LINCOLN — Term limits apparently are accomplishing more than just sending state senators home after two terms.
It's also inspiring prospective replacements to announce their intentions much earlier.
At least a dozen candidates for the Nebraska Legislature have announced that they will be candidates for seats in 2014, and it's still a month until Labor Day — unofficially but traditionally the deadline for announcing a political run.
One candidate announced in February — nearly 21 months before Election Day — while another jumped in back in April, and a handful announced in June.
State law doesn't allow candidates for the Legislature to officially file until Dec. 1, four months from now.
So why all the early birds?
Political consultants say there are many advantages to getting an early start on a political campaign. The advent of term limits, which restrict state senators to two consecutive four-year terms, has taken away the suspense of whether an incumbent may or may not be sticking around.
“I think people are starting to get the hang of term limits,” said Omaha political consultant Phil Young. “You don't have to wait for 'Vern' to decide he's going to run or not — he's not going to run (due to term limits). People know it's going to be an open seat.”
There's no need to wait.
“I've been telling people 'Get out and get on it, and get going,' ” Young said.
And 2014 could be a watershed election for the Legislature. Because of term limits, 17 state senators will be leaving office. The list includes several leaders in the 49-seat body, including Sen. Greg Adams of York, the speaker of the Legislature; Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, the Judiciary Committee chairman; and Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha, chairman of the Business and Labor Committee.
The 2014 election will be a test for the state's Democratic Party, which now holds seven of the open seats in the officially nonpartisan Legislature. Republicans occupy nine, and Ashford, a registered independent, holds the other.
In addition, seven incumbents will be up for re-election, including one, Papillion Sen. Bill Kintner, who stood for election only two years ago. Kintner defeated incumbent Sen. Paul Lambert of Plattsmouth, who had been appointed to the District 2 post.
Mary Johnson, a Lincoln-based political consultant and lobbyist, and Young both said there are advantages to being an early candidate. It takes time to raise money and round up supporters, they said, and an early candidate can begin attending events and talking to voters.
It can prompt other potential candidates to sit the race out, they said.
Said Young: “If you're out early — locking up support, and talking to bankers and beauty salons on main street — and you get a lot of support, maybe when December rolls around the person who got a late start says, 'Heck, I'm not going to do this.' ”
Johnson said potential candidates, because they know term limits are opening up a post, have more time to consider a run and are making that decision earlier.
“The clock has changed. They want to get their name out there earlier,” she said.
Starting early also allows more time to adjust work and “life” schedules to allow for the rigors of campaigning, according to Johnson.
Russ Jones, a defense attorney from North Platte, announced in late February his plan to run for the Legislature. He said he announced early to let other candidates know he was running, and to let the public know.
“If people wanted to come to me to pick my ear and bring some ideas, it would give them the opportunity to do that,” he said. Jones now has two fellow candidates, Scott Dulin of North Platte and Roric Paulman of Sutherland, for the District 42 seat now held by Sen. Tom Hansen, who is term-limited.
Young and Johnson, the political consultants, said that the earlier start to campaigns doesn't necessary translate into more expensive races. They said that's because most of the early work is grass-roots organizing, not expensive advertising.
Among those who have publicly declared their candidacy (asterisk indicates incumbent):
• District 4, west-central Omaha — Matt Butler, Omaha
• District 10, north-central Omaha/Douglas County — Bob Krist*, Omaha
• District 24, east-central Nebraska — Mark Kolterman, Seward
• District 28, south Lincoln — Patty Pansing Brooks, Tyler Richard, Lincoln
• District 32, southeast Nebraska — Laura Ebke, Crete
• District 42, Lincoln County — Scott Dulin, Russ Jones, North Platte; Roric Paulman, Sutherland
• District 44, southwest Nebraska — Dennis Berry, McCook
• District 46 — Adam Morfeld, Lincoln
• District 48 — Mike Meister, Scottsbluff