How the NRA Punked Nebraska’s District 13

Last week something shocking and disappointing happened at the Nebraska Legislature: a Democrat endorsed by Our Revolution from a progressive district, Justin Wayne, cast the deciding vote that allowed a terrible NRA bill to advance. If he had voted to allow the filibuster to continue the bill would be dead.

Justin Wayne during his 2016 campaign. Wayne received significant financial support from the Ricketts family and was managed by a rightwing campaign firm.

LB68 is a firearm preemption bill, and it would wipe out local gun laws — including one requiring anti-theft devices in Omaha gun stores and one keeping guns out of domestic abuse secret safe houses in Lincoln, just to name a couple. It would also lower the age to purchase a handgun to 18 in Omaha, which will lead to more straw purchases supplying gangs, and will mean that many high school seniors in Omaha would be able to purchase handguns without parental knowledge.

What’s more, the bill specifically entitles the NRA to sue any Nebraska municipality — and there are many — that have local gun ordinances on the books, potentially decimating town coffers, as has happened in Pennsylvania and Florida. We’re not here to address all the awful ramifications of this bill, but suffice it to say that the Omaha City Council, Omaha Police Department, City of Lincoln, and League of Municipalities are all opposed to these changes. There is no public policy defense for this bill. It only makes sense to gun ideologues and sellers.

In fact, this bill failed at the legislature last year, when it was known as LB289. With limitless resources at their disposal, the gun lobby brought it back this session through their servant, Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, who is literally trying to wipe out his own city’s gun ordinances and set up the NRA to profit from his constituents’ tax dollars in a lawsuit.

Knowing this bill would not fly through the Judiciary Committee, where it faces well-known opposition, the gun lobby got it assigned to the friendly Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, where several members were co-signers. On February 10, the gun lobby sent six advocates for the bill. Thirty more Nebraskans showed up to oppose it, speaking as law enforcement, lawyers, rape survivors, teachers, and advocates for local government. The testimony lasted three hours. This strong opposition has not been transcribed or shared with the Unicameral despite the fact that the bill is now at a floor debate. Knowing the committee would smother the record of the hearing, Nebraskans Against Gun Violence recorded the proceedings for the public to watch. (Highlights here.) To nobody’s surprise, the committee passed it through.

Wayne won a Democrat vs. Democrat race in North Omaha, where he ran as a Democrat who was not going to do the establishment’s bidding and was eager to stand up to special interests.

Excuse us, but LOL.

While Nebraskans Against Gun Violence was organizing opposition to this bill, Wayne presented himself as friendly to our cause and asked for relief from phone calls — after all, why badger someone who is on your side? And of course he would be on our side, right? Why would an anti-special-interest senator from a progressive district in North Omaha vote with the NRA to decimate local gun laws?

Why indeed.

When Wayne cast his deciding vote with the NRA, we started doing a little digging. It turns out that Wayne’s campaign was managed by Northstar Campaign Systems, run by a self-described “Republican activist.” The company boasts on its website that it has run the successful campaigns of some the worst anti-democratic, pro-Trump, pro-NRA candidates in the country, including Chris Christie, Rick Santorum, Jon Bruning (our former attorney general who made headlines when he compared welfare recipients to wily raccoons), Lindsay Graham, Deb Fischer, Ted Cruz, Steve King, and David Nunes.

Campaigns run by Northstar showcased on their web site.

Northstar Campaign Systems represents the extreme rightwing. It’s their specialty. So what does a rightwing campaign company do if they want to seat a rightwing special interest servant in a progressive district? They run him as a Democrat.

Justin Wayne beat his progressive opponent, Jill Brown, by a slim margin of 200 votes. Among the contributors who have funded “Democrat” Wayne in this run and his recent run for Omaha Public Schools Board are the Pete Ricketts family, who gave him over $16,000, which is big money in Nebraska politics.

Some donations to Justin Wayne’s campaigns

So how does a rightwinger in Democrat clothing get away with his pretense? Wayne seems to have a technique: vote with rightwing special interests when his vote actually counts at the filibuster stage, then vote with the people when his vote doesn’t matter anymore. That way he can give his investors what they want and tell his constituents he did the right thing. We at NAGV think he assumes wrongly that his constituents will be too stupid to notice.

For instance, the anti-abortion lobby wanted the state to issue “Choose Life” license plates. The only chance this had of being blocked was through filibuster. So Wayne voted to end the filibuster, thus advancing the bill to certain victory when only a simple majority would be needed, and then voted against the bill so he could claim to have opposed it.

On the left: Wayne voting yes to pass the “Choose Life” bill out of filibuster. On the right: Wayne voting no on the bill a moment later when it didn’t matter anymore.

Now Wayne is repeating the process with the NRA. He voted to break the filibuster so the bill is almost guaranteed to pass, then changed his vote moments later when it no longer mattered so that he could claim to be against it.

On the left: Wayne voting yes to pass the NRA bill out of filibuster. If he had voted no, the bill would have sunk. On the right: Wayne voting no on the bill a moment later when it didn’t matter anymore.

If you ask him about it, he blows smoke and says he opposed the bill:

Remember, with just a “no” vote from him the bill would be dead. Well, there are two more opportunities coming up for Wayne to vote no to kill the filibuster and thereby kill the bill. Will he vote with public safety or with the NRA? Depends on whether he’s listening to the evidence against the bill or his bankroll.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated NAGV’s story.