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The population of Nebraska continues to shift eastward, especially towards the urban centers of the state. The latest population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau only confirm this trend. Nebraska’s urban centers continue to grow while the rural areas of the state continue to decline in population.
According to David Drozd, who works as a research coordinator for the Center for Public Affairs at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Douglas, Lancaster, and Sarpy counties taken together added more than 12,000 people to their census rolls in the past year.
Drozd’s findings also confirm that the Panhandle of Nebraska is experiencing the greatest loss in population. For instance, Dawes, Duel, Cheyenne, Garden, Kimball, Morrill, Sheridan, and Sioux counties have all experienced population declines of five percent or more since 2010. Box Butte and Scottsbluff counties have declined in the range of two and a half percent to five percent. Arthur County remains the smallest county in Nebraska with only 465 people, but Banner County actually grew. Banner County has experienced growth by more than five percent since 2010.
These findings concern me as a lawmaker representing ten counties in the Panhandle of Nebraska. In 2020 legislators at the Capitol in Lincoln will redraw the legislative district lines. Currently, each Nebraska State Senator represents a population of 37,000 people. So, when these legislative district lines get redrawn in 2020, we should expect to see the urban areas of the state gain more representation while the rural areas of the state will lose some representation. This won’t be good for folks living in Western Nebraska.
This population shift from rural Nebraska to the urban population centers continues to challenge the wisdom of former State Senator, George Norris, who led the state to adopt the unicameral system back in 1937 and which remains in use today. It is evident and clear that the current unicameral system which draws district lines based upon population favors the population centers of the state. Conversely, a second state house with districts drawn on purely geographical lines would favor the rural parts of the state. Therefore, the time has come to discuss moving back to a bicameral system. Nebraska remains the only state in the union which uses a unicameral system.
So, why does rural Nebraska continue to lose population? The primary reason the population of Western Nebraska continues to decline is because farming and ranching has become increasingly more and more difficult. Low crop prices, high property taxes and unfair agricultural land valuations are causing more and more farmers and ranchers to go out of business.
Folks living in Lincoln and Omaha do not understand the plight of the farmer and the rancher living in Western Nebraska, nor do they feel the pain of our low crop prices, high property taxes, and unfair agricultural land valuations. Consequently, the thought of redistricting can only give folks living in Western Nebraska cause for concern. The sad news that I am reporting today is that in the coming years, folks living in Western Nebraska will have less representation in their State Legislature.