Indigenous People's Day

Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks speaks at the dedication ceremony for the flags of the four tribes headquartered in Nebraska as part of Indigenous People's Day earlier this month in the Warner Chamber at the Capitol.

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Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks is gearing up for her next challenge.

The Lincoln state senator, who will be term-limited out of the Legislature at the end of next year, will announce soon that she will seek the 2022 Democratic nomination for Republican Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's 1st District House seat.

The politics of that race is a puzzle today, scrambled and uncertain.

Fortenberry, who has pleaded not guilty, is facing trial in Los Angeles on federal charges that he lied to the FBI and concealed information about illegal campaign contributions that he accepted from foreign sources in 2016. Although a trial date has been set for Dec. 14, it is possible that it may be delayed.

All of that leaves the 2022 congressional race in some limbo: Does Fortenberry seek reelection, as one would assume he certainly intends to do? Would he be challenged in the Republican primary election? How competitive would a general election contest be in a district that has been safely Republican, and would appear likely to remain so after this year's redistricting?

Pansing Brooks, who has been a fighter during her seven years in the Legislature, with one more session to go, is not waiting for those answers; she's getting ready to go.

* * *

An end to term limits in combination with campaign finance reform.

That might be the best of all worlds if you're trying to hold onto valuable public service experience and talent while still opening the door to fresh new talent.

Yes, I know, that's a minority position to take.

The fact is there aren't really that many members of the Legislature who would want to serve more than two terms. Eight years is enough, sometimes even more than enough, for them.

But some talented, experienced senators might like to continue without being ousted by term limits, at least for the four years before they are eligible to return.

Ernie Chambers, Jerry Warner, Terry Carpenter are among the first names that come to mind. Skilled and experienced legislators, doers who were valuable to the state.

Mike Flood and Steve Lathrop are among several senators who chose to come back after sitting out the currently mandated four years.

An end to term limits would need the companionship of campaign finance reform to help level the playing field for candidates who might want to challenge established senators who can generally count on a built-in fund-raising advantage.

Nebraska used to have its own strong campaign finance law, authored by Sen. Peter Hoagland, later a Democratic congressman. But the U.S. Supreme Court changed all of that in its 2010 decision throwing open the door to money-driven elections.

And what prompts this little aside?

Some of the state senators who will be term-limited out of office at the end of next year are among the most talented and productive legislators, hard workers, doers, high achievers, independent, not ruled by partisanship, not bound to political party.

I do not know if any of them would want to come back for more if they could. But if there are some, that's a loss for the state.

* * *

U.S. District Judge Stanley Blumenfeld Jr., who will preside over the case in Los Angeles charging Fortenberry with lying to the FBI and concealing information about illegal campaign contributions that he accepted from foreign sources in 2016, was nominated by former President Donald Trump.

The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination on Sept. 15, 2020 by a 92-4 vote.

Four Democrats, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, voted no.

Neither of California's Democratic senators voted no: Sen. Dianne Feinstein voted yes and then-Sen. Kamala Harris was recorded as not voting.

* * *

Finishing up:

* Ongoing White House negotiations with Democratic senators over the terms of the social spending package that's tied to the stalled infrastructure bill would have been tailor-made territory for former Sen. Ben Nelson, who thrived as a Senate deal-maker.

* There's probably some legitimacy to criticism that the news media centered its attention on Nebraska's congressional redistricting, the shiny object, while the changes that will impact Nebraskans most were happening during the late stages of legislative redistricting.

* Sen. Deb Fischer, who served with former state Sen. Cap Dierks of Ewing when she was in the Legislature, praised him upon his death as "a champion" for the state's children and schools.

* Wondering if the arrival of Nebraska Sunrise News as a new digital news source was prompted by the recent editorial positions of the Journal Star and the World-Herald. That answer might come if and when we learn who is funding the new online news source.

* LJS editor Dave Bundy and OWH executive editor Randy Essex are scheduled to join with Matthew Hansen, editor of the new Flatwater Free Press, to discuss what's happening to the evolving Nebraska news media during an OLLI lifelong learning event next month.

* Purdue, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Iowa do not look like a path to a bowl game.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSdon

This article originally ran on journalstar.com.

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