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Election 2022: Douglas County attorney’s race

Party affiliation is front and center in the race for Douglas County Attorney.
Published: Jan. 19, 2022 at 8:46 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - County Attorney Don Kleine filed for re-election at the Douglas County Election Commissioner’s office Wednesday afternoon.

There wasn’t a crowd — a stark contrast from 18 months ago, when there was a big crowd around as Kleine changed his political party.

“To politicize that office is something I won’t stand for,” Kleine said.

In Fall 2020, the lifelong Democrat changed his political party to Republican in a very public fashion, surrounded by some of the highest-ranking Republicans in Nebraska.

To recap: The city’s top prosecutor changed parties after a tumultuous summer. He ruled the shooting death of James Scurlock during Old Market protests an act of self-defense by bar owner Jake Gardner. Kleine said he followed the law, and hasn’t seen any evidence to change that.

Then, the Nebraska Democratic Party voted in favor of a resolution saying his decision “perpetuated white supremacy.” That was followed by 36 days of protests outside Kleine’s home.

Wednesday afternoon, the man who has been county attorney for the last 15 years filed paperwork to stay in office for another four.

“It is what it is,” he said. “Decisions were made based on what took place, and evidence. I’m ready for that.”

6 News caught up with his challenger, Dave Pantos, while he was volunteering to help those at risk of being evicted.

“The fact is (Kleine) changed parties and endorsed Trump,” Pantos said. “I think voters of Douglas County sent a clear message that they are opposed to that type of lawlessness.”

Don Kleine says the office needs his experience. Dave Pantos says the county doesn't agree with Kleine's politics.

Kleine said the office needs his experience.

Pantos, the former director of Legal Aid, said he believes the county attorney space needs new ideas.

“We need new ideas and focus on preventing and being smart on crime and working with schools and health care,” he said. “When I’m in office, we’ll see an increase in public safety and a reduction in crime.”

Klein said: “Our goal every day is asking ‘What can we do, on a daily basis, to make Douglas County an even better place to live?’ And we do that by ... making our streets safer.”

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