Nebraska Election Roundup: Key Issues for Tribes and Races to Watch

Scott Winter
11/1/12

Nebraska tribes are looking more to high-profile races than smaller state and local elections come November 6. With key issues being economic development, healthcare and sovereignty, tribal chairmen and chairwomen say they’re focusing on the presidential election and a U.S. Senate race that is both combative and expensive.

Ponca Tribal Chairwoman Rebecca White says her biggest concern is federal funding for growing healthcare needs for the Ponca clinic in Omaha, the Fred Leroy Health and Wellness Center that serves urban Natives from multiple tribes.

“We have over 60 percent charity care and (Obama’s healthcare law) would strengthen the contracted health facilities,” she said. “That’s a big one for our people.”

She’s also set to open a Ponca Hills Satellite Clinic in Norfolk, which lies in the Northeast part of the state, which could serve members from the Winnebago, Santee and Omaha tribes, too.

Her other main issues are economic development, an issue for all tribes, and ongoing sovereignty issues. But mostly, she just wants politicians to pay attention to Native voices.

“With tribes being less than one percent of the rest of the population we feel like we’re left out,” White said.

As for local legislative races, tribal leaders said not much is at stake for them, because they didn’t want to take sides (for economic development reasons) or because the races are forgone conclusions.

“Well, this is a big Republican state,” Santee Tribal Chairman Roger Trudell said, “and we’re a small handful of Democrats, so we’re not really going to affect many issues in the state. Although they may interest us, it’s more frustrating to try to work with that.”

Key races:

U.S. Senate: Deb Fischer vs. Bob Kerrey

The highest profile race in the state is for the vacated seat of self-proclaimed conservative Democrat Sen. Ben Nelson, a former two-term governor who retired after 12 years in Washington and his vote in support of Obama’s healthcare plan, which state and national Republicans nicknamed the “Cornhusker Kickback.”

Candidates vying for the seat are Republican State Senator Deb Fischer, a rancher from Valentine, and former Sen. Bob Kerrey, who is also a former Democrat governor and a Vietnam veteran.

Indian country remembers Kerrey as friendly to Native causes as both a governor and senator in the 1980s and 1990s, but tribes have had recent success working on economic development concerns with Republican Sen. Mike Johanns, who sits on the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. And overall, despite a record of Nebraska tribes voting for Democrats, Native economic development leaders have said they view Republican candidates often as willing to sit at the table to talk about the business interests of tribes.

U.S. Congress

District 1

Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry is being challenged by Democrat Korey Reiman of Lincoln. Fortenberry, who has been in Congress since 2005, was a publishing executive before starting in politics on the Lincoln City Council. Reiman grew up on a family farm in Pawnee County and established a private practice after graduating from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with his law degree.

District 2

Republican Rep. Lee Terry, a lawyer from Omaha, has been in Congress since 1998 and started his political career on the Omaha City Council. John Ewing, a Democrat from Omaha, is treasurer of Douglas County and a former police officer. He’s also a Baptist minister.

District 3

Republican Rep. Adrian Smith, from Gering, calls himself a lifelong Republican and joined the House in 2007, then was re-elected with 70 percent of the western Nebraska vote. Democrat challenger Mark Sullivan is a fourth-generation farmer who now runs a feedlot in Doliphan.

Ballot Measures

Proposed Amendment No. 1:

A “yes” vote would allow elected officials to be impeached for acts that occur in their campaign for public office, prompted by a recent higher education Board of Regents case.

Proposed Amendment No. 2:

A “yes” vote makes the fishing, hunting and harvesting of wildlife a right in the constitution and a “preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.”

Proposed Amendment No. 3:

A “yes” vote extends legislators’ term limits from two four-year terms to three. Voters approved a two-term limit for the unicameral legislature in 2000, and the state enacted it in 2006.

Proposed Amendment No. 4:

A “yes” vote increases the salaries of legislators from $12,000 to $22,500 per year.

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