LINCOLN – Incumbent Suzanne Geist faces challenger Stephany Pleasant in the Primary Election race for District 25.
Because Nebraska choses the top two vote getters in a primary to advance to the General Election, it is likely that both Geist and Pleasant will be on the ballot in November, as no one else has filed for candidacy.
Geist was elected to the seat in 2016 and is running for re-election. Nebraska legislators are restricted to two consecutive terms in office under state law.
In her first term in the Legislature, Geist serves on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, Natural Resources Committee, is the chair of the Performance Audit Committee and sat on the LR127 Corrections Oversight Committee for two years.
Pleasant is a newcomer to politics, but not the law. She has a law degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and is a practicing attorney at the university, where she provides legal representation for students. She previously represented persons with disabilities as a staff attorney at Disability Rights of Nebraska.
Geist is seeking re-election to continue working on issues she feels are very important to the state.
“Those issues include corrections, mental health, rural internet access and helping small businesses succeed,” she said.
Pleasant is a candidate for the Legislature to continue her commitment to public service.
“I am running for the Legislature because I have dedicated my career to serving Nebraskans and I want to further my life’s purpose of community service by serving in the Legislature,” she said.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed some of the issues both candidates feel are facing the state. Pleasant said the failure by the Legislature to implement Medicaid expansion, as approved by Nebraska votes, has placed some residents in a precarious state.
“Sadly, in the time it is taking to implement the voters’ will, a pandemic has hit our state. Some Nebraskans will not only need to survive the illness but the high costs associated with the medical care they receive. No one should have to lose the house they bought, the car they drive, or the savings they have worked to build because they or a family member becomes ill,” she said.
Geist said the pandemic has changed the landscape of the state’s short-term future in terms of business.
“Opening businesses safely and successfully is the number one short term issue in Nebraska,” she said. “Recovering from a nationwide shutdown is uncharted territory for businesses and legislators. I’m interested in examining the regulations that have been exposed that hinder the success of small businesses.”
Pleasant said trade wars hurt the U.S. economy prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but are even more destructive now that the economy is suffering.
“Now, with nearly 70,000 unemployment applications filed in the state, it is more important than ever to remove barriers from working Nebraskans that will prevent them from having the income that allows for the state to maintain a strong economy. It is time to put protections in place that could have prevented some of the issues the Department of Labor is having now,” she said.
The pandemic has also proved Nebraska needs to increase the number of health care providers and systems in rural Nebraska, according to Pleasant.
“Nebraska has understood the issue of “brain drain” in these areas for a long time but has not done much to repair it,” she said. “It is my priority to utilize innovative policies to increase the number of professionals in rural communities to protect them from a massive health crisis like COVID-19 from happening again.”
The second session of the 106th Legislature was in session when the pandemic struck. Aside from an emergency session in March to approve aid for state agencies, the session has not reconvened and a date has not yet been set to do so. Geist said she will focus on her other priorities when the Legislature reconvenes.
“I will continue to be committed to addressing our taxation issues and addressing business incentives. Plus, I anticipate leading the body in passing a ban on dismemberment abortions in the second trimester,” she said.
The state’s handling of the pandemic has another issue on the campaign trail. Pleasant said the Nebraska has done well in “flattening the curve,” or slowing the virus’ spread. But she is not in favor of steps to open the state up again.
“Unfortunately, the administration has decided to lighten restrictions at a time earlier than suggested by medical professionals,” said Pleasant. “This decision will mainly hurt hard-hit rural counties, like Hall, Dawson and Dakota that have fewer resources to treat people.”
Geist said as an elected official, she has great appreciation and respect for local leaders and that once the crisis has passed, it will be good time to learn the lessons to be taken.
“There is no ‘handbook’ for leading in a crisis like this,” she said. “I have seen great leadership in both our governor and our city officials. Even with their political differences, they are leading with integrity in their arenas.”
Both candidates have had to find ways to campaign that go beyond the normal meet-and-greet or knocking on doors because of the pandemic. Pleasant said her team is using technology in innovative ways to reach voters. Geist is also doing other campaigning activities in the absence of face-to-face connections, which she favors.
“That is my favorite part of campaigning,” she said. “So I’m missing seeing my constituents face-to-face.”
No matter how their campaign is carried out, Geist and Pleasant are hearing from the voters.
Geist said voters are telling her that they are tired of partisan bickering in the Legislature.
“As a state senator, I am proud of the great relationships I’ve built with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle,” she continued. “Although, we can have strong disagreements and sometimes completely different values, we can learn from each other. I am committed to showing respect for my colleagues and not make our disagreements personal.”
Pleasant said voters are telling her they want a change.
“They are in need of a senator with real-life experience that takes action and focuses on the needs of constituents and not interest groups,” she said.
Before becoming a state senator, Geist worked for more than 20 years in pharmaceutical, data communications and fashion sales. She and husband Mark, who have been married for 36 years, live in Lincoln and have three grown children and five grandchildren.
Pleasant has been married to Phil Maness since 2011. She sits on the executive board with the Young Lawyers Division of the Nebraska Bar Association, was on the ProBono Committee at the Nebraska College of Law ProBono and with the ProBono Legal Collaboration and on the Chancellor’s Commission for the Status of Women for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She served in AmeriCorps teaching preparatory classes at Omaha North High School and won the Member of the Year award.