By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Clarification: The governor’s office says the governor was not referring to Mayor Chris Beutler specifically, but Lincoln city officials in general, when he said “they” should not delay a vote on the gay rights ordinance.
LINCOLN — The Nebraska governor Friday accused Lincoln’s mayor of delaying a vote on a gay rights ordinance out of fear that voters would not approve extending civil rights protection to homosexuals, if the election were held in November.
Gov. Dave Heineman said Friday that Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler ought to have Lincoln’s vote during the presidential election in November, because the turnout will be high.
“I don’t understand why they’re not scheduling a vote,” Heineman said in response to a question during a news conference on an unrelated topic. “They said they were going to allow the citizens of Lincoln to vote. I favor that.”
Lincoln officials must hold a public vote, after Lincoln residents referred a gay rights ordinance to a vote of the people. The Lincoln City Council had approved the ordinance earlier this year. Supporters of a vote on the issue gathered four times the number of signatures needed to refer the issue to a public vote.
But Thursday, the Beutler administration said the election won’t be held in November.
And even though the next regular election is the spring municipal election, the councilman who first proposed the gay rights ordinance, Carl Eskridge, told the Lincoln Journal Star the election may not happen for a year or longer. Heineman said he thinks he knows why.
“It sounds like we’re going to delay the vote, because we don’t think we can win it in November,” the governor said. “They ought to put it on the ballot and let the people speak. I don’t know what they’re afraid of.”
If the issue was put on the ballot in the spring, the gay rights ordinance would surely be an issue in the race for three at-large seats on the City Council. Those seats are now held by Democrats Gene Carroll and DiAnna Schimek and Republican Adam Hornung. When the council passed the gay rights ordinance, the five Democrats on the council voted for it, and the two Republicans expressed opposition and then abstained from voting.
David Bydalek, executive director of Family First Nebraska, which is affiliated with the conservative Focus on the Family organization, is a former assistant attorney general who was one of the leaders of the referendum drive. He said the city charter requires the City Council to either repeal the ordinance or put it to a vote. The mayor and Eskridge have said the council will repeal the ordinance and offer a charter amendment in its place.
While the city charter doesn’t give a time frame for how soon that vote must occur, Bydalek said if his side wanted to press the issue, it could go to court over the timeline.
“A court would, I believe, say they have to act within a reasonable amount of time,” he said. “I would venture to guess a year is not reasonable.”
City Attorney Rod Confer said the city charter doesn’t contain any deadlines for when referendums must occur. If the Beutler administration wants to wait a year or two for a vote, Bydalek said, “We could litigate that.”
“We would have to look at our options,” he said.
While he’s heard speculation that the pro-gay rights side would do better in a high-turnout election, Bydalek said he thinks “there will be a lot of motivated conservative voters” in November. He said he doesn’t think it’d be wise for the city to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a special election.
Contact Deena Winter at email@example.com.
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