Sunland voters sent two new legislators to Lincoln on Tuesday as Norm Wallman defeated Tony Ojeda for the 30th District seat and Russ Karpisek overcame a challenge from Ron Schwab to take the 32nd District seat.
According to unofficial returns from the Nebraska secretary of state's office, Wallman, a Cortland farmer, defeated Ojeda, a Roca investment adviser, by 8,326 votes, or 58 percent of the vote, to 6,015 votes, or 42 percent of the vote.
In the 32nd District, Karpisek, currently serving as Wilber mayor, had received 7,117 votes, or 59 percent of the vote, to 4,957 votes, or 41 percent of the vote, for Schwab, former Fairbury mayor and city attorney.
“I think voters wanted a person from this area,” Wallman said Tuesday night. “I went to a lot of businesses and coffee shops and met a lot of people. I'm going to try to do the best I can.”
Wallman will succeed current Sen. Dennis Byars of Beatrice whose term expires this year. The state's new term limits law prevented Byars from seeking a third term in the Legislature.
Byars also publicly endorsed Wallman during the campaign leading up to Tuesday's election.
Wallman said once he takes office in January he would like to get to work on easing Nebraskans' property tax burden, broadening the state's tax base and working to establish an educational trust fund where money could be placed when the budget is at a surplus.
“That way, when lean times come schools won't be the first thing to get cut,” said Wallman, currently a member of the Norris Board of Education.
Ojeda said he was disappointed, but indicated he thought Wallman ran an effective and hard campaign over the past six months. In addition, Ojeda said he could not overcome what he called Wallman's “name recognition” in Gage County and ran a tough campaign in Lancaster County thanks to a number of commercials on Lincoln radio stations.
“I wish Norm well,” Ojeda said. “I hope he does well in the Legislature. It was a long campaign, and I enjoyed it.”
However, he said he did not know if he would seek office again, although he said Wednesday morning he was leaning against it.
Unofficial returns from county clerk's offices in Gage and Lancaster counties show Wallman overwhelmingly carried his home county of Gage County, while Ojeda narrowly carried his home county of Lancaster County.
The 30th District comprises Gage County and the southern part of Lancaster County.
Wallman received 5,769 votes in Gage County to 3,089 for Ojeda. In Lancaster County, Ojeda received 2,926 votes to 2,557 for Wallman.
In the 32nd District, Karpisek will replace incumbent Sen. Jeanne Combs of Milligan. Karpisek and Combs were the top two finishers in the May primary election, but Combs dropped out of the election two weeks after the primary to pursue a new career opportunity.
Schwab this summer then gathered enough signatures to run as a candidate by petition.
“I just think we ran a good campaign,” Karpisek said at a victory party Tuesday night after final returns came in. “There was nothing negative in the campaign from the beginning.”
Karpisek said he would begin work in January to try to work with other legislators to bring property taxes down and rework the state aid to schools formula.
Schwab said he thought he wasn't successful in bringing his message to the people. He also said he had no plans to run again in four years.
“I wish Mr. Karpisek well,” Schwab said. “I think we had a good campaign. I'm glad we did our petition drive, but I can't see running again. I felt this was the perfect time for me to run, but now I can't see doing it again.”
Unofficial returns show Karpisek carried two of the four counties in the 32nd District.
Karpisek won his home county of Saline County by a 3-to-1 margin over Schwab, 3,396 votes to 1,085, and carried Fillmore County by 1,578 votes to 729. Schwab carried his home county of Jefferson County by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, 2,078 votes to 1,122, and narrowly won Thayer County by 1,065 votes to 1,021.