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Capitol Correspondent - Final look at Election 2004

Final look at Election 2004

By Jim Cunningham
Capitol Correspondent

If the General Election had occurred on Nov. 9 rather than Nov. 2, would the significant results have been different?

The question is more interesting than meaningful, but it comes to mind because the reaction to coming up short in an election, like that of a sporting event, is the lament, "We didn't lose, we just ran out of time."

Perhaps that's true in a few instances, but it is doubtful on a general scale. It is unlikely that another week would have made a difference in any of this year's election contests in Nebraska.

Probably the most legitimate time-just-ran-out claim would apply to the citizen initiative measures proposing expanded gambling for Nebraska. Another week would have extended the opportunity to spend thousands of dollars bombarding would-be voters with advertising, emphasizing local control and "keeping the money at home."

As matters turned out, two of the four proposals in the package, one constitutional amendment and one statute, did win approval, although they had least to do with actual legalization of casino-style gambling. That result is rather confounding. Voters distinguished among the proposals, giving thumbs up to amending the state constitution to restrict the authority of the Nebraska Legislature to modify or repeal a citizen-initiated statute, a proposal that extended much beyond gambling, and also to authorizing the regulation and taxation of the proposed new gambling. But voters also gave thumbs down rather emphatically to any constitutional and legislative authority for the new gambling.

Wording makes difference

The speculative view here is that the majority of Nebraska voters had a general idea about the gambling proposals as they headed to the voting booth, but their actual votes came as a reaction to what they read on the ballot. The wording of ballot questions, both long and short versions, should not be overlooked as a factor in voter decisions.

There also were a couple of really tight legislative races for which another week of campaigning might have made a difference; it's hard to say. Both were open seats, with retiring incumbents. In District 31, Rich Pahls had an edge of just 94 votes over Ben Thompson. In District 43, Deb Fischer led Kevin Cooksley by about 125 votes.

Election results will remain unofficial until Nov. 29. That's when the board of state canvassers, consisting of Gov. Mike Johanns, Secretary of State John Gale, State Auditor Kate Witek, State Treasurer Ron Ross and Attorney General Jon Bruning, will meet to review the numbers and declare the results.

Strength of incumbency

It was a good election for incumbent state legislators. Eighteen were running for re-election at the outset and 17 won. The only exception was Sen. Ray Mossey in District 3. Personal and legal difficulties caused him to unofficially exit the race a few weeks prior to the election. But it should be noted that 12 of the incumbents were unopposed.

The incumbent legislator withstanding the stiffest challenge was Sen. Carroll Burling of Kenesaw, representing District. 33. He actually finished second in a three-way primary, but reversed that when it counted most, capturing 55 percent of the vote.

Nebraska's incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Lee Terry in District 2 and Rep. Tom Osborne in District 3, also cruised to victory.

The new members of the Nebraska Unicameral, in addition to Pahls and Fischer, will be: Lavon Heidemann, District 1; Gail Kopplin, District 3; Gwen Howard, District 9; Mike Flood, District 19; Chris Langemeier, District 23; and Abbie Cornett, District 45.

Final election note

Not that it was a significant factor in the outcomes, but we feel compelled to point out that, except for four incumbent state legislators who ran unopposed, not a single legislative or congressional candidate who failed to respond to the Nebraska Catholic Conference candidate questionnaire was elected. That category of also-rans includes three major party candidates, all Democrats, who sought to represent Nebraska in the U.S. House of Representatives. They rejected an opportunity to share their views on a range of issues with thousands of Catholic households.

Jim Cunningham is the executive director of the Nebraska Catholic Conference. He can be contacted at his office in Lincoln at (402) 477-7517.

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