- Associated Press - Sunday, May 15, 2016

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s Legislature could see a major shake-up next year if last week’s primary results are any indication.

At least five incumbents appear to face a serious threat in the general election, having finished second in the primary to challengers. One lawmaker could be eliminated once provisional primary ballots are counted. Term limits will claim another 11 senators, leaving their seats open for newcomers. And 17 current lawmakers have only served since 2015.

Taken together, it’s possible that 34 senators - more than two-thirds of the Legislature - will have two years of experience or less when next year’s session begins in January.

The prospect of so many rookie senators at once concerns some lawmakers, who say it could lead to a more partisan and gridlocked Legislature.

“With an organization as complex as the Legislature, it’s always a problem when you have people with very little experience,” said Sen. Bob Krist of Omaha, who was appointed to his seat in 2009.

Krist pointed to this year’s session, which saw a record-high 24 filibusters. Many of the senators who were elected in 2014 were emboldened because they had a year of experience under their belt, he said.

“In that second year, everybody’s an extrovert,” Krist said. “It can get unruly.”

Large waves of new and inexperienced senators make the Legislature less predictable, said Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus, who will be among the most senior members next year. Even though Republicans gained seats in 2014, for instance, lawmakers ended up abolishing the death penalty and increasing the state’s gas tax.

“It creates a great deal of volatility,” Schumacher said. “You basically don’t know which way the wind is going to blow.”

Schumacher said a surge in new senators also increases the odds that the Legislature will pass a bill with unintended consequences, or be swayed by lobbyists with legislation that senators have rejected before. Senior senators provide guidance, but next year only seven will have six or more years of experience.

Longtime Capitol lobbyist Walt Radcliffe said term limits have forced the Legislature to rehash many of the same issues year after year, and each new crop of senators has to learn about issues that have been debated before. Lawmakers with time under their belt tend to propose more innovative ideas because they understand the intricacies of state government, he said.

“If you take a high school athlete, they’re not going to perform as well in their freshman and sophomore year as they would in their junior and senior years,” Radcliffe said. “New players are more reluctant because they don’t have the knowledge base to do things.”

The incumbent senators who finished second in the primary were Democrats Rick Kolowksi of Omaha and Sue Crawford of Bellevue and Republicans Les Seiler of Hastings, Al Davis of Hyannis and Jerry Johnson of Wahoo.

Newly appointed state Sen. Nicole Fox of Omaha appeared to come in third, which would eliminate her from the November ballot. But her race remained uncertain Friday because she trailed one of her opponents by just 10 votes, and provisional ballots had not yet been counted.

Nebraska’s legislative races are officially nonpartisan. The top two vote-getters in each contest will advance to the November general election.

Sen. Bill Kintner of Papillion, a Republican, said he expects next year’s Legislature will become more conservative given the primary results. Most of the endangered incumbents were challenged by conservative Republicans, including some publicly backed by GOP Gov. Pete Ricketts.

“People want senators who will govern the way they ran,” Kintner said, arguing that some legislators campaign as conservatives but become more moderate once in office.

Some incumbents could still come back to win in November. Because the race between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders was decided in Nebraska’s March caucuses, Democratic voters didn’t have as much incentive to cast a ballot. Registered nonpartisan voters also will likely have more of a voice.

In addition, incumbents just finished their legislative session last month and may not have had as much time to campaign as their challengers.

Kintner said he’s not worried about an influx of new senators.

“We can deal with the people that come here,” he said. “Let the voters send us who they want.”

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