeseen circumstances that can occur during any procedure.

2020 Primary Voters’ Guide: Nebraska Unicameral, District 9

The League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha contacts candidates during each election cycle and invites them to participate in the print and online editions of the Voters’ Guide. Candidates provide their biographical information and their positions on selected issues. Candidates are aware in advance that the biographies and answers will be printed exactly as submitted without edits for content, spelling, punctuation or grammar.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan organization that never supports or opposes any political party or candidate for office.

PDF of 2020 Primary Douglas County Voters’ Guide | Find voter information specific to your ballot at vote411.org.

The primary election is May 12. Find out more about voting by mail: Extensive guide | Quick video guide

Help us share this info! Forward these links to your friends and family. 

Candidates

John Cavanaugh (D):
Website: www.cavanaughfornebraska.com
Occupation: Assistant Public Defender
Education: B.A. – Catholic University of America M.A.- Environmental Policy from Vermont Law School J.D. – Vermont Law School
Volunteer Experience: ModeShift Omaha, Aksarben/Elmwood Park Neighborhood Association

Marque Snow (D):
Website: www.votesnow.com
Occupation: Senior Advisor / Development
Current Public Office, dates held: Omaha Public Schools Board Member May 2013 – Present Board Vice President January 2017- January 2018 Board President January 2018 – Present
Education: University of South Dakota, B.S. Political Science & History 2011
Volunteer Experience: 100 Black Men of Omaha (Mentor) African Culture Connection (Board Member) Huespring Omaha (Advisory Board Member)

Mark Vondrasek (D):
Website: www.markinmidtown.com
Occupation: Bicycle Mechanic & Field Technician
Education: Some College, UNL, UNO, Metro CC. Volunteer Experience: Organizer w/ “Omaha Tenants United”, usually do 20-30 hours a month of tenant organizing: canvassing & surveying folks who rent, help tenants negotiate with landlords, help tenants negotiate evictions, go to Eviction Court, need 2000+ words for this.

Candidate Responses

Does Nebraska need to change its method of redistricting? Why or why not?

John Cavanaugh: Yes, we need a nonpartisan redistricting process independent of elected officials. The people of the district should pick their elected official and not the other way around. I would support a nonpartisan commission to draft all election districts. I would further support nonpartisan elections for all state and federal offices in Nebraska as well.

Marque Snow: Yes,

Mark Vondrasek: Yes. Currently State Senators do it and that is unacceptable; the people who will benefit should not choose their voters. I would support an independent redistricting authority to be created for NE.

How should the problem of prison overcrowding be handled?

John Cavanaugh: We can not build our way out of a prison overcrowding crisis. We need to address the root causes of crime and incarceration. We need to start with investing in early childhood education. Increase access to health care and mental healthcare for children and adults. We must increase access to Drug and Alcohol treatment. The jail and prison system should not be the only place people can get treatment. We also need sentencing reform and to change our approach to non-violent offenses.

Marque Snow: Prison reform

Mark Vondrasek: My opinion is that our prison system, here in Nebraska and the rest of the US, is so horrific that one could almost argue letting most prisoners out would have better societal effects than to continue to let current conditions exist at all. I am just a Worker not an academic, but I work hard to understand prison abolition theory b/c what I believe prisons should be is so radically different from their current form that it would only be appropriate to call it abolition. Need more space.

Do you feel there is a need for voter ID, if so why and how should it be implemented?

John Cavanaugh: No, we should be making it easier to vote, not harder. Voter ID disenfranchises the poor and those less able to get a state ID. If elected, I will advocate for Universal Vote By Mail. It is safer and less expensive than traditional voting in person. It is also more secure. Universal Vote By Mail has the added benefit of giving people the time to sit at their dinner table with their ballots and the League of Women Voters’ guide to do their research.

Marque Snow: No

Mark Vondrasek: No. Every single person should be automatically registered to vote.

Should there be increased restrictions on money in politics? Why or why not and what specific restrictions would you support?

John Cavanaugh: Yes, money has a corrupting influence on anyone, and the need to raise large sums of money perverts the purpose of elections, which is to communicate with voters. Some money is necessary to communicate effectively. Individuals should be able to contribute to campaigns, but corporations and unidentified entities should not be able to spend money on behalf of candidates. If elected, I would work to amend the Constitution to repeal the Citizens United opinion and get dark money out of politics.

Marque Snow: Yes, lobby and interest groups

Mark Vondrasek: Yes. It’s very clear that our current problems are caused by the undue influence those with money have on our political and economic affairs. I advocate for Workers to organize at their workplace, in their homes/apartments, and in general in their daily lives to fight back and take power back from bourgeois politicians and their business counterparts. 500 characters is not enough space to adequately outline “specific” restrictions I would support, of which there are many.

Does Nebraska need a paid family medical leave program? Why or why not? 

John Cavanaugh: Yes, the recent Covid-19 crisis has laid bare the weaknesses in our society. People go to work when they are sick, risking the health of everyone around them because they can not miss a paycheck. Now, we have a glaring example of what advocates for family leave have been saying for years. We need family medical leave to help the individual but also to protect the rest of society.

Mark Vondrasek: Absolutely yes. In order to support working families during medical problems who have been left behind by the “free market”. Capitalism doesn’t value the health of families because it doesn’t make profit to keep families healthy. We need a lot more than PFML. We need Universal Healthcare. We need organized and Unionized workplaces so greedy bosses can’t revoke healthcare or layoff Workers in a crisis like a worldwide pandemic.

Action Alert: LB 1106

ALL MEMBERS-CALL TO ACTION! LB 1106 

ACTION ALERT: Earlier in the legislative session LB974 was introduced as a property relief tax bill. The statement of intent can be found on the Nebraska Legislature’s website under bill search. LB 974 was a proposal developed by the Revenue Committee chaired by Senator Lou Ann Linehan. It was not supported by any of the state education lobby and did not receive unanimous support for advancement to General File. 

The bill was debated on general file for three hours without a vote taken. Under the rules for debate a bill that has been debated for three hours and not voted on cannot be placed back on the agenda unless the sponsoring Senator can guarantee to the speaker that they have 33 votes to break cloture. 

This week the Revenue Committee advanced LB1106 which was originally written as a bill to clean up language in the state sales tax statutes. LB 974 was amended into LB1106 with some minor changes. Again, the committee did not unanimously agree on advancing LB 1106. 

Some minor changes were made to the bill, but it still will be problematic for Nebraskas public-school funding if it is passed. 

  • LB 1106 provides $520 million for state aid for public K-12 schools over the next three years. There are concerns regarding whether the state can sustain that level of funding given the ups and downs of state tax revenue and the potential Covid 19 pandemic. Historically, state funding has been reduced when revenues decrease or there is an emergency. This happened during the last economic recession. 
  • The plan reduces option enrollment aid which is sent to a school district when a student enrolls in that district as an option to the district in which the student resides. Currently $10,000 per student is sent to the option district. LB 1106 drops it to $8000 per year in the second year of enrollment and $6730 in year three. This is a burden for school districts with a high number of option students. 
  • The proposed budget lid on school spending drops from 2.5% to 2% under 1106. 
  • LB 1106 cuts in half the special building fund levy over a four-year period, from 12 cents to 6 cents. 
  • Foundation state aid would be sent to each district on a per-pupil basis beginning with $703 per student in year one and increasing to $2341 in year three. Remember that the state has historically cut state aid (foundation aid in 1106). 
  • The bill would reduce property tax rates as follows: Ag land would be reduced from 75% of actual value to 55%. Residential and commercial property rates would be reduced from 100% of actual value to 87%. 
  • Some transition aid is provided for one year based for school districts impacted by the proposed changes. 

Please contact your state senator ASAP and respectfully urge them to oppose LB 1106. The education community has concerns that this plan is not financially sustainable for the state and the hands of local boards of education are tied when state aid is reduced by the proposed lids. 

Action Alert: LB 1207 Redistricting Reform Bill

LB 1207 REDISTRICTING REFORM BILL TO BE DEBATED SOON! WRITE/CALL/EMAIL YOUR STATE SENATORS 

Hey, we need some help. As you may know, LWV-NE’s Redistricting Committee has been urging the Executive Committee to bring Senator John McCollister’s redistricting bill, LB 1207, to the floor for debate. A couple of weeks ago, we learned that wasn’t likely. Consequently, in an attempt to effect redistricting reform, we turned our attention to a petition drive to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November. The proposed amendment would support an independent commission of nine members to decide district lines. 

All that said, things changed late in the week when several civic organizations formed a new coalition. On March 5, that coalition, Nebraskans for Independent Redistricting (NIR), announced the petition drive to eliminate political gerrymandering in Nebraska. (More info.)

Nebraska’s constitution designates that the responsibility of drawing district lines is the duty of the legislature, so creating an independent commission would require an amendment to make that possible. (As this process goes forward, LWV-NE will be participating in meetings the week of March 9 to define our role in the petition process.) 

Shortly after the NIR’s announcement, an article appeared in the March 7th Lincoln Star Journal announcing that, surprisingly, Senator McCollister’s LB 1207 would be debated on the floor of the legislature. This bill would give lawmakers a chance to achieve redistricting reform as well as maintain control over drawing district lines as the constitution specifies. 

Voting to advance the bill with Sen. McCollister were Omaha Senators Ernie Chambers and Tony Vargas, Lincoln Sen. Kate Bolz and Sen. Mark Kolterman of Seward. Opposing the bill were Speaker Jim Scheer, Lincoln Sen. Mike Hilgers, and Sens. John Lowe of Kearney and Dan Hughes of Venango. (More info.)

So here we are – hoping to accomplish real reform one way or another. Please email, call or write your senator and urge support of LB 1207. Find your senator’s phone number and.or email address on the Unicameral website. Thanks! 

Why Redistricting Reform? Check out fairmapsne.org to learn more about redistricting and gerrymandering topics! 

  • Gerrymandering is undemocratic and goes against Nebraska’s traditions of nonpartisanship and fair play. 
  • When districts are gerrymandered, our elected representatives have been allowed to choose their voters instead of the voters choosing them. 
  • When Nebraskans are included in the process of drawing new election district maps, their fundamental right to choose who represents them is preserved. Voters feel like their vote makes a difference. 
  • When maps are drawn without political bias they represent minority groups more fairly. 

Action Alert: LR294, Resolution on Climate Change

LR 294, the resolution written by students at Prairie Hill Learning Center concerning human caused effects on climate, was heard by the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee on Feb. 20. There it sits yet!
 
“LR 294 is an official acknowledgement of scientific information declaring climate changes and predicting further changes and devastation in the climate and economy of Nebraska, particularly for the agricultural sector.
 
“LR 294 would mandate the State of Nebraska to create an action plan to combat the climate and ecological crisis  in process.” 
 
 (The full text of the resolution can be found on the Nebraska Legislature website.)
 
If your senator sits on the Natural Resources Committee or is one of the co-signers of LR 294, PLEASE contact them immediately and as a constituent of the senator, strongly urge that LR 294 be advanced to General File for full debate by the senate.
 
Natural Resources Committee:  Senators Albrecht, Bostelman, Geist, Gragert, Halloran, Hughes, Moser and Quick.
 
Co-signers of the resolution:  Kolowski (introducer), Bolz, Brandt, Cavanaugh, Chambers, Crawford, Hunt, McCollister, Morfeld, Pansing Brooks, Quick, and Wishart.
 
You can reach your senator by email or by calling the Capitol switchboard at 402 4721-2311 and asking for your senator.
 
Emphasize the urgency of the students’ concerns and YOUR concerns regarding our climate.

Action Alert: Contact Your Senator to Urge Support of LB1207

Redistricting bill LB1207 will go to the full Unicameral for debate. Read more at the Lincoln Journal-Star website.

LWVGO supports LB1207, the Redistricting Act, and urges all members to contact your state senator to urge them to vote for it. Find your senator’s contact information on the Unicameral website.

Go Vote, Omaha: 2020 Legislative Preview

In this episode of Go Vote, Omaha!, MaryLee Moulton talks with Linda Duckworth, Co-President of the League of Women Voters of Nebraska, about the League’s priority bills for the 2020 Nebraska Legislative Session.

LWVNE’s priority bills are:

  • LB996 – Broadband improvement study
  • LB1207 – Redistricting (FairMapsNE.org)
  • LB932 – Enforce the Medicaid Expansion as previously approved by the voters
  • LB283 – Climate Change study.

Track these bills on the Nebraska Legislature website, and subscribe to updates. LWVNE also posts action alerts on their website, lwv-ne.org.

Go Vote Omaha! is our locally produced informational television program. Watch Go Vote Omaha at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday nights on Cox channel 22 or CenturyLink channel 89 or anytime on YouTube. You can also listen to these episodes as podcasts on Podbean.