U.S. Rep. Don Bacon gets expected Omaha police union endorsement, but early
OMAHA — Second District U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., announced an expected endorsement Monday from the influential union representing Omaha police officers, but the endorsement came unusually early.
It came three months ahead of the union’s endorsement of Bacon in the 2022 campaign, 11 months earlier than in 2020 and nine months earlier than in 2018.
The Omaha Police Officers Association says it announced early because members appreciate Bacon’s support for certain proposed federal legislation, including bills bridging the health insurance gap between an officer’s retirement and Medicare and protections for qualified immunity.
“It’s important for us to show support for Don for all the work he has done over the years and doing it as early as possible,” said Sgt. Anthony Conner, the union’s president.
Bacon, speaking at the union headquarters, said the endorsement carries weight in Nebraska’s most competitive congressional district.
He said most public polling shows declining trust in public institutions in recent years but persistent support for the Omaha Police Department, as high as 90%.
Some elements in the GOP have been trying to recruit a primary challenger for him in 2024, with support from people in the political orbit of former President Donald Trump.
Trump criticized Bacon after the congressman questioned some of Trump’s actions during and after the Capitol building was stormed on Jan. 6, 2021, and again after Bacon voted to support a bipartisan infrastructure bill bringing Nebraska funding for roads, bridges and broadband access.
Endorsement ‘carries so much weight’
Bacon said he has proposed or signed on to support 15 pieces of federal legislation sought by police officers, including bills allowing retired and off-duty police officers to legally carry concealed handguns.
“Your endorsement makes a big difference,” Bacon told the union during a news conference Monday. “Your endorsement carries so much weight with the population of 700,000 folks who make up our district.”
Bacon, who has won each of his four House races by less than 5 percentage points, faces a likely 2024 rematch with State Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha, a Democrat he beat by less than 3 points in 2022.
Political observers expect a tighter race this time if Bacon and Vargas advance out of their primaries, partly because 2024 is a presidential year with higher turnout. Bacon’s defenders note that he won by his largest margin in 2020.
Vargas, a term-limited state senator representing South Omaha and parts of downtown, has criticized Bacon for talking bipartisan and then kowtowing to his conservative base. He said Monday was more of the same.
“The fact of the matter is this — I’m raising two kids in this community,” Vargas said. “Of course I want it to be safe. That’s why, as a senator for the last seven years, I’ve voted with Republicans for record funding for our police.”
Bacon and the union criticized Vargas for participating in local protests after the slaying of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020.
Bacon said that showed disrespect for officers. The union has argued that Vargas’ participation failed to acknowledge the injuries some officers faced during the protests.
Vargas has said it is possible to express empathy for marginalized people who have experienced questionable interactions with some officers and still support police.
Both criticize other’s record
Each candidate criticized the other’s record on crime and punishment.
The Vargas campaign criticized Bacon’s votes against continuing resolutions that contained funding for law enforcement and a vote against a gun violence bill that invested in violence prevention programs.
The Bacon campaign criticized Vargas’ votes for legislation to ease prison crowding, including legislation that would have allowed for earlier parole and eliminated most mandatory minimum sentences, sending resentencing decisions back to individual judges.
On qualified immunity, Bacon said he supports legally protecting officers from civil liability for their actions while carrying out their duties. Bacon said some Democrats want to end those protections for police. He said Vargas is vague on the issue.
Nationally, following Floyd’s death, many cities and states started discussing whether officers operating with qualified immunity could reasonably be held responsible for abuses of power. Some argued people needed more levers to hold police accountable. In Minnesota, former Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the Floyd case.
“If you’re doing your job right, you deserve to be protected and cannot be targeted from frivolous lawsuits and the like,” Bacon said.
Vargas’ campaign said Vargas “does not support ending qualified immunity.”