Nebraska 2020 Elections: The Progressive Candidates to Support (Pink Tsunami)

Nebraska hasn’t exactly been given much attention this election cycle. It’s not surprising that this is the case since Nebraska has an R+14 PVI rating, the same rating as Alabama for comparison sake. A Democrat has not won a US Senate seat or the Governorship even once since 2010, and Democrats have been performing worse over time. There is a senate seat up for re-election in 2020, and that seat belongs to Republican Ben Sasse.

Ben Sasse isn’t a particularly interesting Senator. He’s your typical Republican goon who has criticized Trump occasionally but votes along with him anyway. While it’s highly unlikely he will lose re-elections, there are a few signs that this race could go better than we expect. The first of these is that Ben Sasse’s approval rating has had a significant dip from the 3rd quarter of 2019 to the 4th. While it hasn’t dipped far enough to put Sasse at serious risk (Deb Fischer was in a worse position during the 2018 election and still won in a landslide), it could mean a potential opening if this trend continues and there is a good candidate to capitalize on it.

Ben Sasse Nickelback
Hopefully it won’t be hard to say goodbye to Ben Sasse on November 3rd.

The second opportunity that we are given comes from the current front runner for the Democratic nomination. While there hasn’t been any serious polling data on Nebraska’s Senate Primary, it seems likely to assume the the most likely nominee will be Chris Janicek. The two most influential factors in an election are name recognition and funding, and Janicek has both of those under his belt.

Janicek has raised $61,610 as of December 31st of 2019, and the closest competitor is Larry Marvin, who raised $30,428 as of… June 4th of 2018. Yes, Larry Marvin ran for Senate in 2018 and managed 4.7% of the vote. Chris Janicek also ran for Senate in 2018, and he managed 20.2%. While both of them lost in a land slide to the throwaway neoliberal Jane Raybould, it’s easy to see that Janicek is the more capable of the two, and that he has an actual following.

I do think that Chris Janicek would be a monumental improvement over a neoliberal candidate, but he’s not my favored pick in this race. While Janicek does support Medicare for All, refuses to take corporate PAC money, and is campaigning knowing full well that we need genuine change, there are a few things that make me weary of his campaign. The first of these is this bit on education.

“Some politicians are talking about FREE this and FREE that. I have a question. How did education costs get so high to begin with? We certainly are not overpaying teachers. Budget cuts have taken away some of the arts in our public school systems.  I pledge to unite the private sector and government so that our young people are the beneficiaries. Don’t let anyone tell you that FREE education is the answer. AFFORDABLE education is the answer.”

I should note that Chris Janicek is in favor of single payer health insurance, yet when it comes to education, he basically parrots the neoliberal position of “we can’t do that because fuck you.” Note how he doesn’t even try to argue against tuition free college and instead just redirects to a standard liberal talking point. This is a major red flag because it shows that Janicek is still a typical politician, even if he’d be a better option then most liberals.

The second red flag is that he’s a rich businessman who has self funded $43,950 out of the $61,610 he has raised. While this isn’t exactly indicative of his policies, businessmen don’t exactly have the greatest track records as progressives. This ultimately leads to a bit of skepticism in regards to Janicek, but there is thankfully a progressive in this race that I have full confidence in.

Angie Philips
Progressive Senate candidate Angie Philips.

Enter Angie Philips, a mental health advocate who is running a grassroots campaign to oust Ben Sasse after numerous unanswered calls and messages in regards to immigration and DACA recipients. Despite having only raised $3,416 as of… September 30th of 2019 (hopefully she raised more since then), she has managed to procure the endorsements of Nebraska Secular Democrats and DUH! Demand Universal Healthcare.

Angie Philips is running on a number of progressive policies including Medicare for All, abolishing ICE, publicly funded elections, federally decriminalizing cannabis, and putting an end to endless wars. On top of this, there is the recurring theme among progressive candidates about how incumbent Senators don’t give a flying fuck about their constituents, and how they only care about money and power. If there is any way to reach Republican voters, it’s by giving a shit about their well being.

While it is entirely true that a number of Republicans are partisan cultists whose entire philosophy comes down to “vote for whoever cucks the libs more,” it makes a lot more sense that many keep that mindset given how many neoliberal politicians make a living off of pretending to be in favor of change without actually doing anything. It’s reasons like this why you have people who will vote for Bernie in the primary then Trump in the general. Granted that doesn’t make them right by any means, but when you’ve been raised to believe one thing over the other, you won’t be easily motivated to go against it by saying the neoliberal candidate is “slightly less bad but still awful.”

Unfortunately I don’t have much confidence in Angie Philips getting the nomination considering that Janicek has significantly more name recognition and campaign funds when the primary is next month, but Janicek may have a decent shot with voters through his support of Medicare for All alone. Does that mean he will win? Probably not since Ben Sasse has raised over $4,000,000 already and Janicek doesn’t even have 2% of that. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a shot.

5/12/2020 Update: Chris Janicek has won the nomination, although it was a closer race than I expected.

6/17/2020 Update: It has recently been revealed that Chris Janicek has made inappropriate sexual remarks about one of his staffers, and thus I can no longer in good conscious support his candidacy. If you feel the same, please consider signing this petition so that the Nebraska Democratic Party can select a different nominee.

Angie PhilipsDonation Link

Kara Eastman

The REAL main event in Nebraska is actually in its congressional elections, particularly its 2nd district. I dare say that this will be one of the most important elections of this cycle. The reason being that not only does this take place in a swing district, but it’s in a swing district where a Justice Democrat is the most likely nominee.

Kara Eastman successfully procured the Democratic nomination in 2018, and lost to Republican incumbent Don Bacon with 49% of the vote. This district in particular has always cut it pretty close, and it has a unique history in the last decade. From 2000 to 2012, Republican incumbent Lee Terry beat every Democratic challenger after having a few close calls in 2008 and 2012. In 2014, Lee Terry lost re-election to neoliberal Democrat Brad Ashford… who then lost the seat in 2016 to current incumbent Don Bacon. In 2018, the Democratic primary occurred between former incumbent Brad Ashford, and Justice Democrat Kara Eastman, which Eastman won with 51% of the vote.

So here we see that Eastman, a first time challenger with no prior experience,  won a primary against an establishment Democrat with an incumbency advantage. Despite the fact that she just barely lost to Don Bacon, I’m still quite confident that she will win this time. The reason I say this is because of how similar Eastman’s case is to that of Marie Newman in Illinois, someone who lost a general election on their first attempt, but went on to win the rematch now that they have more experience, brand recognition, and funding.

Because Brad Ashford is so humiliated because he lost his seat in 2016 then couldn’t even make it to a rematch with his opponent, he had the galaxy brain idea to have his wife run instead! Thus far, Kara Eastman has raised almost twice as much as Ann Ashford, so you can see how well that is working out.

What is especially noteworthy about this race is that if Eastman wins the general election, she’d be the first Justice Democrat to flip a red seat. If that happens, then it will do even more damage to the narrative that progressive candidates can’t win in swing districts. It would also energize the progressive base and push towards a potential progressive movement in this state, which it is clearly in need of by the looks of things.

5/12/2020 Update: Kara Eastman has secured the nomination, and will be heading for a rematch with Don Bacon. Considering that Eastman has been polling better with independents than Bacon, this is a good sign of things to come.

Barbara Ramsey
Nebraska Congressional District 1 challenger Barabara “Babs” Ramsey.

While the main event is clearly in Nebraska’s 2nd district, I would be remiss to mention that the 1st district also has a progressive challenger. Unfortunately she isn’t fairing as well as Kara Eastman, nor does it seem likely that Barbara Ramsey will even get the nomination.

Neoliberal candidate Kate Bolz has raised $131,881 far while Ramsey has only raised $4,027. Despite this, Ramsey has procured a number of endorsements, some of which include Vote Pro Choice, Progressive Rising, Rose Caucus, Nebraska Secular Democrats, Freethought Equality Fund PAC, and DUH! Demand Universal Healthcare. Ramsey may have a shot if she gets a serious boost in donations, but it doesn’t seem too likely given that Bolz has a serious advantage. Also if Ramsey wins, she’d be the first transgender member of congress.

5/12/2020 Update: Babs Ramsey did not win.

Kara EastmanDonation Link
Babs RamseyDonation Link

Mark Vondrasek
Nebraska State Senate district 9 challenger Mark Vondrasek.

So Senate and House elections have been discussed, but there is still the question of the state legislature. Nebraska is kind of unique in that it has a unicameral state legislature. In normie terms, it means there is no State House of Representatives, and it is instead more like the UK’s Parliament with only one legislative body. Half of the legislature is elected in the years of Presidential elections, and the other half during midterms.

In 2018, Democrats have flipped 2 of the 49 State Senate seats in Nebraska, which gave the Democrats control of 18 of those seats. To be technical, elections in Nebraska are nonpartisan, but it’s basically a meaningless distinction since just about everyone becomes affiliated with a party after they are elected.

Unfortunately there is only one progressive challenger for State legislature, possibly two if you count Melanie Williams who I know nothing about other than her supporting Bernie Sanders because I can’t find any info on her policies. I know that she is running in primary with five candidates (Nebraska’s state legislature primaries are done California style where the top two in the first round move on to the general election, regardless of which party they are in), but that is about it. The only state legislature candidate that I can verify is progressive is Mark Vondrasek, who is running against two other candidates for Nebraska’s 9th State Senate seat.

Mark Vondrasek

There isn’t exactly much to say here given the lack of information on this race, but I think the fact that none of his opponents even try to describe themselves as progressive says all we need to know. Be sure to give Vondrasek as much support as you can, because Nebraska needs all the progressive voices it can get.

5/12/2020 Update: Mark Vondrasek did not win.

There is one last election of importance in this state to discuss, and that is the Supreme Court retention election. This one can be summed up in five words, “Vote to retain Lindsey Miller-Lerman!” I would normally advise people to vote against retention for conservative justice Jeffery Funke, but it won’t do much since Judges are appointed by the Governor and he will just be replaced by another conservative judge. It IS important to retain Miller-Lerman considering that if she goes, then she will be replaced by a conservative justice.

Anyway that is about it for this state. While the progressive movement in Nebraska is fairly small compared to most states, it is nonetheless encouraging that there even is one to begin with. The fact that we have a Justice Democrat who is within striking distance of a red seat in a state as red as Nebraska is amazing news for the left, and if she wins then she will likely inspire a bunch of other down ballot candidates in her state as well.

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