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Nebraska voters say no to more pay for senators and longer term limits

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nebraska voters gave an overwhelming "no" to paying state senators more money and extending the now limited terms they can serve. But they approved of placing the right to hunt and fish in the state constitution and a measure that would make it possible to impeach officials for wrongdoing done while campaigning.

While they were at it, they returned Nebraska to the status of having two Republican U.S. Senators for the first time in 36 years with Deb Fischer's defeat of Bob Kerrey by 118,217 votes according to unofficial returns by the Secretary of State.

Fischer, a Sandhills rancher and former state Senator, defeated Kerrey, a decorated war hero who had also served one term as Nebraska governor and two terms as a U.S. Senator before moving to New York City where he became a college president. Fischer's 58 percent to 41 percent drubbing of Kerrey came mostly at the hands of voters in Nebraska's sprawling Third District where cattle clearly outnumber voters and the land -- even that disputed parcel in Cherry County that Kerrey tried to make an issue -- goes on for miles.

Not since Republican U.S. Senator Roman Hruska, a David City native, retired in 1976 after 22 years in Washington, has the state had two Republican U.S. Senators. The venerable Carl Curtis, a Kearney County native, went to Washington in 1955 and stayed until 1979. But former Omaha Mayor Ed Zorinsky, a Democrat, changed all that in 1976 when he defeated Republican John Y. McCollister and started the one from each party Senate makeup. Jim Exon, Bob Kerrey and Ben Nelson, all three former Democratic governors in a mostly Republican state, wore the title of the other U.S. Senator from Nebraska during the 36 years.

Voters gave a 68 percent to 31 percent rejection to a legislative pay raise to $22,500. The going rate for Nebraska's 49 state senators in the officially non-partisan Unicameral has been $12,000 since 1988. Proponents of the increase argued that the major obstacle to raising the salary is the basic misunderstanding of just how hard they work for the money. Opponents said that the average senator receives a $12,660 per diem reimbursement each year. Lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the Capitol receive $46 a day during each day the Legislature is in session. Those further than 50 miles away receive $123 a day and payment for one round-trip home per week.

Voters also said "no" to expanded term limits from two terms to three terms. The vote against was 64 percent to 35 percent for, according to unofficial results reported by the Secretary of State. The term limits first went on the books in 2006 after Nebraskans bought into the idea that this would be a great way to "get rid" of certain senators with whom they had become disgruntled. Interestingly enough ... "He's Baaaaaacccckkkkk!" Omaha voters gave the nod to the legendary Ernie Chambers in his bid to come back after sitting out the mandatory one term. He defeated incumbent Brenda Council 67.16 percent to 32.84 percent after she was charged with gambling away campaign funds and received only misdemeanor penalties after agreeing to seek treatment.

Seventy-six percent of Nebraska voters agreed with a ballot measure to enshrine hunting and fishing in the state constitution. Nebraska was one of four states considering the move -- Idaho, Kentucky, and Wyoming were the others and 13 states already have it and seven others considered it but didn't put it before voters. Proponents said it is important to protect the sports now before animal rights groups act to challenge that.

A final ballot measure to make it possible to impeach officials for wrongdoing done while campaigning passed 83 percent to 16 percent. Currently, Nebraska elected officials can only be impeached for actions they take while in office. Proponents said the measure plugs a loophole exposed by the case of former University of Nebraska Regent David Hergert who was impeached in 2006 and removed from office for manipulating campaign finance laws when he ran for election in 2004. They said that he was impeached only because he signed a false campaign finance report after taking office.

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