Candidates jumping into 2016 Nebraska legislative races as seats come open due to term limits



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LINCOLN, Nebraska — The general election is nearly a year and a half away, but some candidates for Nebraska Legislature are already jumping into the 2016 race to replace senators who are slated to leave office.

The Nebraska Secretary of State's office is receiving "a handful of calls a week" from potential candidates asking about filing requirements, deadlines and fees, said spokeswoman Laura Strimple.

The Nebraska Legislature will see another round of turnover in the 2016 election, with 12 of its 49 seats opening because of term limits. Thirteen incumbents will have the chance to seek re-election. The earliest a candidate can officially file for office is Dec. 1, but several have already announced their intentions to run.

Among the new candidates is Dr. Les Spry, a kidney specialist from Lincoln, who is running for the seat held by Sen. Kathy Campbell. Campbell cannot seek re-election because of term limits. Spry and Campbell are both registered Republicans, although the races are nonpartisan.

Spry said he declared his candidacy last week so he can start door-knocking and talking to voters in east Lincoln and Lancaster County. He said he decided to run because of his experience with state and national policy, including a seven-year stint on the Nebraska State Board of Health, and his interest in working on the state foster care system.

"My weight loss program for the summer is to walk my district," he said.

Larry Scherer of Raymond said he joined the race early to give himself time to introduce himself to voters in his district, which includes parts of north Lincoln and Lancaster County. The district's incumbent legislator, Sen. Ken Haar, is ineligible to run again because of term limits.

"I have a lot to learn, and I didn't want to wait until the last minute," said Scherer, who announced his bid last week. "You need a lot of lead time anymore because of the greater complexity and cost of campaigning."

Scherer serves as research director for the Nebraska State Education Association, and previously served as legal counsel to the Legislature's Business and Labor and Education committees. Scherer, a registered Democrat, said he plans to campaign on issues such as health care, career education and renewable energy.

One district is already contested. Attorney Dick Clark and Lincoln Airport Authority Board member Anna Wishart, both of Lincoln, are seeking the seat held by Sen. Colby Coash. Coash cannot run again in 2016 because of term limits.

Wishart, a registered Democrat and aide to Sen. Rick Kolowski, said she jumped into the race early because she wants to gather input from every voter in the district. Wishart said she hopes to connect with constituents who have "boots on the ground experience" in areas the Legislature addresses, so that she can consult with them directly if elected.

"I don't just want to knock on somebody's door," she said. "I want to learn what's important to them, and take the time to engage them."

Clark, a registered Republican and former policy adviser to Gov. Dave Heineman, said his campaign will focus on job creation, education reform and lowering taxes. The former research director for the Omaha-based Platte Institute said he assembled a campaign team early because he expects a competitive race.

"We've got a really low unemployment rate in Nebraska, and that's great," he said. "But what we need to think about is how to create higher-quality jobs that families can really rely on."

The Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission hasn't seen many campaign-disclosure filings, and usually receives them between late fall and January, executive director Frank Daley said. Candidates only have to file with the office once they raise, receive or spend more than $5,000 in a calendar year.

"It tends to be spread out," Daley said. "Obviously there are some people who start planning way ahead and raising money, and they hit the $5,000 threshold earlier. Others are talked into it at the last minute."

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