State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha is once again riding to the defense of Douglas County Election Commissioner Dave Phipps, this time through Facebook.
He’s asking the question: Why won’t Phipps’ critics leave him alone?
“I think it would be great if people can take a deep breath and let the man do his job — which he does very well, by the way,” Lautenbaugh said in an interview.
The tipping point, he said, was a petition by Kris Pierce, Douglas County Democratic Party chairman, asking the governor to fire Phipps.
Lautenbaugh, a Republican, took particular issue with Pierce’s use of the word “tyranny” to describe Phipps’ actions.
Phipps, also a Republican, sparked controversy this year when he announced a plan to close nearly one-third of the polling places in the county.
And though Phipps eventually apologized and agreed to reopen some polling places before the general election, Pierce and some others say he’s unfit for the job.
The latest criticism of Phipps is that he played a significant role in the legislation that allowed the polling place closings. But Lautenbaugh noted that Phipps openly testified for the bill and said Phipps didn’t sneak anything by anyone.
He said he believes Phipps runs the office in a less partisan and more professional manner than any previous election commissioner — including himself. Lautenbaugh served in the job from 1999 to 2002.
Pierce said he would have agreed with that statement four years ago. But Phipps’ actions in the past year have made him reconsider, he said.
“Even though one may apologize, it doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable,” Pierce said.
Pierce said he believes Phipps’ actions were intended to keep people from voting.
Lautenbaugh called out Pierce and others on Facebook, saying the attacks on Phipps range “from the merely stupid to the blatantly dishonest at this point.”
“Understand, as a staunch defender of Phipps, I’m taking this personally now, I’m furious, and I’m going to fight back,” Lautenbaugh wrote. “It starts Friday.”
Lautenbaugh said he plans to testify Friday at a legislative committee on Phipps’ behalf. The issue is how the election commissioner is chosen.
In the state’s three largest counties, including Douglas, the election commissioner is appointed by the governor. Each is required to appoint a second-in-command of the opposite party.
In other Nebraska counties, the elected county clerk serves as the election official.
In light of the controversy, some Phipps critics have proposed that the election commissioner become an elected position in Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster Counties.
Lautenbaugh also took to Pierce’s Facebook page.
Pierce had posted a link to the online petition, with a note that said, “Share this on your timeline today! Fight the TYRANNY in our own community.”
Lautenbaugh responded: “Umm, where can we go to fight hyperbole bordering on idiocy? (Tyranny? TYRANNY? Have you lost your mind, Kris?)”
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