Sen. Joni Albrecht of Thurston defeated former Wayne Mayor Sheryl Lindau in the race for the state Legislature’s District 17 seat in relatively comfortable fashion.
District 17, which spans Dakota, Thurston and Wayne counties, was the last of Nebraska’s 49 districts to begin reporting any results on Tuesday evening, so it was well after 12:30 a.m. Wednesday before Albrecht had a clear picture of what her fate looked like, she said.
Albrecht garnered 7,343 (67.25%) of the district’s votes, while Lindau received 3,576 votes (32.75%).
“It’s an absolute honor and privilege that the residents of District 17 have that kind of confidence in me to allow me to serve for another four years,” Albrecht said. “I was just so amazed at the voter turnout in the district.”
In Dakota County, 4,836 votes were cast in the District 17 race, with Albrecht receiving 3,204. In Wayne County, where Lindau served as mayor from 1994-2004, Albrecht held steady and won 2,746 of 4,263 votes.
Albrecht spent Tuesday evening at her home in Thurston County with her husband and a group of friends who helped her campaign. In that county, Albrecht received 1,393 votes to Lindau’s 721.
Albrecht will continue to fight for property tax relief, she said, particularly because Northeast Nebraskans are not receiving enough relief to stay in the area when they decide to retire.
Accessible broadband internet access to rural Nebraskans also is an important issue for Albrecht, who said she plans to propose bills and have serious conversations with colleagues on the issue of broadband internet access.
Albrecht, who serves on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, said the broadband task force is working to help connect those Nebraskans not currently connected to the internet, with the most current conditions related to COVID-19. Children, college students and their parents working from home can only do this with access, Albrecht said.
“I have other bills up in the bill drafters; most have to do with children in schools, as well as protecting teachers,” Albrecht said.
A strength of Albrecht’s, she said, is her ability to “work across the aisle.”
“I have no problem with anyone who comes to our office about a bill they want passed, or a bill that somebody has never heard about,” Albrecht said. “I will work with each one of our constituents and encourage them to let their voices be heard.”
DESPITE HER DEFEAT, Lindau is hopeful for the future of District 17 and is optimistic that at some point, a more progressive, liberal candidate will have the opportunity to represent Dakota, Thurston and Wayne counties. Lindau said she would support and guide such a candidate in hopes of running for the District 17 seat in 2024.
“I think that I made some inroads in Dakota County, and also with the minority voters in District 17,” Lindau said. “I think that for a future candidate, that is an area that should be explored and expanded. Unfortunately in my case, I didn’t get to do as much campaigning as I would have, had we not had the virus as a factor.”
Lindau is hopeful that Albrecht will be able to help provide District 17 residents long-term property tax relief.
“(Since) the gambling initiative has passed, there will be money toward property tax relief that hasn’t been there, so that’s encouraging,” Lindau said. “The gambling initiative also means jobs for people. The big issue for rural Nebraska is of course expanding rural broadband. That is something (Albrecht) has been willing to work on, so I’d like to see her take more leadership in that area to get that done.”
Lindau has served in an abundance of appointed offices, including service as a Wayne City Council member, Wayne mayor, president of the Nebraska League of Municipalities and as a member of the Nebraska State College Board of Trustees.
She does not have any plans, however, to run for the Legislature again in the future.
IN DISTRICT 19, former state Sen. Mike Flood was the lone candidate on the ballot to replace Sen. Jim Scheer, who was not eligible for reelection because of term limits.
Flood plans to spend the next four years improving Norfolk’s economy and finding ways to keep young people from Madison and Stanton counties in the area long term.
Flood succeeded Sen. Gene Tyson of Norfolk in 2005 on the District 19 seat and was elected speaker of the Legislature in 2007. He served that role until the end of his second term in 2012, and he was the youngest and longest-serving speaker in the state’s history.
“I think it (78% voter turnout in Madison County) is a great number, and I noted it when I was at my polling place yesterday,” Flood said. “It’s democracy in action, and people understand that elections have consequences. It’s healthy for not only Madison County, but for the rest of the nation.”
Flood said his top focus is going to be on meeting his colleagues, earning their trust and working as a team with them.
Two candidates who are also returning to the Legislature are Rich Pahls of Omaha and Ray Aguilar of Grand Island, whom Flood said he worked well with in his first stint on the Legislature.
“You can have all the policy initiatives in the world, but if you can’t get along and earn trust, it’s a pretty tough existence,” Flood said. “I like the Legislature because unlike the executive branch, it’s very pluralistic. It speaks collectively and you don’t get things done by sitting in a tower by yourself beckoning out the next move.”
Flood has received calls from residents of Clearwater, Randolph and other rural communities saying that child care is the top issue facing several small towns. Child care availability is needed now more than ever, he said, and the more child care Nebraska has, the more jobs that will be created.
“I look forward to making an announcement soon regarding a town hall on child care,” he said. “Coronavirus has had a major impact on in-home care providers. I think that if we want these small towns to thrive and grow, we need to give them the necessary resources to succeed.”
In another race, state Sen. Julie Slama easily defeated challenger Janet Palmtag on Tuesday in an unusually bitter race that pitted two Republicans against one another in the officially nonpartisan Legislature.
Slama, of Peru, was backed by Gov. Pete Ricketts, who appointed her to the seat last year, while Palmtag was endorsed by former Gov. Dave Heineman.
Last month, state regulators found the Nebraska Republican Party and a political consulting firm liable for making illegal robocalls to benefit Slama.